NFL

Super Bowl 52: Three key matchups between Eagles and Patriots

Super Bowl 52: Three key matchups between Eagles and Patriots

Donovan McNabb has been replaced by Nick Foles, but Tom Brady is still Tom Brady.

Super Bowl 52 is being dubbed a "rematch" of Super Bowl 39, when the Patriots held on for a 24-21 victory in Jacksonville. While each team has a new cast of characters, the two constants are Brady at quarterback for New England and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. 

Here are three key matchups that could decide Super Bowl 52

1. Doug Pederson's offense against Bill Belichick's defense — Matt Patricia is the Patriots defensive coordinator and Frank Reich is the Eagles offensive coordinator, but this has been Belichick's defense for years and Pederson has his fingerprints all over the Eagles offense. 

Pederson has put together two excellent game plans to get the Eagles to the Super Bowl and will have two weeks to come up with a game plan for Belichick's Patriots. The Eagles used a lot of run-pass options in their 15-10 win over the Falcons in the divisional round. Pederson put the ball in the hands of Nick Foles in the NFC championship game and Foles was fantastic with 352 passing yards and three scores against the NFL's top defense. 

Now Pederson will face perhaps the best coach the NFL has ever known. If Pederson can solve Belichick's creativity and deliver the Eagles their first Super Bowl championship, he will forever be a legend in Philadelphia. 

2. Eagles tackle Halapoulivaati Vatai against Patriots pass rushers — Vaitai has struggled at times while filling in for Jason Peters, but the second-year player from TCU kept Minnesota's sack leader at bay. Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had 13 sacks during the regular season and another in last Sunday's win over the Saints, had just one tackle on Sunday and zero sacks in Philadelphia's 38-7 win. 

While the Patriots defense lacks a dominant pass rusher, New England still ranked seventh with 42 sacks during the regular season. Defensive end Trey Flowers led New England with 6 1/2 sacks while outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy had 5 1/2 and defensive tackle Deatrich Wise had five. Vatai could see multiple players across from him in the Super Bowl, including former Steelers defensive end James Harrison, and must play as well as he did against the Vikings to keep Foles upright. 

3. Malcolm Jenkins against Rob Gronkowski — Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will have more to worry about than Gronkowski with Brady running the offense. The Eagles will certainly try to pressure Brady with Fletcher Cox, Chris Long and Derek Barnett up front, but Brady has a quick release and will push the ball downfield.

While Danny Amendola made several clutch catches in the 24-20 win over the Jaguars and Dion Lewis has been dangerous all season, the key to stopping the Patriots will be containing Gronkowski. 

The big Patriots tight end missed the second half of the AFC championship game and the Patriots won the Super Bowl last year with an injured Gronkowski shelved. Assuming he's cleared from Sunday's concussion over the next two weeks, Gronkowski figures to be a big factor in New England's game plan. Stopping Brady won't be easy, but Gronkowski was New England's leading receiver all season and has to be priority No. 1 for the Eagles. 

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