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The path to victory for both the Eagles and Chiefs in the Super Bowl

How the Eagles can beat the Chiefs, and vice versa, on Super Bowl Sunday

NFL: NFC Championship-San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve finally reached that point, folks.

The Super Bowl is finally here, and the Philadelphia Eagles will be squaring off with the Kansas City Chiefs in Arizona to join the exclusive club of teams who have raised the Lombardi Trophy.

You can make the argument that these were the two best teams all season. I mean, they were the one seeds entering the playoffs, and this is the first time that both top seeds from each conference have made the big game since 2017.

So, when they kick off on Sunday, here’s what you should expect.

When the Eagles have the ball

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” - Bruce Lee.

The Eagles offense is one of the most dynamic and versatile offenses in the NFL, but the versatility doesn’t come from the myriad of concepts they run in the passing game or run game, although they can run a variety of different things. The beauty of the Eagles offense is how everything builds off of one another, and is built upon the strengths of their most important players.

Let’s start in the run game. The Philadelphia Eagles run game is built off of two concepts: inside zone and split zone. Philadelphia’s offensive line is the best in the league, and on inside zone and split zone runs, they create so much movement amongst their guards and center, Jason Kelce, Landon Dickerson, and Isaac Seumalo.

According to Sports Info Solutions, the Eagles are fifth in the NFL in inside zone run snaps, but they’re first in EPA per attempt and third in first-down rate. This is the baseline for the Eagles’ run game, and they can build off of that using option plays and RPOs. This causes a problem for opposing defenses because everything looks the same.

Here’s the Eagles running split zone out of 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs), with one TE arcing to the outside. Notice, the end man on the line of scrimmage is left unblocked. That’s their “read” guy. The action is based on what he does.

Now, this is the same game, same motion out of the pistol, but this time QB Jalen Hurts pulls the ball and throws it to the tight end, who slips out of the backfield. This is where the Eagles can beat you. Not only are they physically overwhelming up front, but they also can force you to be wrong any way you guard them. They’re first in the NFL in RPO attempts, and it all just builds off of this action.

Another nice changeup the Eagles can throw in their run game is the threat of pulling linemen, especially C Jason Kelce. This offensive line is extremely athletic, and against aggressive fronts, Kelce or RT Lane Johnson will pull and create gaps in the run game that way.

In the passing game, Philadelphia has benefitted a lot from the development of Jalen Hurts as a passer, and the presence of WR AJ Brown. While Hurts has developed quite a lot in his deep passing and passing over the middle, the offense still is predicated on short and intermediate passes to the outside areas of the field (chart via Pro Football Focus). In addition, Football Outsiders tracks 199 and 185 of his passes going to the left and right sides of the field, around 40% each way. However, his DVOA on those passes to the middle of the field is in the top ten, as well as his deep passing. That’s where the biggest improvement has come.

Now, if teams are going to load up the box on the Eagles (which hasn’t happened often; Philly runs into light boxes at the fifth-highest rate in the league), Hurts is willing to throw the ball on the outside to AJ Brown or Devonta Smith, who can win one on one catches.

So, with these advantages the Eagles have built into their offense, they seem unstoppable, right?

Well, that’s where the Chiefs come in.

The Chiefs are an interesting team defensively. According to SIS, they’re fifth in the amount of 7-man boxes they present to opposing offenses, but they’re also fifth in the percentage for 2-high shells they play. The Chiefs defense is predicated on confusion, and when they can change the picture on the back end, they give their front time to get home.

Against the Bengals, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo played a lot of 2-Man and 2 high shells, keeping a lid on the explosive passing offense of the Bengals. However, the Eagles present a different type of beast, because of their ability and willingness to run the ball. I’d expect them to play a lot of Cover 2-Man like they have this season, with the safeties being over the top to bracket any explosives by AJ Brown or Devonta Smith.

Up front, the Chiefs have a massive, game-wrecking kaiju named Chris Jones, but how the Chiefs use their pass rush and blitz could be key to stopping this Eagles offense. Yes, the Chiefs’ pressures are generated by Jones (21% of the Chiefs’ pressures come from Jones), but how the sacks are generated is key. The Chiefs don’t have a lot of bend-the-corner edge defenders, no. They’re pocket crushers. George Karlaftis, Frank Clark, and Carlos Dunlap won’t use speed to get the edge, but they’ll constrict pocket space and stay disciplined in their rush lanes, giving Jones time to get there.

For the Eagles to win in the passing game, this will more than likely have to be a big game from TE Dallas Goedert, who won’t see as much double coverage. However, Kansas City will be prepared for what the Eagles throw at them, just as they have all season.

When Kansas City has the ball

Plain and simple: it’s the Patrick Mahomes show.

The Chiefs signal-caller has been on another level this season, but perhaps even more impressive is maintaining that high level of play while the offensive schematics and defensive coverages change around him.

Mahomes has been just as efficient while taking down his average Depth of Target and playing in an offense that’s less reliant on explosive plays.

Mahomes the Machine

Year Completion Percentage Over Expectation EPA/play Average Depth of Target(aDOT) Touchdown % INT % Explosive passes(>15 yards)
Year Completion Percentage Over Expectation EPA/play Average Depth of Target(aDOT) Touchdown % INT % Explosive passes(>15 yards)
2018-2021 3.1 0.308 8.1 6.57% 1.55% 62
2022 3.6 0.306 7.1 6.20% 1.70% 53

The Chiefs have gone from this super explosive, big 40-yard chunk play in the passing game to being more efficient underneath and in the middle of the field. This fits their new personnel like Juju Smith-Schuster, Skyy Moore, and Kadarious Toney, who are less burners downfield and more shifty guys underneath.

Against the Bengals in the AFC title game, this was on full display, but what stood out the most was the amount of beaters the Chiefs had for man coverage. They’ve faced man a whole lot more this year than they have in the Mahomes era, and head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy had enough very cool counters to it.

What will be interesting is how the Eagles defend TE Travis Kelce. Kelce is so hard to defend because he knows how to get open against zone. He and Mahomes have a great rapport, and Kelce will break off a route in order to just sit in an open hole in the zone.

However, when you play man coverage with one guy on him, this happens:

Now the Eagles present a different beast because the Eagles can live in man coverage and survive. This is why they went out and signed CB James Bradberry and traded for S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. They’re more of a quarters, zone-heavy team, but will play man often if they have to, because they have the corners to do it.

If you don’t want to target Slay, then take your chances with Bradberry:

Where the Eagles can create havoc is upfront too. Unlike the pass rushers the Chiefs have faced thus far in the playoffs, the Eagles EDGE’s can win with speed, which could give the Chiefs’ tackles problems. Eagles EDGE Haason Reddick is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, and he doesn’t only win—he wins quickly.

Like, really quickly.

It’s going to be hard to take down Mahomes consistently, but the Eagles have the formula to get to him and bring him down, by using speed instead of power.

This is shaping up to be one of the better Super Bowls we’ve gotten in a while, and the on-field product should be very fun to watch.