EAGLES PLANNING BIG-TIME PRESSURE OF PRETTY BOY TOM BRADY!

By Harry Allison

For three quarters the Jacksonville Jaguars Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on the run.

They still lost.

But by hounding, harassing and generally making Brady’s life in the pocket miserable, Jacksonville showed the Eagles exactly how to attack the most dominant quarterback of all time in Super Bowl LII:

Go at him relentlessly, with the full force of a defensive line designed to frequently acclimate the 40-year-old Brady with the turf at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“They were able to get pressure on him early of the game, and that’s what you want to do,” Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen said. “With a great quarterback like that, you want to make him uncomfortable, you want to be around him, be near him, let him know that you’re not going to let him have a clean pocket.”

That bodes well Sunday for the Eagles, who just so happen to boast the top-rated pass-rushing unit in the NFL. The Eagles hurried the opposing quarterback on about 41% of drop-backs during the regular season, the highest mark in the sport, according to Pro Football Focus. They accomplished this largely without blitzing, a requirement for holding down Brady, who is a master at carving up defenses that dare send extra men at him at the expense of coverage in the secondary.

Instead, the Eagles rely on a ferocious front four loaded with talent and depth. They liberally rotate up to eight players, creating an unending carousel of fresh bodies who will be on a mission to chase Brady around the field. Patriots guard Joe Thuney said that after watching the Eagles on film last week, their combination of size and speed “just jumps out at you.”

It should come as no surprise at this point that teams see quarterback pressure as the best strategy for stopping Brady. His previous history in the Super Bowl proves as much: In Brady’s five victories, opponents rushed him less than 21% of the time, according to Stats LLC. The New York Giants, the only team to conquer Brady on this stage, hurried him a combined 28% of the time in their wins in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.

Defensive end Derek Barnett said the Eagles plan to study how the Giants bothered Brady leading up to Sunday’s matchup.

“We know we have to try to get to him as much as possible,” Barnett said.

The Jaguars did, too, and for a while, it worked. Then the fourth quarter arrived and Brady did what he always does: He used the Jaguars’ ruthlessness against them, quickening the pace of the Patriots’ offense to tire Jacksonville out just in time for the most crucial moments of the game. Once fatigue set in across the Jaguars’ defensive line, Brady pounced, connecting on two touchdown passes in the final nine minutes to lead the Patriots to yet another late comeback. In the end, the Jaguars couldn’t get to Brady when it counted the most, a familiar story for teams who attempt to pressure the Patriots.

The Atlanta Falcons learned that lesson just last year in Super Bowl LI. They stormed Brady early in the game, invading the backfield without blitzing, resulting in a 28-3 third-quarter lead. We all know what happened from there. The Falcons tired, the Patriots started giving Brady the time he needed, and New England won yet again.

The Eagles, however, have the personnel to combat the problems that plagued the Falcons and Jaguars. In addition to a dynamic first unit led by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, they boast a group of backups who likely could start elsewhere.

“It increases the amount of preparation you have to do, because you have to understand the differences in each pass rusher,” Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder said. “They have a great first round of guys that come out there, and the second round is just as good. So that makes it really difficult.”

Of course, not even a strong pass rush ensures that the Eagles will keep Brady at bay Sunday.

The numbers show that while Brady’s performance certainly drops under pressure, he still handles the rush better than any other quarterback in the NFL. More often than not, Brady still somehow finds a way. As Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry put it, “It’s Tom Brady at the end of the day. None of that stuff matters. There’s no blueprint.”

Still, the Eagles will try, in the hopes of building on the formula the Jaguars outlined, but with a couple enhancements: First, instead of Blake Bortles under center, Philly will turn to Nick Foles, who threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship. Unlike the Jaguars, the Eagles probably won’t let the Patriots limit them to just six points in the second half.

Perhaps more important, the Eagles won’t allow Brady to wear down their defensive line. And if they could knock Brady down a few more times, they might just pull off an upset.

“If we can stay fresh for four quarters and we can keep bringing wave after wave of pass rusher at him, it’ll be like bringing fastball pitchers out of the bullpen,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “We’ll be able to stay fresh and still rush well.”

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