MINNEAPOLIS –With two weeks to break down the biggest game of the year, the Patriots and Eagles showdown has been or will dissected from just about every angle. As Bill Belichick often explains, games come down to individual matchups and how those battles go more often than not dictates the outcome of the game.
This week we're going to look at some of the more intriguing matchups that we expect will be of paramount importance come Sunday and the goal is to provide some insight from the players involved.
Our first one involves the Patriots interior offensive line going against Eagles All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Cox is a disruptive force inside for the Eagles, performing well both against the run and the pass. He finished the season with 26 tackles and 5.5 sacks, numbers which don't even begin to explain his importance and dominance.
Center David Andrews, one of the players who will be tasked with blocking Cox, understands the caliber of player he and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason will be dealing with on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"Fletcher is a great player. Big, strong fast, all those attributes. He causes a lot of disruption in there," Andrews said. "He has the stats to back it up but it's even more than that. There are times where he might take up a couple of guys and blows up somebody and maybe somebody else is making the tackle for a 3-yard loss, but Fletcher really made that play. He's been dominating for a long time and he's going to be a big challenge for us."
Against the Falcons in the divisional round, Cox executed several plays exactly the way Andrews described. He absorbed double teams with regularity and consistently stuffed the running lanes for Devonte Freeman, especially in short-yardage situations.
Cox has been instrumental in Philadelphia's league-leading run defense, which allowed an average of just 79.2 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry, which was good for sixth-best in the NFL.
Fullback James Develin won't necessarily be tasked with taking on Cox but understands the difficulty of establishing the run against such a formidable foe.
"It's hard to do against the Eagles," Develin said. "They've had really good success against the run. Best in the league this year. It's just a testament to those guys up front. Their front four and the linebackers have done a great job all year. They're physical players and they know that scheme very well. We have to execute and do our jobs.
"Their front seven is so strong that's really a huge strength of their defense," Develin said. "[Defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz has them coached up real well. They have a good scheme so we really have to be on our Ps and Qs Sunday night."
Controlling the interior pass rush has been a huge element of the Patriots success, or failure, in the postseason in past years. Andrews know how tough it will be to keep tabs on Cox Sunday night to make sure the kind of disruption the Giants were able to create in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI won't be repeated.
"I think [Cox has a] combination of both speed and power but I think he's more of a power guy," Andrews said. "He's strong but he definitely has a lot of speed. Playing inside most of those guys are more power related.
"They definitely move guys inside. He's been on the left, he's been in the center. Guys definitely have their preferences and they're not afraid to do that," Andrews said. "When you watch enough film you see that. It will be a challenge for us. You can't just lock in on one guy. You're going to have to be familiar with everybody because they're going to throw some wrinkles in there."
Controlling Cox Sunday night will be key, and how Andrews and his mates fare will go a long way toward making the Patriots sixth Super Bowl title possible.