Bill Belichick doesn’t want to talk much about the Patriots’ last meeting with the Eagles, the Birds’ 41-33 Super Bowl victory. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, fans still love to relive it, and coaches inside the NovaCare Complex recently rewatched the game film from that memorable February 2018 night.
The coaches’ reasons, however, were more practical than sentimental. Still in the playoff race despite an up-and-down, injury-filled season, the 5-4 Eagles will take on the 8-1 Patriots on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
With the Eagles coming off two straight wins and a bye week, the Super Bowl film session wasn’t meant to serve as a comprehensive game-planning tool. Instead, coaches said, it was meant to set a tone.
“Just to go back and just let guys get a feel for how that game went,” said defensive line coach Phillip Daniels, who said he watched the tape with his players Monday morning. “Really and truly, it’s to give them a feel for how it felt to go out there and do the things we did and come out with a win in that game.”
Of course, the film is from 21 months ago, and there’s been turnover in both teams since then.
While New England still has legendary quarterback Tom Brady, five-time Pro-Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski — who scored two touchdowns in Super Bowl LII — has since retired, and the reigning Super Bowl MVP, wide receiver Julian Edelman, didn’t play in the last Eagles-Patriots matchup because of a preseason ACL tear.
“A lot of their scheme stuff has stayed the same,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “When it’s all said and done, they’re a winning team, regardless of who’s been out there, and that’s what the challenge is. The challenge is you have to match up, tackle, play the run, play the pass, and find a way to come out and win.”
On defense, the Eagles still have many of the same leaders, including safety Malcolm Jenkins, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, and defensive end Brandon Graham, who had the crucial strip-sack of Brady in the Super Bowl’s waning minutes.
But the Eagles offense hasn’t been clicking the same way it was two years ago. With deep threat DeSean Jackson out for at least the rest of the regular season, the wide receivers have struggled with simple catches. Alshon Jeffery, a difference-maker in the 2018 Super Bowl, ranks 74th in the league in receiving yardage (353) and is averaging 10 yards per catch. And of course, starter Carson Wentz will be at quarterback, not backup-turned-Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
The film “certainly is a resource, but they’re two different teams," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “Certainly, it’s the nuts and bolts. [But] they’re playing a little bit differently now, just as we’re playing a little differently now.”
Groh noted New England also has a different defensive play-caller, Belichick himself, who took on a larger role on defense instead of hiring a new coordinator after Greg Schiano’s departure in the spring. While the Patriots defense ranks as the best in the league, it has been stronger against the pass than the run, so the Eagles will be relying on young backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders.
“It’s as much about understanding who we are [and] who they are right now in the moment as going back and looking at two years ago,” Groh said.
Does that mean fans shouldn’t expect another trick play like the Philly Special?
“I mean, you never know,” Groh said with a laugh, "you never know ... ”