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Five Eagles Offensive Tendencies That Could Define Super Bowl LVII

The Eagles enter the Super Bowl with an elite offense and MVP candidate of their own. What are some things the Chiefs should be aware of?

In August, it would’ve been the Super Bowl that few would have predicted. In November, it would’ve been the Super Bowl deemed, considering the storylines, as perhaps the most intriguing. And now, in February, it figures to be a Super Bowl for the ages: the Kansas City Chiefs against the Philadelphia Eagles.

One could say that there’s a little something for everyone in this year’s matchup. For new-age observers, there’s a glance into the NFL’s future; Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts combine for the youngest age of two Super Bowl starting quarterbacks in league history. For the hard-nosed fans, the Feb. 12 duel features both elite offensive and defensive lines on both sides. In total, there will be 15 Pro Bowlers, three NFL award finalists and, of course, countless legacies in play.

But first, let’s study the opponent and identify five offensive Eagles traits and statistics that could help define the game.

The 2022-23 Eagles could be NFL history’s greatest fourth-and-short team

If you were creating a bingo sheet of “things most likely to happen” during Super Bowl LVII, you’d be off to a strong start if you added something regarding the high-profile battle for family bragging rights between the Kelce brothers. The Chiefs’ eight-time All-Pro tight end, Travis, will be commanding double teams and exploiting matchups in the Eagles’ top-ranked defense. On the other end, Jason will be seeking to put the finishing touches on one of league history’s finest seasons inside the trenches.

Alongside two other Pro Bowl linemen and Pro Football Focus’ No. 1-ranked offensive line, Kelce headlines a group that boasts a case for the best of its kind in short-yardage situations. According to Football Reference’s Stathead, only 23 teams have ever attempted at least 30 plays on fourth down in a single season. No team has ever converted at a higher rate than the 2022-23 Eagles.

Taking that statistic further — or to new heights, if you will — when the Eagles needed two yards or fewer on fourth down, they utilized a QB sneak on 32 occasions at a 90.6% conversion rate. According to The Athletic’s Kalyn Kahler, this was more than any team this millennium. It’s also played a key role in Hurts’s worthy case for the league MVP. Neck-and-neck, he and Mahomes have commanded the award race with plays like this:

Knowing the luxury he’s been afforded, Nick Sirianni trusts his line the same way Teddy Long trusted The Undertaker in 1-on-1 matches. Condensed splits, inside-zone runs, from their own 35-yard line, whatever the situation offers. A matchup with Chris Jones awaits, and that could have a heavy barring on the game’s end result.

"Swole Batman and Skinny Batman"

In last week’s AFC Championship roundtable, we briefly acknowledged that the Chiefs’ secondary has had its issues with guarding No. 1 receivers, ranking No. 31 out of 32 teams. As the old saying goes, the reward for great work is, well, more work. In a football sense, the reward for overcoming Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins is a duel with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.

There are pluses and minuses to consider from the Chiefs’ perspective. This season, only five teams had two different 1,000-yard receivers (the Seahawks, Bengals, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and, of course, the Eagles). Kansas City’s secondary proved capable of surviving three of them but nonetheless, it’s a challenge to consider.

Smith had a brief glance at what a Steve Spagnuolo-led defense looks like on the way to a seven-catch, 122-yard game last year. With that said, much of the secondary from that game has been replaced. Those strengths — quick cuts right at the top of his route — remain staples in Smith's game.

Some would say the Eagles are even more dangerous when they double the trouble and have Smith and Brown lined up on the same side, maximizing matchup nightmares. One play from Brown’s three-score game against Pittsburgh highlights that fear defenses have of the Brown-Smith combination (28-13, 13:30 left in 4Q).

Philadelphia runs trips-bunch on the strong side, merely window-dressing to allow the two star wideouts to take advantage of their two-on-two on the other side. The Steelers’ safeties — in a two-high shell and fearful of giving up a fourth touchdown to Brown — are almost out of the stadium altogether with how far back they’re playing. From there, it’s a quick curl-dig combo that gets Brown going, showcasing perhaps his best trait: yards after catch.

In-breakers have been one of Brown’s bread-and-butter plays. The Chiefs have been cut by it, ranking fourth-worst in the NFL with a 31.7 DVOA. Consider this something to watch. On that note:

(Jalen) Hurts So Good

If Mahomes doesn’t earn his second MVP award at Feb. 9’s NFL Honors, odds are that the trophy will reside in southern Pennsylvania with Hurts.

Back in July, there was just a personal hunch that after seismic improvements from year one to year two, Hurts would make the jump toward MVP-level superstardom in 2022-23. Hurts’s exponential evolution as a passer helped add layers to an already-promising Philadelphia offense. One statistic that immediately stands out: after throwing to the middle intermediate range just 31 times last season, the Eagles star returned a new player this year with elite throwing numbers in essentially every area of the field.

As for how the Chiefs can keep him at bay? The No. 5-ranked pressure rate is likely the best place to start. For players like Hurts, weaknesses can sometimes be stretched. But in mid-December, ESPN’s Aaron Schatz listed out weaknesses for every quarterback, and came to this assessment of Hurts’ potential flaw:

Without pressure, Hurts has an 82.4 QBR, which ranks second in the NFL. With pressure, Hurts drops to 25.5 in QBR, which ranks 12th. Take out scrambles, and Hurts drops even further to 10.7, which ranks 22nd in the league.

There’s a bit of a conundrum at bay there: the Chiefs did allow the third-most QB rushes (94) and fifth-most rushing yards (444), but they defended running backs at the eighth-best rate. Like Mahomes, Hurts checks each box as a triple threat capable of winning with arms, legs and mind. Even in dealing with the shoulder sprain that looks to have sapped some of those gaudy passing numbers, the 16-1 record is difficult to ignore. So are these other numbers:

  • Eagles were No. 2 in passing plays > 25 yards downfield
  • Hurts ranked No. 1 in completion percentage in the pocket
  • Hurts ranked No. 4 in QBR
  • Hurts became the only player ever with back-to-back seasons with 10+ rushing touchdowns

The second-largest age gap between Super Bowl head coaches

This one is more self-explanatory. Andy Reid, soon to turn 65, has a 23-year age gap between Sirianni (41). The largest gap, per Aaron Tallent of Athlon Sports, came in Super Bowl LIII between Bill Belichick and Sean McVay.

Youthful minds remain in play on both sides, though. Here’s how the age gap has impacted the Super Bowl since 2000-01:

  • The older coach has a 13-9 record
  • Since 2010, the older coach has gone 9-4
    • Reid had one such Super Bowl in 2019-20 when the Chiefs defeated Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers.

There will be some history here, with Reid choosing not to retain Sirianni, the Chiefs’ wide receivers coach in 2012. At every turn, there’s a storyline. Expanding on a previous point, Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen aren't afraid to take high-leverage risks:

The bright lights of the Super Bowl, though, can sometimes be a different animal. It should be interesting to see if the tiger that is the Eagles' offense changes its stripes to be more conservative at any point with the stakes highest.

Weak Zone, Strong Result

So much for following the trends of the rest of the NFL. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Super Bowl LVII could be one for the unconventional style of running to the weak side:

Philadelphia's win over the 49ers’ elite run defense highlighted a few examples, primarily in how much of a luxury it is to pair Hurts’ athleticism and IQ (and the fear of it) with a top-tier offensive line. RPOs are a staple in the Eagles’ run game, and here, Kenneth Gainwell’s long gain showcases how that weak side run can look:

With eyes on Samson Ebukam (No. 56), Hurts’s decision to hand off to Gainwell was the one to make, and the Eagles’ line, particularly Kelce (No. 62) ensures that the gain is a huge one.

The Chiefs, similarly, are brilliant within the RPO game, though many of their weak side runs normally come without that staple. Isiah Pacheco, the type of player perfectly built to exploit the Eagles’ potential run defense weakness, was charted for only five RPO carries this season. His weak side runs normally come in situations such as this quick cutback carry:

It does open the question of how willing the Chiefs will be to run, particularly if the results aren’t there right away. If the early returns are successful against a Philadelphia front that allows 4.6 yards per carry (ninth-worst in the NFL), one could go so far as to view Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon as sleeper picks for the Super Bowl LVII MVP award. Even in a game of superstar quarterbacks, there's the potential for some of the night's biggest plays to come elsewhere.