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Eagles-Chiefs: Behind Enemy Lines

Nick Sirianni will have to tweak his sentiments from Monday if the coach hopes to be competitive against the explosive Kansas City Chiefs

PHILADELPHIA - It's not all surprising that the Eagles enter Sunday's game with Kansas City and Andy Reid at 1-2. It's very surprising that the high-powered Chiefs will arrive at Lincoln Financial Field with the same record.

There are two ways to look at the latter.

The optimistic side will look at Steve Spagnulo's defense, which has been awful early in the season, ranked 30th overall and consistently poor across the board: No. 31 in run defense, No. 23 in pass defense, No. 31 in points-per-game allowed, No. 28 in fourth-down defense and No. 29 in red-zone defense, and believe Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts will get on track against a unit that has no foundation.

The pessimists, meanwhile, will point to the mean and the assumption that the Chiefs are angry and will revert to form.

One thing is certain around the NovaCare Complex this week, however. The Eagles know they are up against it when it comes to Kansas City's top playmakers particularly quarterback Patrick Mahomes, speedy receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.

"He's extremely accurate," Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said of Mahomes. "What I really think is when you look at their offense, they make you cover horizontally and vertically, and they use space extremely well to me. And he can make all those throws, and then he can make certain throws that you're going to say, ‘Man, he shouldn't be able to throw the ball like that to that spot accurately,’ and he can."

With Hill, it's about marrying top-tier speed with tremendous hands and an ability to track the football.

"When he first came into the league, Emmitt Thomas was the DB coach in Kansas City, and DB coaches you always ask, ‘Who's the hardest guy to defend? Who's the top 5 guys,’ or this or that," Gannon recalled. "I remember Emmitt telling me, and he's seen everybody under the sun, and he called him "Little Man." He said, ‘Little Man is special, man. He really is.’

"What you see on tape is he wins one-on-one. He can get open at a high level through zones or versus man coverage. He's really good with the ball in his hands. He makes some catches that you're like, ‘Man, that ball was a little underthrown or a little overthrown or behind him.’ He adjusts to the ball in the air. He's got elite ball skills to me. Elite ball skills with elite speed, it's a tough cover."

Kelce, the brother of Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce, has been the best flex tight end in football with five consecutive seasons of over 1,000 yards.

"He knows how to get open. He has a big catch radius. He's really good run after the catch, and he's smart," Gannon said of Kelce. "And he's got a quarterback that he's on the same page with. 

"When you're defending a guy like that, you see a lot of times when we're looking at the tape and it's named a certain route concept, and you look at it and you're like, ‘No, that's not that concept.’ Well, it actually is, but then he's adjusting his route off the coverage."

TOUGHER TEST FOR ANDRE?

Andre Dillard was one of the few bright spots against Dallas on Monday night, playing very well as a late replacement for Jordan Mailata, who sprained his knee in practice.

It was a favorable matchup, however, because the Cowboys were not only missing their best pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence but a number of other D-linemen as well forcing Dan Quinn to move athletic rookie linebacker Micah Parsons from the second level to the edge.

Dillard will start again this week and things could get much tougher if Frank Clark fights through a hamstring injury and plays. The veteran edge rusher has missed two of the first three games with the injury and is listed as questionable.

Even if Clark does play, his top trait is speed, something the athletic Dillard is a natural at stopping. When Dillard did play as a rookie before injuries took hold, he struggled mightily with the bull rush and that test may again not even be administered Sunday at the Linc.

Dillard was asked about his impressive performance against the Cowboys earlier this week and what's changed for him since his 2019 rookie season.

"There are a few things," he said. "Confidence being one of them. As a rookie, sometimes it can be a deer-in-headlights situation for any rookie. But strength is another thing. I’m a lot stronger than I was two years ago. 

"And just my overall preparation for practice and games, and just my overall experience. I kind of understand the way things flow. It just comes with the age a little bit, I think."

COMPETITIVE DIS-ADVANTAGE

Sirianni has been tight-lipped about who will start at guard and where they will be. Isaac Seumalo (Lisfranc) is out for the season after getting injured in North Texas on Monday night and Brandon Brooks is already on injured reserve with a strained pec.

The one thing that seems certain is that Dickerson will be starting at one of the guard positions. The rookie, who is dealing with a hip injury, has been filling in for Brooks at RG but the veteran is expected to be back at some point, meaning Dickerson would then have to flip over to LG to stay on the field.

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There is a school of thought that because LG is all clear for the rest of 2021 the move should be made now, allowing the player you need to get reps for to stay in one position for the rest of the way.

With the knowledge that Dickerson is going to be playing here are the options: if the former Alabama star moves to LG then it's likely to come down to either Nate Herbig or Jack Driscoll at RG. The latter is still on injured reserve with his own strained pec but the Eagles started his 21-day practice window earlier this week and Driscoll is eligible to come off IR at any time.

If Dickerson stays at RG for now, the Eagles are likely to go with Sua Opeta, who was promoted to the 53-man roster this week, as the starter on the left side.

FLETCHER AND JAVON AGAINST INEXPERIENCE

If you're looking for a game-wrecker that can make Mahomes uncomfortable and get him off his spots it's got to come from the interior of the Eagles defensive line with Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, the latter of which is having a career year and is currently graded as the No. 3 defensive tackle in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.com behind only his ex-Pittsburgh teammate Cameron Heyward and LA Rams superstar Aaron Donald.

Hargrave is the first DT with 15 or more tackles (18) and 4 or more sacks (four) in the first three games of a season since Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in 1999.

Cox and Hargrave are typically the Eagles' best defenders each week but the Chiefs also shape up as a good matchup because their interior offensive line features two rookies: second-round OC Creed Humphrey and sixth-round Trey Smith. The only veteran on the inside of the Kansas City O-Line is Joe Thuney, one of the better left guards in football.

RUN THE FOOTBALL

Sirianni thought he has to keep up with the explosive Dallas offense and if he believes the same thing against the Chiefs, the game is already lost.

The problem with modern NFL groupthink is that perceptions are treated as constants. An example of that is Jeffrey Lurie's belief that you need a top-tier passing offense to win on any kind of a consistent basis in the NFL. The sentiment behind that is true but you might have to veer away from it in certain weeks until you get the top-of-the-line personnel to pull it off.

Dallas was one of those weeks and it rings true to an even higher degree against the Chiefs.

The margin of error is small when you try to run the football, control the clock and play keep away from Mahomes but the margin exists. If you try to play run-and-gun with Kansas City the margin of error is going to be nonexistent.

"I do need to do a better job running the football. There's no question about that. We need to be able to do that to help us be a balanced team and help us win football games."

PREDICTIONS:

John McMullen (2-1, 2-1 against the spread) - The Eagles not only face a better team on Sunday, but they will also be facing an angry team intent on cleaning things up quickly.

On paper, everything points to a blowout and if Sirianni sticks to his Dallas sentiment and tries to keep up with the Chiefs' high-powered offense the Eagles are DOA.

A perfect game plan executed brilliantly probably keeps you within a score until Mahomes, Hill, Kelce, and Co. wear you down late. Another amateurish one will give Andy Reid his 100th win with Kansas City in easy fashion.

CHIEFS 35, EAGLES 18

Ed Kracz (1-2, 1-2 against the spread) - Picijg the Eagles in the first three games to win hasn't helped me, but even if they had success and won, I would still pick against them this week.

Kansas City will be eager to take out some frustration that comes with a two-game losing streak, and the Eagles will bear the brunt of that anger.

CHIEFS 31, EAGLES 20

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.