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Super Bowl preview: Eagles’ defense faces a massive challenge

Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

This game needs no fancy introduction. It’s the big one. This Super Bowl preview article will combine stats and film to look at the Eagles’ defense vs. the Chiefs’ offense. If you missed the Eagles’ offense article, check it out here. All numbers via Sports Info Solution as always, unless stated otherwise. Let’s go.

Chiefs Tendencies

The Chiefs love heavy personnel. Get ready for a lot of 12 and 13 personnel. More on this later...

The motion really stood out when watching the Chiefs’ film. They will use motion a lot to try and distract linebackers and create voids in zone coverage by stretching the defense horizontally.

If you stack the box, the Chiefs will probably just throw it. Their basic principle is heavy personnel, which forces you to stack the box, and then they will throw it everywhere. Simple, but very effective.

I saw this fantastic website the other day via Twitter and it has some fantastic EPA formation data. The website can be found here! The Chiefs’ offense is at its best when they play 13 personnel. 0.35 EPA per play is absolutely outrageous. The 59% pass rate shows that they are using heavy personnel to throw mainly. I can’t get over how good 0.35 EPA per play is. The Chiefs' use of 13 personnel has been borderline unstoppable this season.

Statistical Matchup

This Chiefs’ offense is really, really good. Best in the league good. The Eagles have an outstanding defense, but I would be surprised if this Chiefs’ offense doesn’t put up points. I think the key numbers here are the sack rate. Mahomes does not take many sacks at all which keeps the offense on pace. The run game is fine. It’s not dominant but it doesn’t need to be.

Just how good is this Chiefs’ offense? Spot the outlier on basically any EPA chart...

Key Matchups

Chiefs 13

I have watched a lot of Chiefs’ football this past couple of days. I can’t quite believe how good they are from 13 personnel. When they throw, they are the best in the league by a huge distance. Mahomes is 39/53 for 568 yards (the next highest is 332 yards) for 8 TDs and 0 INTs this year. It’s very simple. The Chiefs go 13 personnel and teams match it with base defense. Then the Chiefs throw it and get Kelce consistently matched up on linebackers. I could have used a lot more clips than this, trust me...

So what do you do? You need to get extra defensive backs in the box to stop the easy completions. Easy right? Well, then the Chiefs will just run it. And they are very efficient running from 13 personnel. They have 252 yards on 49 carries when running from 13 personnel this year at 5.1 yards per carry. That’s very good.

I’m just speculating, but I think the Eagles may go 5-1-5 against the Chiefs' 13 personnel. They could maybe even consider playing 3 safeties in order to get numbers in the box but have enough speed on the backend to try and stay strong in coverage. Against the 49ers' heavy personnel, the Eagles went 5-2-4 and really went after the run. But the 49ers don’t have Patrick Mahomes.

X-Factors: Toney and McKinnon

The Chiefs’ offensive personnel at the skill positions is pretty average. Mecole Hardman, Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Juju Smith-Schuster are all good but not great players. We all know about Travis Kelce, but I think Kadarius Toney and Jerick McKinnon are the x-factors on offense. Toney can be used in so many different ways and is electric with the ball in his hands. I am probably biased because I really liked him coming out but I think he is a fantastic talent who the Eagles must get down quickly when he touches the ball.

Jerick McKinnon has become a monster in the red zone. They do a great job scheming plays up for him and using the attention that Travis Kelce garners in the red zone to get McKinnon open against man and zone. McKinnon had a ridiculous 9 receiving touchdowns in the regular season on 56 catches. Andy Reid is seriously good still.

Lack of Wide Receiver Talent

As I mentioned above, the Chiefs do not have a lot of talented players. In particular, they struggle to win outside the numbers. The Eagles’ cornerbacks have been outstanding this year and I think they are going to need Darius Slay and James Bradberry to win their one-on-one matchups so the safeties can double up on Travis Kelce and crowd the middle of the field.

YAC / Checkdowns

This is not the old-school vertical passing game with Tyreek Hill. Teams used to play 2-high coverages to frustrate Mahomes and force him into a mistake but it doesn’t really work anymore. The Chiefs will take the simple throw and pick up yards after the catch. If the Eagles go back to their passive zone coverage, the Chiefs’ offense can pick them off slowly but surely. If you are going to allow short completions, the Eagles’ defense is going to have to rally to the ball very quickly and not miss tackles.

Run Game

As well as checking it down, if you just sit in 2-high shells all game, the Chiefs are happy to run it. Isiah Pacheco has been a really good running back down the stretch and he is a physical downhill runner who will lower the shoulder and break tackles if you do not tackle well. It’s a fairly multiple-run game, especially if Mahomes' ankle is fine, and you cannot just ignore the run game and focus on stopping Mahomes. The offense does not run through the running game but it complements the passing game perfectly.

Mahomes and Kelce

I’ve said the best till last... but it cannot be overstated how good the connection between Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce is. Watching these two the past couple of days is pretty terrifying, in all honesty. Reid knows exactly how to get Kelce in positive matchups or flood zones to create a lot of space for him. Mahomes trusts him and will not be afraid to squeeze in tight throws to Kelce either. You aren’t going to stop Kelce from having an impact, but the Eagles must make sure he does not completely take over this game. These two are good enough to wreck the Eagles’ defense if they do not a very clear plan.

Patrick Mahomes... is good.

I love breaking down film and looking at matchups, personnel, and route concepts. At some points though, just ignore everything I’ve said above. Incredible players sometimes do incredible things. Mahomes will be the best player on the field on Sunday, as he is every week, and sometimes he will do things like this.

I would love to be proven wrong, but I cannot see the Eagles ‘shutting down’ this offense because Patrick Mahomes is just fantastic. The Eagles’ defense just needs to slow them down, get a turnover, as well as a few sacks and then the offense has to do its job. The best mismatch in this game is the Eagles' run game vs. the Chiefs' run defense and this needs to be the reason the Eagles win this game. I may be wrong, but I can’t see a defensive game and I don’t think the Eagles’ defense can win this game for the Eagles alone. I expect the Chiefs to score points because it’s what they do...

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