The Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl with backup Nick Foles at quarterback. Getting a second Vince Lombardi Trophy with Jalen Hurts behind center should be easy by comparison.
Of course, the math behind a Philadelphia world championship isn’t quite as simple. The Eagles ran roughshod over the NFC, then demolished two overmatched opponents to earn their spot in the 2023 Super Bowl and open as a slight favorite in Glendale, Arizona. Beating the Kansas City Chiefs, however, won’t be as easy.
The Chiefs will bring 2022’s presumptive MVP Patrick Mahomes to battle as well as one of the league’s most effective pass rushes. The Eagles will counter with Hurts and defense that led the lead in sacks by a significant margin. So how can Philadelphia get the most out of their advantages and repel another Kansas City Super Bowl win?
These three important themes will play a major role.
Get pressure on Patrick Mahomes without blitzing
The Eagles led the league in sacks in 2022 with 70. The next closest team, the Chiefs, had 55.
This wasn’t the result of constant blitzing. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon only sent extra pass rushers at a 22.1 percent clip, per Pro Football Reference — 18th highest in the league. Despite that, Philadelphia got pressure on 25.5 percent of opponents’ dropbacks and sacks on 13.6 percent of them.
That’s awful news for Kansas City because it fits cleanly into the narrative behind stopping Patrick Mahomes. No quarterback in the league thrives like the presumptive 2022 MVP when it comes to pressure in the pocket.
Coming into 2022, Mahomes had a 116.5 passer rating when facing five or more pass rushers and a 109.0 rating against four or fewer. He managed to keep this trend alive in the AFC title game despite playing on a sprained ankle that limited his ability to create drive-extended scrambles.
Patrick Mahomes completed every pass he threw from outside the tackle box, on the run (8+ mph) and when holding for longer than four seconds:
🔸 Outside Box: 6/6 (+31.4% CPOE)
🔸 On the Run: 6/6 (+21.0%)
🔸 Extended Dropbacks: 6/6 (+23.0%)#CINvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/KCzzDJLcAm
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 30, 2023
He’s still great when dealing with seven or more defenders in coverage, but more likely to throw interceptions and less likely to make explosive plays work. Fortunately, the Eagles can introduce chaos to the pocket while keeping several defenders downfield with deep safety help to ensure someone like Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Skyy Moore doesn’t break free to put together a passable Tyreek Hill impression.
Philadelphia doesn’t need extra help downfield, but you can’t be too cautious versus Mahomes. The Eagles fielded the league’s top passing defense not just because of their pass rush but also because of a secondary filled with stars like James Bradberry, Darius Slay and CJ Gardner-Johnson. Avonte Maddox’s return to the lineup only helps and should create the room to bracket Travis Kelce while leaving reliable coverage elsewhere. Keep Mahomes from weaving his broken play magic, and Philly will fulfill its reputation as the hardest team to throw against in the NFL.
Get Jalen Hurts' deep game working again to exploit a young secondary
Through Weeks 1-14 — up to a Week 15 shoulder sprain suffered against the Chicago Bears — Jalen Hurts was, at the very least, one of the league’s top-3 quarterbacks. He was 12-1 as a starter, had 32 total touchdowns against only five turnovers (including a 22-3 TD-INT ratio) and a genuine nuisance for opposing defensive coordinators.
Things weren’t as rosy after that, in part because they didn’t have to be. Philly went 4-0 following an 0-2 stretch with Gardner Minshew trying his best behind center. That included two playoff games won by a combined score of 69-14.
Hurts, for what it’s worth, wasn’t the same player in his return. He threw more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). His completion rate dropped from 68 percent to 60.3. His passer rating fell from 108.4 to 74.7. His rushing yards dropped my more than 15 per game. His efficiency slipped considerably.
The bye week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl will provide extra rest for his ailing shoulder. Philadelphia will have to hope that rejuvenates the downfield passing game that helped Hurts blow the doors off opposing defenses.
In his last three games, Hurts has only thrown nine passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield after averaging five-plus throws per game that covered that distance. He only completed three of those attempts, a number well below his deep ball (20-plus yards, per SIS) completion rate of 40 percent.
Of course, the Eagles haven’t needed to throw deep in that stretch. The only competitive game they’ve played since Hurts’ return came in Week 18 versus the Giants’ backups. In the two blowouts that followed, they ran the ball more than 63 percent of the time.
Still, any game with the Chiefs threatens to escalate into a shootout. Philadelphia has plenty of ammunition as long as Hurts can regain his early deep ball form. Especially against a Kansas City secondary that will lean heavily on three different rookies — Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson and Justin Williams — in the biggest game of their lives.
Block Chris Jones and pave space for a dynamic running game
Blocking hasn’t been a problem for the Eagles. They have two of the best players in the league at their respective positions in center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson. A consensus ranking of offensive lines places them second in the NFL, per The Athletic‘s Ben Baldwin.
Final Official Pass Protection Rankings as measured by three independent data sources
— 3 teams lapping the field (GB, PHI, BAL)
— MIA/CIN ended up being somewhat disappointing given their investments in OL pic.twitter.com/KdWJddivjc
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 10, 2023
This will come in extremely handy, because Chris Jones is a capital-p Problem for Philadelphia. Jones is a credible defensive player of the year candidate and was 2022’s most impactful interior lineman after a 15.5-sack, 17-tackle-for-loss campaign. He’s more than just a tackle shooting gaps for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, however. He’s a Swiss Army knife capable of moving around the lineup in order to exploit weaknesses and destroy pockets.
Chris Jones moving to end just to abuse Hakeem Adeniji on third down is defensive poetry pic.twitter.com/TomikzAULk
— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) January 30, 2023
Jones finished the AFC title game with two sacks, three tackles for loss and five quarterback hits in 54 snaps. He was arguably the most important player on the field in a game that decided the other half of Super Bowl 57.
The Hurts we saw against a very good 49ers pass rush was skittish in the pocket, even as his line took care of business against guys like Nick Bosa.
look at Lane Johnson, keeping the 2022 defensive player of the year Nick Bosa right in front of him and giving Jalen Hurts the space he needs pic.twitter.com/0dSFZjeBhY
— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) January 29, 2023
Hurts had a penchant for rolling out rather than stepping up in the pocket even with clean margins around him. While he’s very capable of throwing on the run, this added an extra layer of difficulty to his attempts and is part of the reason why, despite throwing shorter passes, his completion rate has dropped more than eight points since returning from injury.
Head coach Nick Sirianni likely sees Hurts’ decision to throw on the run as a feature rather than a bug since creating the additional threat to tuck-and-go is an extra strike for opposing defenses to consider. However, it stands to reason a more stable base will help his deep ball completion rate trend back upward. A clean pocket is paramount to that success — and to roasting the aforementioned young trio of defensive backs on whom the Chiefs will rely in Super Bowl 57.