By David McDonnell
In boxing they say that styles make fights.
Tonight’s Super Bowl sees the Chiefs, a team that has passed for the most yards in NFL history against the Eagles, the best team at running the ball in the NFL, so we are in for an intriguing matchup.
The Big Show kicks off at 11.30 pm (GMT) so let’s investigate how this game might go.
Eagles Offense v Chiefs Defence
This Eagles O-Line has bullied most comers throughout the season, and I thought before the NFC Championship game that they would finally meet their match against the excellent 49ers defence. That didn’t come to pass and Philly ran in four rushing touchdowns in what turned out to be another dominant display.
The Kansas defence possesses this season’s best Defensive Tackle in Chris Jones and have two linebackers in Nick Bolton and Willie Gay that are excellent against the run. The Chiefs defended very well against the rush in the AFC Championship game against the Bengals, and Cincinnati running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine hardly made any impression on proceedings.
If they can stop the Eagles running the ball, then they are likely to win the game. However, that is easier said than done.
I also believe the Eagles have a matchup advantage with their wide receiving duo, AJ Brown and Devonta Smith, going against two rookie corners in the impressive Trent McDuffie and Joshua Williams. Coming off the best game of his young career against the Bengals, it is the latter Williams that I feel can be exposed by the route running of Smith and by the speed and athleticism of Brown.
The Eagles will test this out through use of play action to take shots down the field on whoever is matching up against Williams being the likely target. Kansas defensive back L’Jarius Sneed has been out recently but his return could be a massive shot in the arm for their defensive backs.
The Chiefs are also below league average defending against tight-ends this season and I expect to see the Eagles target Dallas Goedert on key third downs and in the red zone on Sunday night. He would be a decent tip to score the first touchdown at 12-1.
So it seems like the Eagles attack have all the advantages heading into this game. What can go wrong?
The big question mark I have about the Eagles offence centres around the health of Jalen Hurts.
Last time out Hurts looked to me that his shoulder injury was affecting him hugely and after that early throw for Smith’s one-handed grab against the 49ers, he didn’t make a throw of note for the rest of the game.
He was even running into traffic instead of checking down to open receivers in the last quarter of the NFC Championship game and although he has had two weeks to rest and rehab, I remain unconvinced he is anywhere as sharp as he was during the season.
If he can’t throw then it will have a major bearing on the game, as Kansas City will be able to pack the box and concentrate more on defending the run. I expect to see a lot of run option plays and RPOs in order to get Hurts to use his biggest weapon, his legs and he might very well run for over 100 yards in this game.
Hurts shoulder, just like Patrick Mahomes ankle, seemed to bother him later in the game, probably when the effect of the pain shots began to wear off. This might become more evident in the Super Bowl as there is a 50 minute half time show with Rihanna, so the pain meds might lose their effect sooner than a usual Sunday Night Football game. Something to keep an eye on.
Chiefs Offence v Eagles Defence
The Chiefs have the best quarterback in the NFL coming off his best season and arguably the best ever tight end coming off his best season, so they definitely have a chance, especially if QB Patrick Mahomes is over his sprained ankle injury which I suspect he will be.
Mahomes won the league MVP during the week and has the ability to win matches on his own if he is afforded time in the pocket to dictate play. He has improved his game this season by becoming better and finding all his receiving options, which makes the Chiefs very difficult to defend against.
However, outside of Kelce at tight-end, they don’t have a blue-chip receiver although Marquez Valdes Scantling stepped up in a massive way last time out and is the only wideout who regularly wins contested catches along the sideline.
Juju Smith Schuster missed most of the last match but will likely be passing option number three in the slot. If he is fit Juju could figure strongly especially as Kelce is likely to be double marked throughout the contest. Juju is tall for a slot receiver and Mahomes often throws his way when he needs to get the ball out quickly.
I think another player who could feature more than he has recently is running back Jerrick McKinnon. I expect the Chiefs to have difficulty running the ball against a very deep and talented Eagles defensive front so I can see Andy Reid getting Mahomes to pass the ball wide to McKinnon out the backfield in order to stretch the field.
The Eagles lost their first game this season in Week 10, when the Washington Commanders ran the ball against them 49 times. The following week, Howie Roseman brought in veteran pair Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph who have 13 years of NFL experience each. I expect the Eagles to be able to halt the Chiefs rushing attack and the Chiefs will answer by putting the ball in Mahomes hands even more than they usually would.
The Chiefs do have an excellent O-Line but with the Eagles able to change their front five to keep them fresh, they will eventually be able to tee off with their talented pass rushers led by Haason Reddick against Mahomes.
The MVP QB will need to produce the magic but he is certainly capable of this.
The big question in deciding who will win the SuperBowl is: Will the Chiefs defence be able to stop the Eagles rushing attack for 60 minutes?
My gut tells me no, and that is why I believe Philly has the significant advantage. In my opinion, the Chiefs would need two Chris Jones to stop this Eagles O-Line from dominating and unfortunately they only have one.
Although I won’t be cheering for the Eagles, mainly due to being a Washington fan and Patrick Mahomes being my favourite player to watch in the NFL, I do believe the Eagles will be Superbowl champions in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Chiefs 20-30 Eagles