The game will be determined by a series of fascinating matchups. And while the quarterbacks — Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Jalen Hurts of the Eagles — will certainly generate the most interest, the game will likely be determined along both lines of scrimmage. The Eagles and Chiefs boast two of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Philadelphia is five sacks away from an NFL record that one of the greatest defenses of all time, the 1984 Bears, hold.
There’s also a captivating wrinkle in the coaching staffs, as current Kansas City coach Andy Reid actually fired current Eagles coach Nick Sirianni in 2013, when Reid took over the Chiefs and Sirianni was an incumbent on the staff.
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SUPER BOWL X-FACTORS: These Eagles, Chiefs players could become household names
Here's a breakdown of each position and a look at which team holds an advantage headed into Super Bowl 57.
This margin isn't as wide as you might think. Jalen Hurts, 24, is a star who is going to be a problem in the NFC for a long time. He worked with Tom House this offseason and has refined his mechanics. His ability to compromise defenses with his rushing ability has made it increasingly difficult to defend Philadelphia. And, if the Chiefs use a spy to try to limit what Hurts can do out in open space, it takes away a potential defender Kansas City can use in the secondary.
Patrick Mahomes (1st Team) and Jalen Hurts (2nd Team) will mark the 7th time both All-Pro QBs have met in the Super Bowl
The 2nd Team QB has won each of the previous six matchups pic.twitter.com/3qCj68OY58
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 31, 2023
All that said, Patrick Mahomes is the most gifted passer in the NFL, possibly of all time. His arm makes it so that the Chiefs can score on any given play. And while he may not rack up rushing yards, his mobility — though it may be tested Sunday by a high ankle sprain — allows him to extend plays and find receivers who can break off their routes.
Where Kansas City has a potential home run hitter in Isiah Pacheco, the Eagles carry significant depth in the backfield. Philadelphia’s top three running backs — Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell — are all capable of taking over a game. Just look at Gainwell’s production; he averaged just 3.1 rushes per game in the regular season. In the playoffs, that number has jumped to 13 per and he has responded by leading the Eagles in rushing in both the divisional and conference championship rounds. Sanders, meanwhile, has a nose for the end zone.
Pacheco is explosive both rushing the ball and catching it out of the backfield, but Kansas City often doesn’t give him enough touches to be a major factor. The team also activated Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) off of injured reserve and he’d provide a huge boost if he’s able to play.
This is perhaps the one position where a team has the strongest advantage over the other. A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith are both star playmakers whose different skill sets complement each other; Brown is physical and quick and can beat defenders with power and Smith is a silky route runner who is elusive in space.
On the other side, the Chiefs have navigated their first season without Tyreek Hill quite well, with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kadarius Toney making plays. Still, no Kansas City wideout eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in the regular season. Making matters worse for the Chiefs is that they are facing several nagging injuries at the position, with Mecole Hardman placed on injured reserve. Better put this way, Mahomes and the Chiefs system elevate Smith-Schuster, Valdes-Scantling and Toney, while Brown and Smith are stars who would flourish anywhere.
Dallas Goedert has been a solid and steady option for Hurts. But in 14 games this season, including the playoffs, he reached the 100-yard mark only once.
Travis Kelce & Dallas Goedert are both adept at finding the soft spots in zone coverage.
No tight end has averaged more yards per route than Kelce (2.6) & Goedert (2.3) against zone this season (including playoffs).#ChiefsKingdom | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/I45Hojmj5R
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) February 6, 2023
Travis Kelce isn’t just in the conversation for the best tight end in football — he’s already there — he’s in the conversation for the best of all time. Kelce has secured four All-Pro nominations in the last seven seasons, he’s rewriting the record book and he has become Mahomes’ preferred target and a near-unguardable player in the middle of the field.
Goedert does have a clear advantage over Kelce in run blocking; because Philadelphia sets its identity on the ground, Goedert has become a key piece in the scheme. Still, Kelce is generational.
This is another fascinating battle, as these are two of the top units in the NFL. The Eagles, however, have the best O-line in football. Their communication and ability to work together are unrivaled. They have two of the best players at their positions, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson (both of whom were first-team All-Pro selections). They bore open holes in Nick Sirianni’s zone read offense and are disciplined and clean in avoiding penalties.
But where Philadelphia has two All-Pros on its offensive line, the Chiefs have a pair of second-teamers in center Creed Humphrey and left guard Joe Thuney. Orlando Brown has been excellent after moving to left tackle and, considering this is a unit that has been remade, it has done a remarkable job of keeping Mahomes clean.
The Eagles are five sacks in the Super Bowl from breaking the record of the 1984 Bears for total sacks in the regular and postseason combined (82). Three of Philadelphia’s starting four defensive linemen, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and defensive ends Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham notched double-digit sack totals in the regular season, as each posted 11. The other starter, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, is one of the game’s best interior linemen and recorded seven. The unit has depth with end Robert Quinn and tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh coming on in relief.
To be clear, the Chiefs aren’t bad, they’re just not this good. Chris Jones is a force and the best interior lineman in football and Frank Clark can disrupt the timing and rhythm of opposing offenses. Kansas City just doesn’t have the depth or wealth of star talent to match Philadelphia in this spot.
It’s almost unfair to consider Haason Reddick as a pure linebacker, since Philadelphia loves using him in five-man fronts, rushing off the left side of the line of scrimmage — or even at defensive tackle — so his presence is frankly more of a consideration for the defensive line. With that in mind, where this Eagles defense is weakest is at the other two linebacker spots. And, considering that linebackers and safeties are among the players asked to cover tight ends, this could be a spot where the Chiefs exploit Philadelphia, using Travis Kelce.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 9, 2023
The Chiefs unit that included Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. took some time to get settled this season, but it improved after Gay returned from suspension and as the group got healthier. They have speed and excellent range, though they are sometimes caught out of position, in part because of the relative inexperience of Bolton and Gay.
This is another spot in which Eagles executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman’s aggressive moves in recent seasons have paid off. The three best players on the unit — corners James Bradberry and Darius Slay and strong safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson — were all acquired via trade or free agency. Bradberry had bounced around the league but found a home in Philadelphia’s defense, earning a second-team All-Pro nod.
For the Chiefs, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed clearing concussion protocol is a welcome sight; he doesn’t shy away from contact and actually helps out quite a bit in stopping the run along the outside. Trent McDuffie is a player who has perhaps been overlooked, though he has had a huge impact as a press corner. Rounding out the starters, at safety, Justin Reid and Juan Thornhill have become capable players. The biggest issue with the Kansas City secondary is the occasional blown coverage that can lead to chunk plays.
As far as kicking and punting goes, this becomes tricky because where the Eagles are strong with place kicker Jake Elliott, the Chiefs are stronger with punter Tommy Townsend, a first-team all-pro. Kansas City place kicker Harrison Butker had the worst season of his career, missing six field goals for a 75% conversion rate. Still, in his last three games, Butker has converted all field goals and extra points.
The Eagles may be without punter Arryn Siposs (ankle), who has said he is ready to play. He presents an upgrade, though backup Brett Kern has been solid in relief. Where the Chiefs separate themselves is with their return men. Both Isiah Pacheco and Skyy Moore are flashes of lightning who can slip through creases and flip field position.
The Chiefs have the wealth of experience and Andy Reid may be the best coach not named Belichick over the last three decades. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy should be a head coach. And defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has kept Kansas City’s defense competitive and loves to disguise blitzes, making it difficult for young quarterbacks to read the field.
2022 Aggressiveness Index leaders. How often coaches go for it on 4th compared to the average NFL coach in similar situations.
--> 1 Sirianni 1.57 🦅
2 McDaniel 1.52
3 ASmith 1.52
4 Kingsbury 1.46
5 LaFleur 1.40
6 Campbell 1.32
22 Reid 0.83
— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@FO_ASchatz) February 8, 2023
The narrative that the Eagles have had a favorable path to the Super Bowl, while accurate, shouldn’t discount the effort and work it takes to win week in and week out. Coach Nick Sirianni’s players swear by him and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen could end up as a head coach this cycle. The zone read offense the pair have assembled requires defenses to make decisions in split seconds. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker brings decades of experience and coordinator Jonathan Gannon oversees a unit that has taken a huge stride since last season.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Super Bowl 2023 position group breakdown: Eagles or Chiefs with edge?