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Will Chiefs follow Washington’s blueprint for beating the Eagles? Not likely

Super Bowl LVII

Photo Credit by John McMullen/JAKIB Sports

OCR Logo Color 300DPI 2Many believe the blueprint for beating the Eagles was drawn up and executed in Week 10 when the Washington Commanders laid a 32-21 whoopin’ on them in front of a national TV audience on Monday Night Football.

It was the Eagles’ first loss of the season. It’s been their only 2022 defeat in a game that Jalen Hurts has started.

The Commanders led the NFL in time of possession this season. That night against the Eagles, they hogged the ball for nearly 40 ½ minutes. Ran 81 plays to the Eagles’ season-low 47.

The Eagles were missing their sun-blocking rookie defensive tackle, Jordan Davis, who was out with an ankle injury, and hadn’t yet brought in Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph as run-stopping reinforcements. Washington ran the ball 49 times – 29 times in the first half – and seemed to perpetually be in third-and-short situations. They converted 12 of 21 third-down opportunities that night. The Eagles also turned the ball over four times, which didn’t help matters.

While Andy Reid and his staff certainly have watched the tape of that game and every other one that the Eagles have played this season, it’s not likely that Big Red is going to be tempted to follow the Commanders’ blueprint on Sunday when his Chiefs plays the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.

If you asked Andy to write a list of his least favorite things in life, running the football would be pretty close to the top. If I had a nickel for every time Big Red has told me the NFL is a passing league, I’d be a very rich man.

The Chiefs averaged 38.3 pass attempts per game in the regular season. That’s the fifth most in the league. They were 24th in rushing attempts (24.5) and 25th in run-play percentage (38.1%). They ran the ball 30 or more times in just three games.

Since Patrick Mahomes replaced Alex Smith as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback in 2018, they have finished 23rd or lower in run-play percentage every year. So, no, Andy is not going to play ground-and-pound Sunday at State Farm Stadium.

Reid doesn’t do ball control, even with the pass. They have finished in the top 10 in time of possession once in Mahomes’ five seasons as the starter (7th in 2021). They finished 11th this year (30:08).

They controlled the ball for more than 33 minutes in a non-overtime game just three times, including nearly 41 ½ minutes in a 20-17 Week 9 win over Tennessee. But Mahomes threw the ball a career-high 68 times in that game and the Chiefs’ defense held the Titans to nine first downs.

The last time

This will be Andy Reid’s fourth game against his old team. The Chiefs have won the previous three meetings, including a 42-30 win last season. Patrick Mahomes toyed with the Eagles’ defense that day, completing 24 of 30 passes for 278 yards and five touchdowns. He was sacked just once. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill undressed the Eagles’ secondary, catching 11 passes on 12 targets for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

Mahomes was one of five quarterbacks last season who completed 80 percent or more of their passes against the Eagles. With a pass rush that managed just 29 sacks and missing a second quality outside corner, the Eagles finished last in opponent completion percentage (69.4) and 21st in touchdown passes allowed (28) last season.

But the offseason additions of edge-rusher Haason Reddick and cornerback James Bradberry have made a world of difference. The Eagles finished a much-improved 12th in opponent completion percentage (63.0), cut touchdown passes against them down to 22, and racked up the third most quarterback sacks in NFL history. So, it will be a different defense that Mahomes will be facing Sunday than the one he faced in Week 4 last year.

It also will be a different offense that the Eagles will be facing. The speedy Hill is gone, traded to the Dolphins in the offseason. The guy the Eagles must find a way to slow down Sunday is All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce.

Kelce’s 110 catches this season were the third most in the league and just six short of former Eagle Zach Ertz’s single-season record for receptions by a tight end. His 12 touchdown catches were second only to Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams’s 14. In the Chiefs’ two postseason wins, Kelce has caught 21 of 25 passes thrown to him for 176 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Kelce had 78 receiving first downs. Only the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson, the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, had more (80).

The good news for the Eagles is that they’ve done a good job against opposing tight ends this season, though none of them were the quality of Kelce, and none of them had the league’s Most Valuable Player throwing to them.

Tight ends have been targeted 124 times against the Eagles in 19 games. They have 83 catches for 832 yards (10.0 yards per catch, 6.7 yards per target) and just three touchdowns, which is considerably better than the 14 in 18 games they gave up last year. The Eagles haven’t allowed a touchdown to a tight end in their last 11 games. But again, they haven’t faced a quarterback-tight end combo like Kelce and Mahomes.

“Kelce is so effective and he and Mahomes know each other so well,’’ said former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who is an analyst for The 33rd Team. “The Bengals played some box-and-one against him last week. Others have tried bracketing him. The Eagles probably will mix it up. Use their safety on him (C.J. Gardner-Johnson). Use their slot guy (Avonte Maddox). Use their linebackers. Try to slow him up at the line of scrimmage and give their rush a chance to get to Mahomes. It’s going to be fun to watch.’’

In a rush to get to Mahomes

Playing on a still-healing high ankle sprain and facing the fiercest pass rush in the league, Mahomes isn’t going to be holding on to the ball for very long Sunday. He’s going to need to get it out quickly.

He was under pressure on just 33.4% of his dropbacks this season, which was the 10th-lowest percentage in the league (Jalen Hurts had the seventh-lowest, 30.1). But that number has jumped to 41.5% in the Chiefs’ two playoff wins over Jacksonville and Cincinnati. He averaged 2.68 seconds from snap to release on his regular-season pass attempts. He was sacked just 26 times in 674 pass plays in the regular season (1/25.9) and three times in 76 pass plays in the playoffs (1/25.3).

Creed Humphrey might be the best center in the NFL who doesn’t play in Philadelphia and left guard Joe Thuney is a two-time second-team All-Pro, which is going to make for an interesting matchup against Eagles defensive tackles Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox. But the Chiefs’ two tackles – RT Andrew Wylie and LT Orlando Brown – are going to have their hands full with Eagles edge-rushers Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham.

Wylie allowed nine sacks, five hits, and 35 hurries in the regular season, and Brown gave up four sacks, seven hits, and 36 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

Last year, the Eagles had just 29 sacks, the second-fewest in the league. This year, they had 70 in the regular season, which was the third most in NFL history, and they have added another eight in their two playoff wins.

In their last eight games, including the postseason, the Eagles have an eye-popping 42 sacks and 176 total pressures on 266 opponent pass plays. Reddick has 11 ½ sacks and 48 pressures in those eight games. Sweat has eight sacks and 18 pressures. Graham has 7 ½ sacks and 26 pressures. Hargrave has 5 ½ sacks and 20 pressures. And Cox has four sacks and 18 pressures.

Reid doesn’t like leaving a receiver in to block. His stubbornness will be tested Sunday if he sticks to that plan.

The passing game

The Chiefs had the most 20-plus-yard pass completions during the regular season (73). The Eagles were second with 63. The Eagles also were fifth in 10-plus yard runs with 74. The Chiefs were 22nd with 47. The Eagles have continued their ground dominance in the playoffs. They’re averaging 208 rushing yards per game and have 16 run plays of 10 yards or more – seven by Kenny Gainwell, five by Miles Sanders, and two each by Jalen Hurts and Boston Scott.

But the passing game hasn’t been nearly as prolific in the postseason as it was in the regular season. Hurts, who had the third-best yards-per-attempt average in the league in the regular season (8.0), is averaging just 5.6 yards per attempt in the Eagles’ two playoff wins.

Hurts has attempted nine passes that have traveled 11 or more yards in the air in the playoffs. He’s completed just two of them, and one – the 29-yard first-quarter completion to DeVonta Smith against the 49ers – should have been ruled incomplete.

A.J. Brown, who had a 60.7 catch percentage in the regular season (88 catches on 145 targets), has caught just seven of 14 passes in his direction in the two playoff games. He averaged 17.0 yards per catch in the regular season. He’s averaging 7.1 so far in the postseason.

The Eagles no doubt will go after the Chiefs’ three young corners – Trent McDuffie, L’Jarius Sneed, and Jaylen Watson – on Sunday. But both Sneed and Watson have the kind of length that could cause problems for Hurts on 50-50 balls to Brown and Davonta Smith. Whether the Chiefs will focus on taking away the deep ball from the Eagles or putting a safety in the box to help defend the run, remains to be seen.

The beauty of the Eagles’ offense, however, is that it usually doesn’t matter. They can beat you with either the run or the pass. Try and take one and they’ll kil you with the other. They had a franchise-record 32 rushing touchdowns in the regular season and have seven more in their two playoff wins. Hurts’ 15 rushing touchdowns are the most ever by a quarterback. He finished third in rushing first downs (67) in the regular season.

“They’re a running football team that can throw the ball,’’ said Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian, who also is an analyst for The 33rd Team. “They’re a much harder team to defend than the Chiefs.’’

More numbers that matter

–Here’s a staggering number for you: Hurts has thrown 180 passes in the second half of the Eagles’ 19 games this season. Just 22 of them have been when the Eagles have trailed. They’ve been behind for just 60 of Hurts’ 499 second-half snaps.

–Some Eagles deep-ball numbers: They’re 12-for-22 for 427 yards and nine touchdowns on deep balls on second down, 9-for-27 for 338 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 interceptions on first down, and 7-for-22 for 267 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception on third down.

–Eight of A.J. Brown’s 11 touchdown catches this season have been on deep balls.

–The Eagles have converted 3 of 13 third downs of seven yards or more. Their opponents are 1-for-9 on third and seven-plus.

–Hurts has a 55.5 completion percentage and is averaging just 4.8 yards per attempt with 11-personnel in the playoffs. He’s 11-for-13 for 100 yards and a touchdown with 12- and 13-personnel.

–The Eagles’ defense has given up first-possession points to an opponent just once in the last nine games (New Orleans in Week 17), and only four times all season. The Eagles, meanwhile, have scored on their first possession in 10 of their last 13 games, including both playoff wins, and 12 times in 19 games overall.

–The Eagles have converted 8 of 11 red-zone trips into touchdowns in their two playoff wins. The Eagles were third in red-zone offense this season with a 68.6 touchdown percentage. The Chiefs were second (70.5). But the Chiefs finished 30th in red-zone defense (65.5%), ahead of only the Raiders (66.0) and Colts (67.9). The Eagles were 11th (53.6). The team that settles for the fewest field goals could win Sunday.

–The Eagles have run 26 plays in the red zone in their two playoff wins. Nineteen have been run plays and seven have been pass plays (73.1 run-play percentage). During the regular season, they ran 207 plays in the red zone. One hundred sixteen were runs and 59 were pass plays (66.3%). The Chiefs ran 207 plays in the red zone during the regular season. Only 82 were run plays (39.6%), while 125 were pass plays.

–The Chiefs only ran the ball on 40 of 193 third-down plays during the regular season (20.7%). The Eagles ran on 93 of 222 third-down plays (41.9%).

–Mahomes threw 13 touchdown passes on third down. That was the second most in the league. The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins had 14.

–Seventy-three of Mahomes 143 third-down pass attempts (51.0%) resulted in first downs. The only other quarterback who had more than half of their third-down passes result in first downs was the Bills’ Josh Allen (50.8%). Hurts converted 39 of 91 third-down pass attempts (42.8%) into first downs.

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