Eagles-Chiefs player matchups to watch in Week 11

Eagles-Chiefs player matchups to watch in Week 11 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles (8-1) are on the road after their bye week to face the Kansas City Chiefs (7-2) in a rematch of Super Bowl LVII.

Let’s get to the matchups:

Eagles’ middle of the field vs. Travis Kelce

It was hard to ignore the success CeeDee Lamb had against the Eagles in the middle of the field before the bye week. In that Eagles win, Lamb had 11 catches for 191 yards. But what might be a bigger concern going forward was that tight end Jake Ferguson had 7 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. That’s concerning because Travis Kelce is on the schedule this week.

The Chiefs don’t have the kind of offensive firepower we’ve seen from them in years past but their biggest weapon — by far — is Kelce, who has 57 catches for 597 yards and 4 touchdowns in 8 games this season. Kelce is already a Hall of Fame tight end and at age 34 he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In the Super Bowl last year, Kelce had a nice performance with 6 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.

How are the Eagles going to try to stop Kelce? It’s certainly not an easy proposition given their struggles in the middle of the field. While Nicholas Morrow and Zach Cunningham have played well this season, you don’t want to see them on Kelce too often. The Eagles’ safeties are still learning how to play together too. The scary thing is how well Kelce seems to find weaknesses in zone coverage and then Patrick Mahomes always seems to have the ability to find him. Those two are playing a different game than everyone else at times.

Eagles’ pass rush vs. Patrick Mahomes

The Chiefs have two new offensive tackles from the last time the Eagles saw them in the Super Bowl. Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie are gone and have been replaced by Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor, who rank as the No. 56 and No. 62 tackles in the NFL, according to ProFootballFocus. That seems like it could be a disastrous combination going against the Eagles’ edge rusher duo of Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick, who have been fantastic this season.

But Mahomes just didn’t get sacked. The Eagles couldn’t get to him on a slick field in Super Bowl LVII but it’s not like Mahomes has been taken down this season either. He’s been sacked just 12 times in nine games. There are 32 quarterbacks in the NFL who have been sacked more this season.

So Mahomes must be getting rid of the ball quickly, right? Wrong. Mahomes average time to throw is an astounding 3.02 seconds. Mahomes has been excellent at avoiding sacks this year. His ability to avoid pressure and make backyard football plays is really unmatched and has to be frustrating for opposing defenses.

The thing is that Mahomes will take some hits. While he doesn’t really get sacked, Mahomes has been hit 38 times, which ranks third in the NFL and he’s been hurried 40 times, which is tops in the NFL. So the Eagles just have to hope that they’ll speed up Mahomes’ process and hit him when they can. They also have to be aware that he has the ability to scramble for yards if they let him get away.

Eagles’ top run defense vs. Isiah Pacheco

The Chiefs aren’t a great running team but Pacheco, a South Jersey native, is having a decent season. He has 525 yards and 3 touchdowns in 9 games and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He has also caught 24 passes for 160 yards. The Eagles, meanwhile, have the NFL’s No. 1 run defense, giving up just 66.3 yards per game.

Even when you’re facing one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, you still want to make the opposing offense one-dimensional. The good news is that the Eagles should be able to do that against the Chiefs. Even though Mahomes is still really good in known passing situations, the goal still has to be to get him there.

Cam Jurgens, Landon Dickerson vs. Chris Jones

This Chiefs defense is legitimately good this year. When you think of the Chiefs, you think about a high-flying offense and a defense doing enough to get by. That’s not the case in 2023. The Chiefs’ defense has been the strength of the team. And while a lot of guys on Steve Spagnuolo’s unit go unnoticed, their star is Jones.

After missing the first game of the season in a contract squabble with the team, Jones returned for Week 2 after he and the Chiefs worked out terms on a new one-year deal. And he quickly had 5 1/2 sacks in his first five games this year. Even though he’s gone without a sack in his last three games, Jones is a dominant interior defensive lineman. He is a four-time Pro Bowler and was a first-team All-Pro in 2022, finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He’s again among the league lead in total pressures for an interior defensive lineman with 32.

Jones is one of those guys you want to find on every snap because the Chiefs don’t leave him in one spot. He’ll play left defensive tackle, right defensive tackle and he’ll even line up on the edges. That advantage Jones gets on the edges might not be as effective against the Eagles and their premier tackles Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata, but the Chiefs might still try it from time to time. On the other snaps, it’ll be up to the Eagles’ interior linemen to deal with Jones. It’s probably fair to expect Cam Jurgens to make his return after missing five games with a foot injury; that will help.

Jalen Hurts vs. Impressive secondary

Before the bye week, Hurts was starting to string together some really impressive games. But he still admitted the bye came at a good time for him because of that lingering knee injury. But before the bye, Hurts had back-to-back games with passer ratings over 130 for the first time in his career. He was excellent throwing the football in wins over the Cowboys and Commanders.

But this Chiefs secondary is a legitimate threat. The Chiefs have the No. 5 passing defense in the NFL, giving up just 176.0 yards per game this season. The Chiefs boast a really great 1-2 punch at cornerback with Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed but their third cornerback position is more of a weakness, whether it’s Jaylen Watson or Joshua Williams out there. And recently, it’s been much more Watson.

While McDuffie starts, he’ll slide inside on nickel downs and Watson plays outside. With the absence of Dallas Goedert, expect the Eagles to be in a ton of 11 personnel in this game, which means the Chiefs will have three corners on the field. That means the Eagles can try to exploit a matchup of A.J. Brown or DeVonta Smith against Watson, which might be their best bet in this game. Of course, the Chiefs are getting high level safety play as well. This is a good-on-good matchup that could determine the outcome of the game.

D’Andre Swift vs. Chiefs’ run defense

While the Chiefs have a very good pass defense, they haven’t been nearly as good against the run. They have the NFL’s No. 17 rushing defense, giving up 112.2 yards per game. But they’re 27th in the NFL in yards per attempt, giving up 4.5 per pop.

The Eagles haven’t been able to get their run game going in the last several weeks. After big performances on the ground in Weeks 2 and 3, the Eagles have averaged just 86.8 yards per game over their last four games. There are probably a few reasons for that, including Hurts’ knee injury, the absence of Jurgens and some iffy play from Swift. But this is a week where they could potentially break out.

Swift had 175 and 130 yards in Weeks 2 and 3 and hasn’t gone over 70 in any game since then. Believe it or not, Swift actually had more rushing yards in the first three games of the season than he did in the following six. He averaged 6.8 yards per attempt in Weeks 1-3 and just 3.4 in Weeks 4-9. But this could shape up to be a big game for him. A different Swift could finally steal the headlines in Kansas City.

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