Posted: Thursday February 3, 2005 1:36PM; Updated: Friday February 4, 2005 12:06PM
In his rookie season as Buffalo's head coach, Mike Mularkey finished 9-7 and had his Bills in playoff contention until Week 17. Mularkey has agreed to break down the playoff field and share his Super Bowl analysis with Don Banks of SI.com:
Eagles vs. Patriots
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Philadelphia beats New England if ...
the Eagles don't try and play above their heads. I know some people say experience doesn't matter, but I think it does. If Philly plays the way it has been playing and doesn't try to do any more because of the magnitude of the game or the challenge of playing the two-time Super Bowl champion, I think they've got a chance to keep it close. They need a low-scoring, close game to have their best shot at the upset.
But if the Eagles have a bunch of guys who feel like they need to be play-makers and do more than they're asked, that could be a recipe for disaster. If the Eagles go out and try to play up to the hype and the idea that it's a national game and the entire world is watching, it could get out of hand in New England's favor.
Some people feel that if Terrell Owens is out, Donovan McNabb has to have a monster game. But he can't go into it thinking like he has to be the guy to win the game. He just needs to play the game that Andy Reid and Brad Childress call for him, and not try to do more than what's asked. You just can't afford to make mistakes against the Patriots. They capitalize on even little mistakes better than anyone in the NFL -- they seem to feed off them. You've got to be on your toes and play error-free for as much of the game as you can, and McNabb has proven he can do that this year.
As far as Owens playing, I don't really expect him to make a huge impact. Obviously his production over the year speaks for itself, but that's when he was healthy. I know he's doing the best he can to get back out on the field, but his injury is similar to what we experienced here with J.P. Losman, and for me, that's a tough injury to come back from quickly at the receiver position. I admire the guy's heart, but I don't know if he's going to be as big a threat as he'd like to be. He might be effective in short to intermediate types of routes and I could see him having a good third-down type of game. But as far as an explosive impact -- making things happen after the catch, for instance -- I'd be very surprised if he does that.
The Eagles can win without Owens if they're as efficient as they were the in the first two playoff games. Their guys are probably going in thinking he's not going to play, and if he does, that much better. I don't think they're counting on him and I really think they feel they can win without him if they have to. But they can't afford to get into an early hole against the Patriots the way the Steelers did. Philly's offense is methodical and the Eagles use all of their players effectively, but it's a West Coast, dink, dunk, control the clock type of offense. So they don't want to fall behind and get into a shootout with New England, because they lose that type of game.
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New England beats Philadelphia if ... the Patriots offense winds up dictating to the Eagles defense, like it did against the Colts and Steelers. New England's offense is so tough to prepare for because it's so versatile. Every time you feel like you have a bead on them, they change up on you. Look at them in the playoffs. They came out and ran it right at Indianapolis, and then against Pittsburgh, they went vertical with their passing game early to great effect.
It becomes such a guessing game to defend them, and any time you hesitate on what they're going to do, that's a win for them and a loss for you. They find your weaknesses and attack them. They make you do whatever you can to address your weakness, which makes you vulnerable in other areas.
I love watching the Patriots because they always have a plan on offense. And the thing they do so well is they always stick with it, even if it's not effective early. They don't abandon it. And they don't have big-name stars for the most part, but they have all the weapons you could want. The wide receivers on that team are never given enough credit for what they do. They're all very good and go about their business quietly, but they're deadly. They are almost interchangeable. There's not one particular one that you need to take away, because they're all just that potent. But no one ever talks about them.
We know the Eagles are comfortable using the blitz on defense, and that's what they feel has gotten them to where they're at. I don't see that changing, but people just haven't gotten very far blitzing Tom Brady. I think a big key in the game will be Jevon Kearse. How do you help out in trying to defend him and the pass rush, and be effective against the blitz? It's going to be put somebody in a situation where there's a running back on a linebacker, and Philly's linebackers are really good blitzers. Otherwise you have to single up your tackles against Kearse, who I know they'll move around to match him up against whom they feel he'll be most effective. How they use Kearse and how the Patriots handle him is going to be a big key in the game.
That said, I expect the Eagles' defense to start with the idea of shutting down Corey Dillon and the Patriots power-running game. And I don't think Jim Johnson will use the blitz to solely get to Brady -- I think it'll be used just as much to stop up the gaps to slow down Dillon. When you face a team like New England that has a potent run game and a potent passing game, you have to take one of them away and make them one dimensional. When the Patriots' running game gets going, the clock just keeps moving and the third downs are all in makeable situations. They just hold the ball and keep it away from you. That will probably be the Eagles' first priority, to slow down that running game -- otherwise the Patriots are in complete control.