By Ron Borges
Ever since the Philadelphia Eagles battled the Patriots to a near-standstill last weekend there has been more talk about blueprints around the NFL than at the National Architects Association annual convention. But exactly what was the Eagles’ blueprint for holding their own against the seemingly unbeatable Patriots before finally succumbing to them?
There has been talk about their mixed coverages and their pass rush but the simple fact is the Eagles stayed in the game to the bitter end because of two factors: they didn’t play scared and they attacked the quarterback. As blueprints go, that’s pretty basic.
Many years ago Al Davis opined that “the quarterback must go down. He must go down hard.’’ Last weekend the Eagles put that to the test by putting Tom Brady down hard often enough to slow down what is one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history.
They couldn’t stop it when all was said and done but they caused enough pressure to be applied to Brady to limit the scoring and thus allow the game to be what it hasn’t been very often this season when New England has been involved - a game.
Many teams this season have surprisingly chosen to sit back in coverage out of apparent fear that Brady would make them pay dearly if they tried to blitz him. In fact he might but as Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jim Johnson fully understood, to win a 7-on-7 drill against Tom Brady is to commit suicide with a butter knife. It may take a while but it’s guaranteed to be fatal.
The real “blueprint’’ that the Eagles unveiled then is simply this – to have a chance to beat the unbeaten Patriots you have to attack Brady and you have to reach him and you have to attack Randy Moss and you have to reach him. Even if you do you may still give up a ton of yardage and you still may lose but what you’re talking about is a strategy of having no chance as opposed to having a slim chance.
This probably doesn’t apply to the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots’ Monday night opponent, by the way because for this to work you have to at least have a semblance of an offense which Baltimore does not. The Ravens have an aggressive defense with the ability to reach the quarterback but that defense has begun to fade under the weight of their non-existent offense, allowing 124 points in the last four games, all losses. If that kind of uninspired play continues they could fail to cover the 20-point spread Las Vegas has said would be necessary to make this anything but a mismatch.
The Ravens’ offense has scored two touchdowns or less four times on a team that has now lost five straight so they may not be the best opponent to test this blueprint of aggression everyone is talking about but they would be unwise to deviate from the Eagles’ plan of attack, which was to attack.
Attack Brady and he may burn you and he will surely keep throwing on you. Then again, attack Moss and he might beat you deep or he might disappear, as he did against the Eagles. ESPN commentator Ron Jaworski, who watches more film than Roger Ebert, commented last week that he felt Moss had taken a few plays off when he was on the backside of routes against the Eagles, a charge Brady loudly denounced. Bill Belichick was not quite so vociferous in his defense of arguably the most dangerous receiver in the league however but who knows what that means?
It was an interesting charge though because it is one that has been leveled at Moss in the past and speaks to the doubts some had in recent years about his competitiveness. Those charges have been absent this season until the going got tough last Sunday. Then it resurfaced from a guy, Jaworksi, who has been widely praise for years for his devotion to film study and analysis of NFL offenses.
The reaction in always hyper-sensitive New England was to question Jaworski, although no one ever called him anything less than an expert while he was spending most of the season praising Brady, Moss and the Patriot offense. In these parts critics have a point whenever the point is that everything is great with the Patriots record-setting offense (442 points and counting) but they’re completely wrong, as Brady put it when he said “He’s never taken any plays off ‘’ in reference to Randy, when someone like Jaworski says he saw a chink in their armor. So it goes in these parts, where fans and bloggers wearing team gear are more sensitive than a teenager with acne.
The more significant issue is not how fans and the Patriots themselves react to criticism however but how opponents react to the success the Eagles had defensively by being aggressive rather than imitating Frank Bruno, the old British heavyweight, when he walked down the aisle to face Mike Tyson.
That night Bruno crossed himself more times than the Pope on Easter Sunday as he moved toward the ring, after which he quickly and quietly succumb to something less than lethal punches. Many of the Patriots’ opponents have seemed to roll over in much the same fashion, playing back on their heels from the start. The Jets in particular did that and were soundly thrashed, although nothing like what’s likely heading their way in a few more weeks.
What will be interesting in the next five weekends will be if teams like the Ravens, Steelers, Jets, Dolphins and New York Giants choose to take a page from the Eagles’ mindset rather than their pages of blueprints and take their chances with attacking Tom Brady. If they don’t, they might as well not show up. If they do, it may not allow them to leave a winner but it’s the only chance they’ve got to not be embarrassed.