After spending almost 30 years around the NFL as a player, scout and analyst, I have never been more excited about a matchup. The title game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII features a collection of stars that should produce fireworks at a high quantity.
Given some time to break down each of the teams and contemplate the potential strategies Andy Reid and Nick Sirianni could employ to put their teams in the best position to claim the Lombardi Trophy, here are the keys to victory for both teams.
The Chiefs will win if:
Patrick Mahomes plays like the MVP
The Eagles win the tale of the tape in nearly every category, but the former MVP can tip the scales in the Chiefs’ favor with a spectacular performance in Super Bowl LVII (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App). Mahomes is one of the few quarterbacks with the talent to single-handedly win a game as a magician from the pocket.
Whether torching the Eagles with pinpoint passes to Travis Kelce and Jerick McKinnon in the red zone or dropping dimes to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kadarius Toney on an assortment of short and intermediate throws, the QB1 is an incredible player who does everything well. There are no deficiencies in his game.
Against the Eagles, Mahomes will need to utilize his athleticism to buy time against a ferocious pass rush that features four defenders with at least 10 sacks. Despite nursing a high-ankle sprain, the All-Pro quarterback must take advantage of the cracks and creases created by an aggressive pass rush intent on perpetuating a prolific sack rate.
If Mahomes makes a few impromptu plays to enhance an offense that puts up points in bunches, the Chiefs should be able to hang around for four quarters in a matchup that appears lopsided on paper.
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The supporting cast steps up
The Eagles will enter the game intent on neutralizing Kelce based on his impact potential as the No. 1 option in the Chiefs’ passing game. Thus, the onus will likely fall on Smith-Schuster, Valdes-Scantling, Toney and Noah Gray to make enough plays to keep the Chiefs on schedule.
Given the Eagles’ preference for zone coverage, the supporting cast should have plenty of opportunities to catch on an assortment of quick passes designed to attack the short and intermediate areas.
In addition, the Chiefs’ expansive screen game could feature more wide receiver screens that will force the Eagles’ defensive line to run from sideline to sideline in pursuit.
With Mahomes also looking to take deep shots against sleeping defenders, MVS and Toney could emerge as unlikely heroes as big-play specialists on the perimeter.
Chris Jones and Co. control the line of scrimmage
For all of the talk about the Eagles’ creative scheme, the NFC champs are the bullies on the block at the line of scrimmage. The Philadelphia offensive line, featuring Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo and Lane Johnson, specializes in knocking defenders off the ball on an assortment of gap schemes and zone-based concepts.
The quintet’s ability to overwhelm and overpower their opponents in the trenches has enabled Jalen Hurts and a collection of runners to scoot through gaping holes at the point of attack. Moreover, the unit’s physicality and toughness wears opponents down in a 60-minute contest.
Chris Jones must spearhead an effort from the defensive line that forces the Eagle’ offensive line to play on its heels. The superstar defender must create penetration on the interior to force the Eagles to run sideways as the Chiefs’ swift linebackers pursue with reckless abandon.
As a pass rusher, the disruptive force needs to team with Frank Clark to put constant pressure on Hurts inside the pocket. Though defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will create some one-on-one matchups for his stars through creative blitzes, the Chiefs’ top players must make their presence known with a handful of splash plays in key moments.
From sacks to tackles for loss to quarterback hits, the Chiefs’ defensive front must create chaos at the point of attack to disrupt the flow and rhythm of an Eagles offense that has punished opponents the entire season.
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The Eagles will win if:
The running game sets the tone
Despite the presence of a pair of 1,000-yard receivers on the perimeter, the Eagles are at their best relying on a gritty running game that features a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield, tormenting undisciplined defenders with various RPOs, misdirection and deception plays.
Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders combined for 2,000-plus rushing yards (2,049) and 16 touchdowns as the primary ball carriers in the Eagles’ power-based offense. With the best offensive line in football specializing in knocking defenders off of the ball, the Eagles can force the Chiefs to play more “plus-one” fronts with one-on-one coverage on the outside by successfully running the ball early in the contest.
If the Eagles can pick up four yards or more on early down runs while controlling the clock with a deliberate tempo, they can successfully utilize a “keep-away” strategy that limits Mahomes’ touches while wearing down a Chiefs defensive front that lacks the depth to handle the body blows of a 12-round fight.
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Jalen Hurts punishes the Chiefs for bringing the heat
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is a blitz enthusiast with voluminous playbook that features an array of exotic pressures designed to keep a quarterback’s head on a swivel.
From all-out blitzes with Cover 0 (no free safety help) behind it to “bluff and bait” tactics featuring a mix of simulated pressure, the veteran defensive architect wants to challenge the quarterback to make plays under duress.
Given Spagnuolo’s reputation for bringing the heat from the opening snap to the final whistle, Hurts will need to be on top of his game to find hot routes that effectively counter the blitz. In addition, the third-year pro must be prepared to take a few shots down the field to AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith when he anticipates pressure and targets the favorable matchup on the perimeter.
With Hurts also displaying the elusiveness and running skills to produce big plays whenever he flees the pocket, the Eagles quarterback has enough tools to punish the Chiefs for bringing pressure on critical downs. If Hurts can produce a few big plays against a relentless pressure package designed to create negative plays and turnovers, the Eagles can force the Chiefs to opt for a more conservative approach that tilts the game in their favor.
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The defensive line keeps Mahomes confined to the pocket
The Chiefs offense begins and ends with Mahomes. The two-time MVP is a one-man show with an extraordinary set of skills that make him a nightmare to defend. As a mobile playmaker with incredible arm talent and limitless range, he keeps the defense on its heels with his rare improvisational skills.
The Eagles must eliminate Mahomes’ options as a playmaker by confining him to the pocket with a coordinated pass rush from a disciplined defensive line. The edge defenders (Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham) cannot create escape lanes by rushing beyond the depth of the quarterback’s drop.
The Eagles’ interior defenders (Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Milton Williams, and Ndamukong Suh) will need to complement the edge pressure with bull rushes and power maneuvers to put the Chiefs’ interior trio (Trey Smith, Creed Humphrey, and Joe Thuney) in Mahomes’ lap.
If the Eagles can force Mahomes to throw from the middle of the pocket against a relentless pass rush that avoids creating escape lanes, the superstar will have a tough time producing big plays against a secondary that will eliminate the deep ball with depth and discipline in the back end.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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