PHOENIX — In a battle of No. 1 seeds, the Eagles and Chiefs will face off in Super Bowl LVII from Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 12.
Since this is the biggest game in the world, we’ve split our normal matchups post into two parts. We’ll start today with the Eagles on defense:
Patrick Mahomes vs. Jonathan Gannon
After facing Daniel Jones, Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson on their way to the Super Bowl, things are about to get a little tougher. Mahomes is going to be named the MVP on Thursday night and then the Eagles are going to have to try to stop him a few days later. Well, stopping Mahomes probably just isn’t going to happen. So they have to at least try to slow him down.
This season, Mahomes earned another All-Pro nod, throwing for over 5,200 yards with 41 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Some NFL fans might get tired of hearing about Mahomes greatness but it really isn’t hyperbole. He’s that good.
The last time the Eagles faced Mahomes in 2021 it didn’t go well. In Week 4 last season, the Chiefs beat the Eagles 42-30 and Mahomes turned in a really impressive performance. He completed 24 of 30 passes for 278 yards with 5 touchdowns and 1 interception. He had a passer rating of 131.0. The Eagles’ goal in that game was to take away the deep ball and Mahomes completed just two passes that traveled 20+ yards. But he killed them in the intermediate and short game. The Chiefs were happy to march down the field time and time again with these scoring drive: 8 plays, 77 yards; 12 plays, 83 yards; 8 plays, 75 yards; 11 plays, 75 yards; 11 plays, 75 yards; 6 plays, 65 yards.
It was the type of defensive performance that made many fans start screaming about Jonathan Gannon and his zone coverages. Because in theory that’s a really good plan, to take away the deep stuff on Mahomes. But then he just crushed them up and down the field.
There are a few differences, obviously, since the last time these teams played. In that game, Tyreek Hill caught 11 passes for 186 yards and 3 touchdowns and he’s now with the Dolphins. But before you begin celebrating that, remember that the Chiefs offense actually improved this season without Hill on the team.
The bigger difference, that should matter, is the influx of defensive talent on the Eagles roster. They simply have better players this time around and perhaps that should allow Gannon to play this differently. He better. The key for this defense has been to get pressure with the defensive line and to let those talented cornerbacks at the next level take away options. Those two units work hand-in-hand and it’s been the biggest reason why the Eagles’ defense ended the season as the No. 2 ranked unit in the NFL.
Blitzing Mahomes too much is usually a losing proposition so if the front four can get to Mahomes and his hobbled ankle, it would really help. And if that happens and the ball starts fluttering in the air, the secondary needs to capitalize. Can’t afford to give Mahomes extra chances.
Travis Kelce vs. Eagles middle of the field
I don’t know if you’ve heard this yet but Jason Kelce actually has a brother who plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. Small world, huh? And this other Kelce fella is pretty good too. Travis Kelce made his fourth All-Pro team this year, catching 110 passes for 1,338 yards with 12 touchdowns. Pretty incredible production, especially for a 33-year-old tight end in his 10th NFL season.
The last time these two teams played, the Eagles were able to minimize Kelce’s damage. He had just 4 catches on 6 targets for 23 yards, which seems even more notable when you remember the way the Chiefs moved the ball at will against the Eagles in that game.
If you look at the Eagles’ defense on paper — no I’m not calling them a paper defense, don’t yell at me, Fletcher Cox — you’d think teams would want to attack the middle of the field. That’s not a knock on their safeties or linebackers but a realization that the Eagles have the best duo of outside cornerbacks in the NFL. So you’d assume tight ends have done a lot of damage against them this season, but you’d be wrong.
The Eagles were pretty much in the middle of the pack against opposing tight ends. They were No. 14 in terms of yards against from opposing tight ends. They gave up 81 catches on 120 targets for 801 yards but just three touchdowns. Just four teams gave up fewer touchdowns this season to opposing tight ends.
So how will they try to stop Kelce? There might be a few doubles but the Eagles will more likely shade some safety help his way and try to not get beat by Kelce settling down in open areas. I also wonder if this could be a huge C.J. Gardner-Johnson assignment. He obviously gives up size to Kelce but he has cover skills from his time playing nickel.
In the NFC Championship Game, 49ers star George Kittle had just 3 catches for 32 yards against the Eagles. But it’s not really fair to read into that too much because he didn’t have a quarterback with a functional arm in the second half. Facing Kelce this week will be a big test.
Andrew Wylie vs. Haason Reddick
One of the biggest things the Eagles have going into this game — really going into any game — is the advantage in the trenches. That’s no different with the Eagles’ defensive line going against the Chiefs’ offensive line. Though, Kansas City has a pretty solid unit. Orlando Brown at left tackle is fine. Both guards, Joe Thuney and Trey Smith are good. And Creed Humphrey is a really good center. So if we’re looking for the weakest point of that offensive line, it’s probably right tackle Andrew Wylie. And he’ll just so happen to be lining up against the hottest Eagles player entering the Super Bowl.
Here’s a look at the Chiefs offensive line and their positional ranking per PFF:
LT Orlando Brown: 18th
LG Joe Thuney: 6th
C Creed Humphrey: 1st
RG Trey Smith: 11th
RT Andrew Wylie: 63rd
Wylie ranks 63rd out of 84 qualified tackles in the NFL this season. He’s given up a team-high nine sacks this season and 53 QB pressures, second to just Brown, who gave up 56. While Josh Sweat on the other side should still be able to get pressure on Brown, the biggest mismatch with these lines is Reddick against Wylie.
In two playoff games, Reddick already has 3 1/2 sacks, the highest total for any Eagles player ever in a single postseason. And in 19 total games in the regular season and the playoffs, Reddick is up to an incredible 19 1/2 sacks. He’s been a menace all season and has a chance to cap it off with a big performance in the final game of the year.
And, of course, we have to mention Brandon Graham. Because when Reddick comes out, it’s BG who goes in and plays a lot on that side. I seem to remember Graham making a big play in a Super Bowl before.
Chiefs receivers vs. Eagles corners
We mentioned earlier that the Chiefs somehow improved as an offense this season without Hill and they’ve really kind of pieced this thing together. Their most productive receiver this season was JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had 78 catches for 933 yards. Up next was Marquez Valdes-Scantling with 42 for 687 (16.4).
But the Chiefs’ receivers are a little banged up entering the Super Bowl. Mecole Hardman (pelvis) seems unlikely to play in the big game, while Kadarius Toney (ankle) and Smith-Schuster (knee) are also dealing with injuries entering Super Bowl week. Because of those injuries, the Chiefs were forced to play Skyy Moore and Marcus Kemp in the conference championship game.
Even if everyone plays, the Eagles will probably feel pretty good with Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Avonte Maddox (who is still dealing with a toe injury of his own) going against any combination of those receivers.
In the AFC Championship Game, MVS had a big performance with 6 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. He did a lot of that damage working out of the slot against Bengals NCB Mike Hilton. He had 5/109/1 against Hilton in that game. So the matchup between MVS and Maddox could be an important one, especially if Slay and Bradberry are locking down outside. Maddox returned from a toe injury but played just 19 snaps in the NFC Championship Game. With an extra week of rest before the Super Bowl, Maddox could be in much better shape and that might really matter.
Isiah Pacheco vs. Eagles’ tackling
Since Clyde Edwards-Helaire went on IR with a high ankle sprain, the Chiefs have been using Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon as their two running backs and it’s been working.
Pacheco is the seventh-round pick and Vineland, New Jersey, native. At 5-11, 215 pounds, Pacheco is a bruising back. He averaged 1.7 yards after contact per carry this season, which isn’t a super high number but it’s important to bring him down. When you think of the Chiefs, you think of Mahomes and that passing attack. But it still really helps to stop the run and make any offense one-dimensional.
As for McKinnon, he has been a huge threat as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught 56 passes for 512 yards and 9 touchdowns this season. He quietly finished fourth in the NFL in receiving as a running back this season behind just Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler and Leonard Fournette. And he led NFL running backs with 9 touchdowns, so the Eagles really have to be aware of his ability in the red zone.
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