Super Bowl LII

Can Brady and the Patriots rage, rage against the dying of the light?

No 40-year-old quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl, can Brady defeat both the Eagles and Father Time?

TX: Super Bowl LI - Post Game SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

DO NOT GO gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It feels like a lifetime ago that a skinny young quarterback from the University of Michigan ran a plodding 5.3 second 40-yard dash in an oversized white t-shirt and baggy shorts.

And if his 40 time was bad, Tom Brady’s draft report was even worse:

“Poor build. Skinny. Lacks great physical stature and strength. Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush. Lacks a really strong arm. Can’t drive the ball downfield. Does not throw a really tight spiral. System-type player who can get exposed if forced to ad lib. Gets knocked down easily.”

Brady-Combine-snap-02-15-15 Who'd have thought this guy would go on to become the best in the business? YouTube YouTube

The result, as you know well by now, was Brady dropping all the way to the sixth round, where he was selected by the New England Patriots with the 199th overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft.

Sixth round, sixth Super Bowl? Brady is just 60 minutes away from claiming as many Vince Lombardi trophies as the NFL’s most successful team — the Pittsburgh Steelers — have in their trophy cabinet.

And he’s doing it all at the age of 40.

Sure, other high-profile quarterbacks such as Brett Favre, Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde all played into their fifth decade, but only Warren Moon — in 1997 when he led the league in passing yards aged 40 — had any sort of success.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

If you’ve been watching Tom vs Time, you’ll have a pretty good idea why Brady continues to have such drive and determination, but how can he continue to play at the very top level of a sport where most quarterbacks fall off a cliff at the age of 37?

For most of his career, the Patriots offence has been built around short and medium passing, with shifty receivers like Wes Welker and Julian Edelman expected to make yards after the catch.

UPI 20180121 Danny Amendola will need another big game for the Patriots. UPI / PA Images UPI / PA Images / PA Images

This year, perhaps because he lost Edelman before the season even started, more than 60% of Brady’s passing yards were through the air, the sixth-most in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. He also ranked in the top three in throws over 30 yards, and yet fifth at avoiding turnover-worthy throws.

In short, he’s throwing the ball deeper, but without sacrificing any accuracy.

Another reason he has maintained excellent quarterback play over 16 full seasons is how good he is against teams that try to blitz him. The average NFL quarterback has a passer rating of 87 on any given throw. When pressured, Brady’s passer rating is 96.6 and, when facing six or more pass rushers in the past 11 seasons (including playoffs), he has thrown 71 touchdowns to just one interception.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

That’s not great news for an Eagles defence built around one of the best pass rushes in the league. However, Philadelphia under Jim Schwartz actually don’t blitz a huge amount, instead preferring to create pressure with their front four.

The key to that defensive line being able to create pressure on nearly 41% of opposition drop backs is the fact that they’ve had no fewer than eight players on the field for at least 20% of defensive snaps this season, and a fresh defensive line is one that can attack quarterbacks without linebacker or defensive back help.

Vikings Eagles Football The Eagles defensive front is one of the best in the business. Matt Slocum / PA Images Matt Slocum / PA Images / PA Images

Against the Vikings last time out, Fletcher Cox and company had Case Keenum under pressure nearly 50% of the time he attempted a pass. That statistic is all the more incredible when you consider the game was effectively over as a contest at half time.

To counter this, the Patriots are likely to run their no-huddle offence. When using the hurry-up, Brady’s completion rate jumps from 66% to nearly 74%, while he increases his yards per attempt from 7.6 to 9.6. Better still from New England’s point of view, when facing the no-huddle, the Eagles allow opposing quarterbacks complete 68% of their passes (compared to 59% after a huddle) and a massive jump in passer rating from 73.8 huddled to 106.5 no-huddle.

Against no-huddle, the defence can’t make substitutions and their pressure rate drops from 42.2% to 36%, hence the quarterback improvement on the other side.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Outside of Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots know the Eagles have the best roster in this game so, defensively, will run a very similar game plan to the one they installed against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game; stop the run and force an average quarterback — in this case Nick Foles — to win the game for the Eagles.

Quarterbacks of Foles’ calibre have won the Super Bowl before — the likes of Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Joe Flacco — but as Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasselbeck and Rex Grossman can attest, more often than not, they end up on the losing side.

UPI 20180130 Can Nick Foles beat the Patriots? UPI / PA Images UPI / PA Images / PA Images

But the Patriots are not unbeatable in playoff games. Flacco, Mark Sanchez and Jake Plummer have all won against New England in the postseason. And when Eli Manning beat them in Super Bowl XLII — denying the Patriots a perfect season — he had a career completion rate of 54.7% and career passer rating of 73.4. Foles, at least, has a career completion rate of 60% and passer rating of 87.4.

So it’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Foles and Philadelphia can beat the Eagles through the air. Their college-style offence certainly caused New England trouble when the Chiefs used it in week one and when the Jaguars attempted it in the AFC Championship Game.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Whenever a game is as tight to call as this one — the line is 4.5 points in New England’s favour — I ask myself what would happen if it was played over seven games, like the NBA or World Series.

In this case, while I think the Eagles would win on one or two occasions, the Patriots would definitely get to four wins first.

In short, while the Eagles have the roster to claim a first Super Bowl title in their 80 year history, the Patriots have Bill Belichick and, perhaps more importantly, a player in Tom Brady who is somehow still undefeated against Father Time.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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