Super Bowl Sleepers
Super Bowls are unpredictable. If you don’t feel that way after the last three games, there is nothing I can do for you. That being said, there are some common themes that flow through the absurdity. One constant as of late has been a previously unknown player having the game of his life and becoming a household name. In 2015, it would have been Chris Matthews (4 catches, 109 yards, TD) had Malcolm Butler not been waiting at the goal line. Now, Matthews is out of football and Butler is looking at a $10+ million a year contract this summer. In Super Bowl 50 it was defensive lineman Kony Ealy making a statement in a losing effort. He not only tied a Super Bowl record with three sacks, but also added a forced fumble and interception off future Hall Of Famer Peyton Manning. Last year it was James White, who set a Super Bowl record with 14 catches and scored the first overtime touchdown in the history of the game. So who will go from zero to hero this year? Here are a few names to keep an eye on…
Jacob Hollister: As strong as the Eagles defense was this season, they have one clear weakness. The Birds ranked 2nd in opposing QBR when targeting running backs, 3rd when targeting wide receivers, but 28th when targeting tight ends. Philly will take those struggles into Sunday against the best TE in football in Rob Gronkowski. If the Eagles overcompensate by putting extra attention on Gronk, it could free up the Patriots other tight ends for big games. While Dwayne Allen is second on the depth chart, Jacob Hollister is the next best pass catcher after Gronk. As is the case with any skill position player on the Patriots offense; if the defense leaves them alone, Tom Brady will make them pay.
Lawrence Guy: If the Patriots are going to win this game, they need to control the Eagles running game. Since week 16, New England is holding opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry, which would be good for second in the NFL over the course of the 2017 season. That number has coincided with improved play from Guy, who signed in New England as a free agent this summer. A player who can play both as an interior and edge lineman, the Patriots will look to Guy’s versatility and size to help contain the Eagles power backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi.
Ryan Allen: Being the punter for the New England Patriots is a great way to stay under the radar, you hardly see the field. If Sunday’s game is like the rest of Belichick’s Super Bowls though, field position will be key. Allen had 24 punts downed inside the 20 this year, versus only 3 touchbacks. In a close game Patriots will look to him to keep themselves on the plus side of the field and hold momentum.
Corey Clement: After the Eagles lost Darren Sproles early in the season; rookie Corey Clement beat out Wendell Smallwood as the team’s primary receiving back. The Wisconsin product had 5 catches in the divisional round against Atlanta, but was held to just one grab in the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota. As we saw early in the Patriots game against Jacksonville, and various other times throughout the season, New England struggles defending passing plays originating behind the line of scrimmage. The Jaguars went away from Corey Grant when he was gashing the Patriots defense, but if the Eagles can get Clement in a groove and stick with him, he could be in for a monster day.
Brent Celek: What is Bill Belichick’s trusted and time tested defensive philosophy? Identify what the opponent does best and take that away. It’s no secret Zach Ertz is the Eagles primary weapon on offense, so expect the Patriots defense to key in on him. Similar to what I said about Rob Gronkowski & Jacob Hollister above, this could open things up for back-up tight end Brent Celek. If the Patriots use a younger, less-experienced defensive back to cover Celek, the 10-year pro should be able to take advantage. The same can be said for third string tight end Trey Burton, who caught 5 touchdowns this year. I’d expect the Eagles to use plenty of 2 and maybe even some 3 tight end sets in this game.
Kamu Grugier-Hill: Does that name sound familiar Patriots fans? Grugier-Hill was a 6th round pick by New England in 2016, but was let go as a part of the final roster cut-downs. He was picked up by the Eagles the next day, and has spent the last two years in Philly primarily as a special teams Swiss Army Knife. Given his versatility (he can play linebacker and safety) and familiarity with the Patriots system, I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw a few more defensive snaps than usual. What he does with those opportunities, we will see.
Again, I’m trying to pick surprise standouts, so no need to cold take me Monday morning for expecting MVP performances from long-shots (although if I called a punter getting named Super Bowl MVP, I’m pretty sure somebody owes me money). Did I miss any names? Let me know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth
Written By: Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth)