MINNEAPOLIS – When the Patriots head to the Super Bowl, head coach Bill Belichick has often said he usually likes to install most of his team's game plan the week before his team arrives in the host city. This way, New England can take it a bit easier during Super Bowl Week, when there are more off-field distractions.
Their opponents in Super Bowl LII are taking a similar approach. Philadelphia's Doug Pederson elected to have his team practice without pads all this week, because, as he told reporters Thursday, he was satisfied with the players' preparations a week ago.
"This [week] is about fine-tuning, keeping our guys fresh for Sunday. So, I decided to back off," added the Eagles' head coach.
On Wednesday, Pederson and his coordinators, Jim Schwartz (defense) and Frank Reich (offense), broke practice into two distinct halves. Intermission during a normal game runs around 15 minutes in length, but that can usually double during Super Bowls. So, the Eagles took a 30-minute break in practice to simulate the physical difference that players will endure while singer Justin Timberlake is entertaining the Super Bowl halftime audience with his performance.
"I thought it was a good call by Coach," remarked Reich, speaking from experience. He served as Hall of Famer Jim Kelly's backup with the Buffalo when the Bills went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
"I'd say we installed three-quarters of [our game plan] as coaches, then introduced it to the players," Reich continued in reference to last week's work in Philadelphia. "Got some reps early with them and refocused on it this week. Yeah, I think it's been good, they're digesting it. We're half a step ahead of the game in the game-planning process."
On defense, it's different, according to Schwartz. He revealed that most of his squad's installation came during the first week of training camp six months ago.
"We're not a team that tries to fool you a whole lot. We have our personality, things we're good at. Having last week certainly helps our preparation, but I don't know whether that's going to be the difference whether we win or lose," countered Schwartz, who conceded that "knowing what to expect is big" when it comes to Super Bowl preparation.
The Patriots, of course, are no strangers to the Super Bowl fortnight, but also have stayed in remote locations for a week or more during the regular season – most recently, a 10-day trip to Colorado and Mexico this past November. New England players frequently refer to those trips as conducive to bond strengthening on and off the field.
Toward that end, Schwartz cited the Eagle's weeklong December sojourn on the West Coast for back-to-back games with Seattle and the L.A. Rams as a valuable precursor to Super Bowl LII.
"That experience has helped us. It was painful to go through, hard being away, traveling back and forth to Anaheim, wildfires everywhere, living in a hotel for a week… it helped prepare us a little bit for preparing out of a hotel in a strange environment."
To help provide his team with even more perspective, Pederson has enlisted his former teammate in Green Bay, Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, to speak to the Eagles in advance of Super Bowl LII.
"He's a reflection of Doug's aggressive philosophy and personality," Reich observed.
The message Pederson hopes Favre will impart is "Control your emotions and play like you have all season long."
"Enjoying the moment is doing what we've done all year," echoed Reich. "It means you love to practice, you love meetings, you love the guys you're in meetings with and practice with. You understand that you can work hard and still enjoy the moment. You have to know how to eliminate the distractions, just on a bigger level here… You don't want to take yourself too seriously. The routine that we have is our friend."
Schwartz concluded with a baseball analogy, calling his team "a pretty good fastball pitcher," and the Patriots "a good fastball hitter."
"So, we'll bring our best, they'll bring their best, and let the chips fall. These are the top two teams in the NFL. It's going to be fun watching those top two teams give it their best on Sunday."
Super Bowl LII will feature not one, but two placekickers – one on either side – who played for the University of Memphis. New England's Stephen Gostkowski has established himself as one of the league's best over his 12 NFL seasons, while the Eagles' Jake Elliott is only just getting started as a rookie.
On a visit back to campus a few years back, Gostkowski was introduced by a mutual friend to Elliott, then a freshman, and the two have developed a close friendship ever since.
"Yeah, Stephen's been great with me. I got a chance to kick with him a little bit [back then]," Elliott recalled. "It was obviously really special for me at the time. Ever since then he's been a little bit of a mentor, someone I can go to if I have any questions or need advice on stuff.
"We've talked a couple of times [this week] and are both excited to be here. Probably do a little jersey exchange before or after the game."
For another Eagle, facing the Patriots will be a poignant experience. The Patriots drafted Kamu Grugier-Hill last year in the sixth round, but released him at the end of training camp. Originally, Grugier-Hill expected the Patriots to re-sign him before Philly promptly swooped in and snatched the linebacker.
"Yeah, that's what I was told," he admitted with a smile. "They wanted to bring me on the practice squad and bring me up [to the active roster] in a couple weeks, but it seemed to work out."
In his second season, Grugier-Hill not only took part in all 16 Eagles games and registered 22 total tackles, he was also named an alternate to the Pro Bowl for the NFC's lone special teamer position. When asked what that honor means to him, Grugier-Hill gave partial credit to former teammate and Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater.
"I'm truly honored and blessed to be in the position I'm in right now. It's guys like Slater and [injured Eagles teammate] Chris Maragos. I come to a team with great leaders. I'm in a special teams role right now. To learn from guys like that, it's a huge blessing."
Though he was a Patriot for only a few months, Grugier-Hill maintains close ties with several New England players whom he's anxious to face Sunday night.
"I love it. I'm excited. I think it's awesome knowing a bunch of guys on that team, guys that I got really close with and actually learned a lot from. It's going to be a fun time. It's bringing a real competitiveness out of me. A little bit of [showing them] what they don't have now."
See you Sunday
The Eagles have fulfilled their media interview obligations for the remainder of the week, while the Patriots were completing theirs late Thursday afternoon. Sunday night, following Super Bowl LII, will be the next and last time Philadelphia and New England players and coaches will be required to speak on the record this season.