Antonio Brown, Receiver of Renown

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The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense will present several threats to the Indianapolis Colts’ offense on Sunday night. Perhaps the most dangerous is Antonio Brown, one of the league’s most prolific receivers and, by at least one measure, the most valuable. What does Brown do so well, and what makes him so good?

Volume, But Not Just Volume

Brown currently ranks second in the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards, behind only Julio Jones. It should come as no surprise he ranks highly in both categories. After all, he ranks third in the league in targets, behind Jones and Houston’s one-man band, DeAndre Hopkins.

But targets are no guarantee of production. Just ask Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, who was having a down season even before his 13-target, one-catch performance against the Patriots last Sunday night. What matters more is efficiency, and Brown has been very efficient. Just like he did last season, he currently sits atop the Football Outsiders’ leaderboard as the most valuable receiver in the league. What makes Brown so valuable?

Not in the Red Zone, But Getting There

Many of the most valuable receivers in the league are like Larry Fitzgerald, red zone monsters. That is not Brown’s forte, as his total of just five touchdowns indicates. He is not even the Steelers’ most-targeted player in the red zone. That distinction belongs instead to tight end Heath Miller.

Brown’s most productive areas are when the Steelers are trying to get to scoring territory in the first place. He is the second-most-valuable receiver in the league when the Steelers are between their own 20 and their own 40, and the seventh-most-valuable receiver in the league when the Steelers are between their own 40 and their opponents’ 40, the back and middle areas of the field where teams start most of their possessions and where many possessions go to die. Red zone receiving threats are incredibly valuable, but the best players are full-field players, and Brown is one of those.

A Threat Everywhere Past the Line of Scrimmage

Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a devotee of the wide receiver screen, and Brown is his preferred screen player. He has 20 targets at or behind the line of scrimmage this year, most on the team. Haley may wish to rethink part of his strategy, as this is pretty much the only area on the field Brown has not been highly productive this year.

Brown’s most productive area of the field has been the very deep pass, those thrown more than 25 yards downfield. Even with the time he has missed, Ben Roethlisberger is tied with Carson Palmer for the most very deep attempts in the league. He has been excellent on those, ranking second to Derek Carr in total value by Football Outsiders’ metrics.

Brown is a big reason for Roethlisberger’s success on those very deep passes. Football Outsiders’ metrics rate him as the most valuable receiver in the league on such throws, ahead of Carr’s favorite target, Amari Cooper.

Brown is far from just a deep-ball specialist, as he displays special skills on short passes. There are 54 wide receivers who have been targeted at least 25 times within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He ranks first among that group with an average of 6.9 yards after the catch. That is not just one fluke play either, as he ranks third on passes 1-5 yards downfield and first on passes 6-10 yards downfield.

Even on shorter passes, Brown does not need to get yards after the catch to be highly productive. He averages just 0.4 yards after the catch on passes 11-15 yards downfield but still ranks as one of the most valuable players in the league on those passes too. The reason: he catches almost everything. He has a catch rate of 81 percent, best among the 25 players with at least 15 such targets.

Brown is also not just a one-side-of-the-field specialist, like Odell Beckham was. He has been targeted in roughly equal numbers on both the left and right sides of the field, and has been just about as efficient on either side of the field. The one tendency has been his high yards-after-catch plays on short passes tend to come in the middle of the field.

A great deal of Brown’s value comes from not just where he is targeted, but when. He’s had the ball thrown in his direction on third or fourth down more often than any receiver in the league. By Football Outsiders’ numbers, he is the most valuable receiver in the league there. His 190 DYAR on third and fourth downs is 50 percent more than second-place A.J. Green‘s.

What It Means

Brown is not as physical pre-possession as Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones or Dez Bryant, but he might still be the league’s best receiver. He can beat you after the catch on short passes. He can sit down in intermediate routes, get open, and catch everything. He can beat you deep. He will beat you on third downs. He has even been just as good playing with Landry Jones as with Ben Roethlisberger. The only people to slow him down this season have been Michael Vick and Richard Sherman. Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky needs a good plan, or else Brown could match the 133 yards and two touchdowns he had in Pittsburgh’s 51-34 win last year.

Eagles fly to first Super Bowl win with memorable victory vs Patriots

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As their delirious fans sang their theme song and their owner lifted the Lombardi Trophy, the Philadelphia Eagles’ finally could breathe freely.

Yo, Philly, you really did beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a thrilling Super Bowl that rewrote the offensive record book.

Nick Foles guided the drive of a lifetime, Zach Ertz made a bobbling touchdown catch that had to survive replay review, and an exhausted defense came up with not one but two stands in the final moments Sunday for a 41-33 victory. For the first time since 1960, the Eagles are NFL champions.

“Fly Eagles Fly,” indeed.

“We’ve played this game since we were little kids, we dreamed about this moment,” game MVP Foles said. “There’s plenty of kids watching this game right now dreaming about this moment and someday will be here.”

In a record-setting shootout between backup QB Foles and five-time champ Brady of the favored Patriots, Foles led a pressure-packed 75-yard drive to the winning touchdown, 11 yards to Ertz with 2:21 to go .

Then Brandon Graham strip-sacked Brady and Derek Barnett recovered, setting up rookie Jake Elliot’s 46-yard field goal for an 8-point lead.

Brady got his team to midfield, but his desperation pass fell to the ground in the end zone.

“For us, it was all about one stop we had to make. We went out here and made that one stop,” Graham said.

The underdog Eagles (16-3), even injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz, came bolting off the sideline in ecstasy while Brady sat on the ground, disconsolate.

It was the first Super Bowl title for Philadelphia (16-3), which went from 7-9 last season.

“If there’s a word (it’s) called everything,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “That’s what it means to Eagles fans everywhere. And for Eagles fans everywhere, this is for them.”

Super Bowl MVP Foles orchestrated the victory with the kind of drive NFL MVP Brady, a five-time champion, is known for. The drive covered 14 plays, including a fourth-down conversion.

“I felt calm. I mean, we have such a great group of guys, such a great coaching staff,” Foles said. “We felt confident coming in, and we just went out there and played football.”

The Eagles had to survive a video replay because ball pop into the air as Ertz crossed the goal line.

The touchdown stood — and so did thousands of green-clad Eagles fans who weren’t going to mind the frigid conditions outside US Bank Stadium once they headed out to celebrate. But not before a rousing rendition of “Fly Eagles Fly” reverberated throughout the stands once the trophy was presented to Lurie. Later, fans danced along with the “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from “Rocky,” the city’s best-known fictional underdog.

The Patriots (15-4) seemed ready to take their sixth championship with Brady and coach Bill Belichick in eight Super Bowls. Brady threw for a game-record 505 yards and three TDs, hitting Rob Gronkowski for 4 yards before Stephen Gostkowski’s extra point gave New England its first lead, 33-32.

Then Foles made them forget Wentz — and least for now — with the gutsiest drive of his life.

“We couldn’t make a play to give the ball back to the offense,” Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore said.

Foles has been something of a journeyman in his six pro seasons, but he has been spectacular in four career playoff games. He finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards and three TDs.

The combined 1,151 yards were the most in any modern NFL game, and Brady’s 505 were the most in any playoff contest. The 40-year-old master finished 28 of 48 and picked apart the Eagles until the final two series.

It was such a wild game that Foles caught a touchdown pass , and Brady was on the opposite end of a Danny Amendola throw that went off his fingertips.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson brought home the championship in his second year in charge. Belichick is 5-3 in Super Bowls and his teams have only a plus-4 overall margin in those games.

So this one was in keeping with that trend: breathtaking and even a bit bizarre.

Brady and the Patriots looked ready for another comeback by opening the second half with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Gronkowski was unstoppable, grabbing four passes for 69 yards, including the 5-yard score.

Philly didn’t flinch, answering with a precise 75-yard march and three more third-down conversions; the Eagles were 10 for 16. The last was on Foles’ perfect pass to Clement over double coverage. The rookie’s reception was upheld by review, and the Eagles were back on top by 10.

Brady shrugged and, getting steadfast protection, connected with Chris Hogan from the 26 for another touchdown.

When all the Eagles could manage was Elliott’s 42-yarder for a 32-26 lead, it seemed inevitable the Patriots would go in front, then become the first repeat Super Bowl winner since they did it in the 2004 and ’05 games.

Foles, Ertz, and — at last — a revitalized defense said otherwise.

The weird image of Brady ambling downfield on a pass pattern came three plays after New England lost receiver Brandin Cooks to a concussion on a vicious but clean hit by Malcolm Jenkins in the second quarter. Amendola’s pass required an over-the-shoulder grab and the ball fell off Brady’s outstretched hands.

Brady got back to passing after a wild interception. Alshon Jeffery nearly made a spectacular catch near the Patriots’ goal line, only to juggle the ball into the air. Duron Harmon picked it off at the 10. Moments later, Brady was connecting with Chris Hogan for 42 yards.

James White broke several tackles with a brilliant 26-yard run and it was 15-12. That gave White seven touchdowns in his past three postseason games, including the overtime winner in last year’s Super Bowl.

But the Eagles still had 2:04 left in the half — and some more magic in their bag.

A short third-down throw to rookie Corey Clement on a circle route turned into a 55-yard explosion down to the Patriots 8. Philly got to the 1 and on fourth down, it was Foles’ turn to morph into a receiver.

He did better than Brady. On fourth down, Clement took a direct snap, pitched to tight end Trey Burton, and the former Florida QB hit an uncovered Foles. The Eagles were up 22-12 at halftime, the most points New England has allowed in the opening half of a Super Bowl under Belichick.

Each team started with 67-yard drives to field goals — New England had never scored a first-quarter point with Brady in a Super Bowl.

Each kicker later faltered, with Elliott missing the extra point, his fifth failed PAT this season, after Jeffery’s 34-yard touchdown. Then Gostkowski hit the left upright with a 26-yard field goal after holder Ryan Allen mishandled the snap. Gostkowski also missed an extra point.

When LeGarrette Blount, who won the title last season with the Patriots, scored on a 21-yard burst, Pederson went for 2, but the pass failed, making it 15-3.

The Eagles and Pederson brushed it off and stayed with their usual aggressive approach. Breathtakingly, it eventually paid off.

Eagles’ rush could be key vs. Patriots’ Brady

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MINNEAPOLIS — Neither New England nor Philadelphia is a tropical paradise, so for the Patriots and Eagles, the Minnesota winter weather has been pretty normal for them. That’s a good thing as both teams head into their Super Bowl LII meeting on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium trying to treat it like just another 60-minute game.

After the media circus they endured Monday in St. Paul, the players for both the Patriots (15-3) and the Eagles (15-3) welcomed the opportunity to get back to some semblance of normal game week preparation and to focus on the football, even if it’s in a new place.

“We’ve got to go out and practice and kind of get away from the madness,” said Philadelphia defensive end Fletcher Cox on Wednesday after the Eagles practiced at the University of Minnesota. “I just treat it as a regular game week. Things I would do at the facility, I’m doing here.”

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

One thing the Eagles did successfully at home and on the road all season was pressure the opponent’s quarterback, and when the Patriots have faltered in two Super Bowl losses to the Giants in the past decade, a relentless pass rush has contributed. But the highly touted Eagles defense, which did not allow a point after the Vikings’ opening drive of the NFC title game, is wary about putting too much of their attention on Patriots star Tom Brady.

“It’s Tom plus 10 guys on the field. We can’t just focus on one guy, if we’re going to be real about it,” Cox said. “I think we have to focus on their whole offense, because they’ve got a lot of great players. We have to go out and be ourselves. We’ve got to go out and do the little things right and not beat ourselves in order to be victorious.”

New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the second half of the AFC title game win over Jacksonville due to a concussion, is slated to play.

“Rob’s a tough guy. Obviously, this isn’t something you can just fight through,” said Brady.

While the Patriots offense has revolved around Brady since their first Super Bowl win in 2002, the defense has been one of constant evolution, and the unit adopted yet another new look late in the regular season when linebacker James Harrison came on board after he was jettisoned by the Steelers.

“When you’re in a system for as long as he’s been, there are a lot of things that are habits that get ingrained, which they should be. Some of those things carry over. Some of them kind of don’t,” Belichick said of Harrison, who has played 178 of his 193 NFL regular-season games for Pittsburgh. “He’s done a great job of trying to separate them and do what we’ve asked him to do.”

While the Eagles will be looking for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title, having lost the big game after the 1980 and 2004 seasons, there may be more pressure on the Patriots, who will be seeking their sixth title and their second in a row, knowing that the coaching staff will look significantly different next season. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are both widely expected to be head coaches in Indianapolis and Detroit, respectively, next season.

“I realize and I understand and I appreciate the talent in the coaches in our building. I’m grateful for the opportunity to even be coached by them,” said Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, sounding very much like he was saying goodbye. “Whatever their opportunities are in the future, I’ll be excited for them.”

There’s one more opportunity for them on Sunday. And it sounds plenty exciting.