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2022 NFL season: Five things to watch for in Chiefs-Eagles in Super Bowl LVII

Kansas City Chiefs
2022 · 16-3-0
Philadelphia Eagles
2022 · 16-3-0

You don’t have to look hard for compelling storylines when it comes to Super Bowl LVII.

Andy Reid coaching against his former team. It’s the first Super Bowl featuring two Black starting quarterbacks, also the top two MVP vote getters. The first brother-versus-brother matchup in the game’s history. The team with the fewest questions against the best quarterback on the planet. The top two sacking teams in the NFL this season, going head to head. A nearly dead-even game with star power on both sides of the ball.

The Philadelphia Eagles will be going for their second Super Bowl title when they meet the Kansas City Chiefs, seeking their third title, on Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. It’s hard to imagine this not being an entertaining game.

Will it be Patrick Mahomes earning his second ring? Or Jalen Hurts scoring his first? We’ll find out Sunday night.

Here are five elements of Super Bowl LVII that could prove to be most revealing:

  1. Chiefs could have hands full with relentless Eagles rush. By now you know the Eagles feature one of the best statistical pass-rushing groups in modern NFL history. They’ve totaled 78 sacks, most without the benefit of blitzing, in 19 games (counting playoffs); that’s an average of more than four sacks per game. Five more sacks on Sunday, and these Eagles will break the Super Bowl-era full-season mark set by the 1984 Chicago Bears. They roll two units deep up front, too, with Haason Reddick (19.5 sacks, including playoffs), Josh Sweat (12.5), Javon Hargrave and Brandon Graham (12 sacks each) each topping the 12-sack mark, plus they have Fletcher Cox (eight sacks) and Robert Quinn, who had 18.5 sacks in the 2021 season. Patrick Mahomes has been sacked just 29 times in 19 games, but he did have a tough time versus pressure during the regular season, completing only 41.1% of his passes and throwing seven interceptions, according to Next Gen Stats, before turning it around in two postseason games against pressure (60.9% completions, zero picks). The biggest mismatch on paper appears to be Reddick going against Chiefs right tackle Andrew Wylie. In his past eight games counting playoffs, Reddick has 11.5 sacks, 18 QB hits, three forced fumbles and two recoveries. Wylie can struggle with speed and was flagged five times for holding this season, including once in the AFC Championship Game.
  2. Two star quarterbacks squaring off at less than full health. Jalen Hurts sat out Weeks 16 and 17 with a non-throwing shoulder injury, one that's effects have lingered into the playoffs. Patrick Mahomes gamely battled through a high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship Game that he suffered the week before against Jacksonville. Neither can be branded fully healthy. Hurts has accounted for four touchdowns and zero turnovers in Philly's two playoff wins but hasn’t operated at peak efficiency since returning from the injury, and shoulders are notoriously slow-healing and susceptible to aggravation. Mahomes’ gutsy effort playing through pain against the Bengals was noble, running for a critical late first down, but repeating the effort could be tough if the ankle flares up. Both injuries easily could be aggravated with one hit or one wrong move. And after all the Hurts-Mahomes talk leading up to the game, we have to consider the possibility of Gardner Minshew or Chad Henne (or both) seeing action Sunday. Both have played recently, with Minshew starting both games in place of Hurts and Henne leading a 98-yard TD drive against the Jaguars when Mahomes left that game temporarily. The hope is that both starting QBs make it through the game healthy, but we have to prepare for the possibility that one or both do not -- a development that could dramatically tilt the tide in one team’s favor.
  3. Eagles’ strong run game poses problems, but Chiefs’ defense deserves credit. The Eagles are a running team. That sometimes gets a bit lost, what with Hurts’ ability to sting defenses with the pass and Philly’s deadly RPO game. But the rushing attack remains the bread and butter of the offense, with Hurts, Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and even Boston Scott all capable of grinding away at Kansas City’s defense. During the regular season, the Eagles averaged 32 rushing attempts and 147.6 yards, but with Hurts’ shoulder on the mend, they've averaged 40.7 carries and 183.7 yards in the three games since his return, along with eight rushing scores. Kansas City rated slightly above average in the regular season versus the run, led by Chris Jones and Nick Bolton, ranking eighth in rush yards allowed per game (107.2) and 15th in rushing average allowed (4.35). In the playoffs, the Jaguars and Bengals averaged nearly 6.0 yards per carry against the Chiefs yet only ran the ball a combined 36 times. Expect the Eagles to unleash the ground game early and try to stick with it. Falling behind multiple scores would be a tough blow for Philly. Two of the Chiefs’ three losses came to teams that ran the ball 30-plus times, with the Bills in Week 6 and Bengals in Week 13 committing to the run early and sticking with it in statement victories. Keep an eye on Ganwell, who has led the Eagles in rushing yards in both playoff games and totaled more yards in each of those two games than he did in any during the regular season.
  4. Can the Eagles stop Travis Kelce? Kelce is having one of the best seasons ever by a tight end, setting personal bests for receptions (110) and touchdowns (12) and logging his second-most receiving yards (1,338). He’s had four or more catches in every game this season and eight or more in six contests. In K.C.'s two playoff games, Kelce has a combined 21 catches for 176 yards and three scores. Simply put, he’s one of the greatest weapons in the game today, and there’s no one Mahomes leans on more with the game on the line. Playing in a Super Bowl against his brother, Eagles center Jason Kelce, is a fun story -- no doubt. But the Eagles’ defense will have its hands full trying to slow Travis down for 60 minutes. He’ll often be singled on the backside of the Chiefs’ three-by-one formations, tasking defenses with a tricky call: double Kelce and the trips side should see favorable matchups. In the 2021 meeting between the Eagles and Chiefs, the Eagles held Kelce to four catches for 23 yards, but Tyreek Hill diced them up for three TDs in a Chiefs win. But Hill is gone, and no other Chiefs wideout strikes fear anywhere near that same level. The Eagles led the NFL in passing yards per game and passing yards per play allowed, and they did a good job against tight ends, also containing the 49ers’ George Kittle in the NFC Championship Game (thought San Francisco's QB injuries certainly played a part). Mahomes kills man coverage traditionally, and the Eagles are not a huge man-coverage defense, so we expect plenty of zone, with cornerback James Bradberry and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson likely to see time helping on Kelce.
  5. Does Super Bowl experience matter? If so, Chiefs have the edge. Having Super Bowl experience might be nice, but it’s hardly a tried and true indicator of what will play out in the game. After all, the Patriots held a massive Super Bowl experience edge against the Eagles (including some of this year’s roster) in Super Bowl LII, but Philly got the best of Tom Brady and Co. with backup QB Nick Foles leading the way. The Chiefs do have the edge this time around, with 19 players with prior experience playing in the big game (including 10 who have played in multiple Super Bowls) to the Eagles’ nine players with Super Bowl experience (and only one, Ndamukong Suh, who has played in multiple Super Bowls). But there’s also the coaching angle, with Kansas City’s Andy Reid having coached in three previous Super Bowls and Philadelphia’s Nick Sirianni making his debut. To Sirianni’s credit, however, he’s not appeared to this point like a coach who will cower in the big moment. On the flip side, Mahomes and Reid might view this as legacy games for each, as winning Super Bowls seems to push quarterbacks and coaches into different strata on the all-time scale -- and with that comes additional pressure.

Follow Eric Edholm on Twitter.

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