How coaching gave the Eagles an edge

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are a lot of unknowns when you face a Bill Belichick defense, especially with an extra week to prepare for the NFL's grandest stage, and Philadelphia Eagles coaches tackled them in a meeting last week.

If they decide to double Zach Ertz, no worries, players were told. If they decide to double Alshon Jeffery, no worries. No matter what they do, no worries. You know why? We're good-good.

"Honestly, we felt like all of our matchups were good. We felt like they were having a hard time covering us," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich told me as he walked to the bus Sunday night, smiling in his Super Bowl LII champions shirt.

"At times, they were doubling Ertz, but they're not going to double him every time. Literally, on the sideline, we're talking -- everyone's like, 'This guy can't cover me. This guy can't [cover me].' It was like, 'OK, everybody's going to be open.' "

It sure looked that way for much of the Eagles' 41-33 triumph over one of the NFL's all-time greatest defensive coaches and the Patriots -- an unlikely shootout in which Nick Foles completed his remarkable rise from near-retirement in 2016 to backup QB to Super Bowl MVP with 373 passing yards and three touchdowns (plus a fourth score receiving). And Foles spread the wealth. Ertz had seven catches for 67 yards and Jeffery three for 73. Both scored a touchdown, as did rookie running back Corey Clement, who had four catches for 100 yards. Nelson Agholor had nine for 84. Torrey Smith had five for 49.

Coach and play-caller Doug Pederson "just did a great job of game-planning," said the longest-tenured Eagles player, tight end Brent Celek. "There was a lot of different mismatches. I think he kept them off balance with some of the plays we were doing. But guys went out there and made plays, and I think that's what it was all about: guys making plays."

That the Eagles had opportunities to make some plays wasn't surprising. This was, after all, a Patriots defense that ranked 29th this season in yards allowed, 30th against the pass and 31st in yards per play. New England had gotten by largely by standing tall in the red zone and outgunning people on offense, which Tom Brady and Co. nearly did Sunday, breaking Super Bowl records with 613 yards, including 500 passing.

The stunning part was the New England defense's inability to come up with an answer at any point in a game where Belichick and DC Matt Patricia made the still-mysterious decision to bench cornerback Malcolm Butler, who played his only snap on special teams. Jeffery pulled down his early TD over former Eagles cornerback Eric Rowe, who allowed six catches for 79 yards on nine targets, per Pro Football Focus. Safety Patrick Chung allowed five for 70 in seven targets. Foles was 3 for 3 for 81 yards when targeting safety Jordan Richards. The Eagles also ran 27 times for 164 yards, 147 of them from ex-Patriot LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi.

The Patriots are known as the best adjustment team in the NFL, and last year's rally from a 28-3 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI was a perfect example of that. Yet on Sunday, the Eagles scored all four times they touched the ball in the second half, including two touchdowns. Just two of the Eagles' drives (both in the second quarter) failed to result in points -- one a three-and-out for a punt, the other a drive into Patriots territory that ended with a contested interception bouncing off the hands of Jeffery, who'd cut off my question in the final media availability last week to tell me there "ain't no if" to the Eagles' chances, and that they were bringing the Lombardi Trophy home to Philly.

"I believe in us, man," Jeffery said Sunday. "I said it all along: Ain't nobody f-----g with us. Only person that could stop us was us. We went out there and proved it. We're world champs."

The Eagles' offense expected to see unscouted looks Sunday. The Patriots are known for that, and for taking away what the opponent does best. Eagles coaches dug deep into tape as they set their game plan, stressing communication and plans for blocking different fronts. But it was the Eagles who caught New England flat-footed with a critical play on fourth-and-goal just before halftime: a trick TD pass from tight end Trey Burton to Foles known as "Philly Special," dug from the vault of quality control/assistant quarterbacks coach Press Taylor during preparations for the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota, which had once been culled from a similar play by the Chicago Bears. "Then the (NFC title) game got out of control -- we didn't need to run it. We were like 'OK, great,' " Reich said. "Unbelievable."

All this happened behind Foles, who replaced injured MVP candidate Carson Wentz in December. Foles stayed the course through widespread criticism of his play over the last two games of the regular season and found his rhythm in the playoffs, completing 72.6 percent of his passes -- among players with a minimum of 75 postseason passing attempts, that's a better single-season mark than anyone but Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Troy Aikman. Other Eagles on injured reserve for the title run included left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Jordan Hicks and special teams ace Chris Maragos.

Though Pederson wouldn't say it directly Monday morning, Wentz figures to return as the starting QB next season, with Foles, who is under contract through 2018, backing up, unless there's a trade to be had. Ertz and Jeffery -- core pieces of the arsenal assembled by Eagles football boss Howie Roseman -- are signed through 2021. Of all the offensive skill players who helped wreck Belichick's bunch Sunday, only Blount isn't under contract for next season. An Eagles defense that ranked in the top five in many key categories this season gave up a ton of plays Sunday, but Brandon Graham's strip-sack of Brady with a little over 2 minutes to play and Philly up five was the one they needed. "It was a sloppy day for us," cornerback Ronald Darby told me. "But the future is bright. And we will be back next year in Atlanta." As confetti fell, linebacker Mychal Kendricks stomped around midfield, yelling at teammates: "Let's go get another one!"

Stepping to the podium for one last press conference early Monday morning, Foles said he wasn't surprised by his level of play down the stretch.

"Everyone wants to point out one individual, and I'm fortunate to be the MVP of this game," Foles said, gesturing at the trophy. "But as you've seen this year, we've had so many MVPs ... so many guys stepping up."

They seemed to be everywhere on offense Sunday, especially in the passing game that aired out the Patriots, just as Eagles coaches promised. They were built for this one, and maybe more.

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.