Travis Kelce has gained 743 yards from the slot this season and has been targeted on 44% of his slot snaps
The Eagles have a ridiculous pair of outside cornerbacks in Darius Slay and James Bradberry. That those guys get to work on the back of an elite pass rush is simply unfair. The Eagles have been one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL at stopping production to outside receivers.
Philadelphia has been more exploitable in the slot. Even with inside corner Avonte Maddox nearly back to full health, that should be where the Chiefs look to attack.
Travis Kelce is the center of the Chiefs' passing universe; more than usual this year, given the state of their receiver room.
Kansas City has plenty of positional flexibility with Kelce. He can work as a traditional tight end but it’s not strange to see him line up as the team’s lone receiver out at X in a three-by-one formation. Yet, it would make sense for him to see a ton of slot work in this matchup and get him running routes in the areas that give the Eagles defense the most trouble.
Kelce hasn't ripped off huge plays in the postseason. He's averaging just 8.4 yards per catch on a whopping 25 targets; looks coming only in the short area right now. But that's still a big factor in Kansas City steadily moving the ball down the field. Patrick Mahomes and co. have been able to find chunk plays elsewhere.
I like Kelce to push for double-digit catches for yet another week with the majority of them coming from the slot.
Patrick Mahomes had a 26:2 TD to INT ratio against man coverage
The Eagles, like most of the NFL, are a zone-heavy defense. They typically play man coverage on a mere quarter of their passing snaps.
Patrick Mahomes has just filleted man coverage this season. That's been incredibly impressive because none of his wideouts are high-level man-coverage beaters. In the early part of the season, defenses were inclined to just man up on this new-look receiver corps and let the cards fall.
I’d give the Eagles' corners a significant edge over the Chiefs' wideouts in man-to-man situations. However, Mahomes has been otherworldly with his ball placement this year. His accuracy has almost been highlighted more while being hobbled with his ankle injury in the postseason. The improvisational magic is awesome but his real mastery comes as a traditional dropback passer.
Even if the windows are tight on Sunday, Mahomes can fit the ball into even a small sliver of space for his receivers.
Isaiah Pacheco has run more routes than Jerick McKinnon in the playoffs
The gap isn’t wide at 37 to 35. However, Pacheco has made big, steady gains with his chances, taking his six catches for 65 yards through two games.
McKinnon was a huge factor in last year’s postseason run. He was clearly the most trusted player in the backfield, especially in the passing game. Not this year. Pacheco still has his shaky moments in pass protection but he’s garnered the reps in the aerial game over the trusted vet regardless.
My theory on why this has happened comes back to Mahomes. With the star quarterback hobbled, he’s unlikely to scramble or certainly take off running as much as usual. He’s more apt to take the checkdown. Pacheco being on the other end of those checkdowns offers a bit more pop.
He’s a little bit too far down the pecking order to be a dark-horse Super Bowl MVP or something like that. However, I bet he comes away with one or two explosive catches that end up as sizable gains.
Kadarius Toney was the only Chiefs WR to average more than 1.8 yards per route run this season
Toney is at 2.2 yards per route run and he’s not even really running downfield, “real” routes. Instead, he’s gotten a ton of layup targets in the flat, screen passes or other gadget looks. Toney was a full participant in practice this week and should be good to go to play that role in the Super Bowl.
We’ll see if any other Chiefs wideout steps up.
JuJu Smith-Schuster's receiving yard prop has hovered around 37.5 all week. Given what we noted above about the Eagles' stout outside coverage, JuJu should be in line for some bankable production as the slot man. When healthy, he remains their most consistent high-floor player. He's not going to take over the game but I can easily see him getting to 50 yards.
Chris Jones ranks second in the NFL with 59 QB hurries
The star defender has 16 pressures in the postseason alone. The Eagles offensive line will have their hands full dealing with Jones, regardless of if he lines up on the inside or outside.
I've been at Radio Row for the past three days. There's a banner hung up on the right wall with four players. You'll see Jalen Hurts and Jason Kelce representing the Eagles. Patrick Mahomes is there for the Chiefs and the other guy is JuJu Smith-Schuster. No disrespect to the receiver but I've been racking my brain as to why Jones isn't the other Chiefs player up there.
My conclusion is that he’s still somehow underrated in the national spotlight, an elite player but not a famous one. With how he’s playing right now, that might be about to change. We could see a performance in the Super Bowl that cements his legacy, especially if it comes against the stout Eagles line and their banner-worthy center.
The Eagles lead the NFL in pressure rate on non-blitz dropbacks
The Chiefs have the aforementioned Chris Jones and ranked second in the NFL in pressures. The Eagles have layer after layer of great pass rushers and led the league in the stat by a wide margin.
Kansas City has successfully rebuilt its offensive line after a disastrous showing in its most recent Super Bowl appearance. I'd still say they're more robust on the interior than out at tackle. Much like Jones, Hassan Reddick isn't famous but he's been enjoying a Defensive Player of the Year type of season.
Reddick and the other edge rushers will be key in getting Mahomes off his spot. An extra week of rest will be good for Mahomes but the longer the AFC Championship game went on the more his injury seemed to bother him. Pressure is going to affect him more than usual in this game. There’s no question the Eagles are a bad matchup for that.
Jalen Hurts ranked second in adjusted yards per attempt on throws to players lined up out wide
The Chiefs are one of the more aggressive man and press coverage defenses in the NFL. While most of the league has played softer on the back end and gone toward zone coverage, the Chiefs have zigged when everyone else has zagged.
Rolling out that plan against the Eagles' pass-catchers would be unwise. Frankly, it would be inviting failure.
DeVonta Smith is a pristine route-runner and a man-beating specialist. He can uncover himself at any level of the field and has been just as productive as A.J. Brown of late.
Brown is one of the best receivers off the line in the game. You try and press him, you often fail. Many teams that tried to man up on these receivers this year paid the price via the Brown and Jalen Hurts connection on go-balls.
Dallas Goedert has been the most efficient tight end this year on screen passes, another tried and true man-beating play. And let's not forget the threat of Hurts as a rusher if the entire defense turns its back on him.
We've seen Steve Spagnulo get deep into his bag and come up with unique game plans in big contests to stifle particular offenses. This must be one of those moments. In relative terms, Hurts has struggled when teams heat him up and sit back in zone coverage. That might end up being a part of the Chiefs' plan.
The Philadelphia Eagles lead the NFL in second-level line yards (1.45) per Football Outsiders
Without question, this is my favorite nerd stat for the 2022 Eagles. It just so perfectly encapsulates what makes this Philly run game special. Miles Sanders and co. bring juice in the backfield and Hurts is a dynamic runner as a quarterback. The details and athleticism of their offensive line are the real engines behind the ground game.
Jason Kelce is simply a special player at the second level. Even at this stage of his career, he brings unrivaled pop and athleticism when out in space. He remains a unique difference-maker on pin-pull run plays.
Tackles Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata are also marvels of athleticism. Stalwart offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has these guys coached up and devastating linebackers and safeties in the run game. Cut on the film of the Eagles run game and you'll see why Stoutland has survived multiple regime changes in Philadelphia.
If you love football, it’s a joy to watch.
If the Chiefs fall behind early, they know Mahomes can throw them back into a game. The Eagles rightly have all the faith in the world in Hurts but are a far more devastating battleship when playing with a lead. If this run game gets off to a hot start, they can secure that early edge.
Philadelphia is the type of team that can be confident enough to throw out any matchup data in their run game. We saw them essentially do just that in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers elite run defense. They’ll have every reason in the world to do it again in the Super Bowl.