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Today on Season Ticket, host Chris Gasper (@cgasper) takes you behind enemy lines once again, this time with Philadelphia Eagles reporter Zach Berman. Chris and Zach discuss how the Eagles have adjusted to a new quarterback under center, what they are doing to avoid getting caught up in the Patriots' "mystique" and why they will need to rely on the pass rush to win Super Bowl LII.
On how the Eagles turned things around this year
Zach Berman: I think the big thing from a macro perspective was the development of [quarterback] Carson Wentz. He's the franchise quarterback. They made a significant investment in the 2016 draft in terms of trades to go up and get him. He started as a rookie and just had rapid development in his second year, and that allowed them to get off to the start that they did. And it wasn't even just the start. He got hurt on Dec. 10, so for three months there he was, if not the best quarterback in the NFL, one of the top two or three.
And then in addition to Carson Wentz, they really hit on a series of offseason moves. The most high-profile one was signing Alshon Jeffery to be their No. 1 receiver. But even a lot of the under-the-radar moves: signing Chris Long, the former Patriot, who's been real valuable as a reserve defensive end for them ... signing Patrick Robinson to be, ultimately, their slot cornerback, LeGarrette Blount, the former Patriot, with a very low-cost contract comes in and helps the backfield. And they trade for [cornerback] Ronald Darby during the preseason, they trade for [running back] Jay Ajayi during the season, they traded for [defensive end] Tim Jernigan during the offseason — just if you look at the roster moves that they made from March, really, through December, they hit on a larger percentage of them than I've seen in my six years covering the team.
"They're respecting the Patriots, but they're not gonna go overboard there."Zach Berman on how the Eagles are handling the Patriots mystique
On quarterback Nick Foles' performance in the playoffs so far
Chris Gasper: You mentioned Carson Wentz — obviously he's out with the ACL [injury], he won't play in this game. Nick Foles has taken over. And I think a lot of people doubted Nick Foles. I'll say, honestly, I was one of them. I didn't love the Eagles' chances in the NFC playoffs with Nick Foles at the controls, but he's been really good through the two playoff games that the Eagles have played to get to Super Bowl LII, completing 77.8 percent of his passes, three touchdowns, no interceptions.
Zach Berman: Nick's a — I would call it a high-variance quarterback. He's capable of the outstanding and he's capable of really ugly games. And frankly I think the biggest issue with Nick Foles is the inconsistency. You know, you saw on Christmas night, they had a Monday night game against the Raiders, and he did not play especially well. ... And then you saw him in the NFC Championship game against the Vikings, and I don't think Carson Wentz would've played a better game that night. That's how well Nick Foles played. He's a former Pro Bowl quarterback. I covered him when he had that magical 2013 season, and I was there in Oakland when he threw seven touchdowns. You're talking about a talented player, but there's too much inconsistency there.
"I didn't love the Eagles' chances in the NFC playoffs with Nick Foles at the controls, but he's been really good through the two playoff games that the Eagles have played to get to Super Bowl LII."Chris Gasper
On whether the Eagles can win a Super Bowl with Nick Foles at quarterback
Chris Gasper: There are teams that have won with lesser quarterbacks. I think of Trent Dilfer, even Brad Johnson. The New York Giants — Bill Belichick was defensive coordinator for Super Bowl XXV when they won with Jeff Hostetler after Phil Simms went down, so it's not unprecedented. But, when I look at these teams on paper, if you take the reputations out of it, I think they're actually pretty even, except for it's Nick Foles at quarterback instead of Carson Wentz, and I think a lot of people look at it and say, "There's no way Nick Foles beats the Patriots in a Super Bowl."
Zach Berman: I would reframe that question and I would say Nick Foles doesn't necessarily need to beat the Patriots. It's the Eagles offensive line and Eagles defensive line that's gonna be the key. The Patriots obviously — five Super Bowls, Tom Brady, best quarterback ever — there's no denying the quarterback edge in this game, but in the two Super Bowls that the Patriots lost [in 2008 and 2012] it was because of a four-man pass rush, for the most part, and what the Giants were able to do with that pass rush. And the Eagles are built around their four-man pass rush. And frankly, if you look back to the Falcons game, the divisional round games, on a different level — Matt Ryan's not Tom Brady — but that same conversation took place. "Can Nick Foles beat Matt Ryan?" And what happened in that game was the Eagles defense beat Matt Ryan.
On how the Eagles are handling the "Patriots mystique"
Chris Gasper: It's something that I think comes into play with teams knowing that the Patriots with Brady are capable of coming back at any minute. We saw it in Super Bowl XLIX, we saw it last year in Super Bowl LI and we saw it in the AFC Championship game. It's this idea that you can kind of get a little spooked and a little nervous even if you have a lead in the fourth quarter because you're thinking, "Tom Brady is on the other side. Bill Belichick is on the other side." And we've seen it countless times here in New England, where teams will melt down physically or mentally.
"Nick Foles doesn't necessarily need to beat the Patriots. It's the Eagles offensive line and Eagles defensive line that's gonna be the key."Zach Berman
Zach Berman: The Eagles talk often about the concept of a faceless opponent, and that's whether they're playing the Patriots or if they're playing the Broncos when Brock Osweiler's the quarterback. They try not to get caught up in the players and the records, and one thing Doug Pederson said is that, 'If I make this all about them, we're in trouble." And so I think that's kind of an emphasis, that they're respecting the Patriots, but they're not gonna go overboard there. ... This is a team that looks at their own right. You know, they were 13-3 this year, they were the best team in the NFC, they've reached the Super Bowl, they're loaded with veterans that have Super Bowl experience ... This is a really prideful group. I don't think they're gonna be in awe of the Patriots, so to speak. I think this is a group that — one thing that stood out this year is how confident they are, how no moment's been too big for them. I don't think this Super Bowl is gonna be too big for them in that respect.