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5 things to watch as the Chiefs play the Eagles

Andy Reid’s homecoming has almost turned into a must-win for the 1-2 Chiefs.

NFL: SEP 17 Eagles at Chiefs Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After two consecutive losses for the first time since October 2019, the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) are traveling to play the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) to try and get back on track. Like the Chiefs, the Eagles are also coming off two straight losses after a season-opening win.

Aside from the on-field storylines, the biggest story in this game is the opportunity for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid to earn his 100th victory with Kansas City — which would make him the first NFL head coach to win 100 regular-season games for two different franchises.

Fittingly, the other team was the Eagles. Reid will be returning to Philadelphia for the second time since he left; he won the first matchup in 2013 on Thursday Night Football.

For the game itself, here are five things to watch:

1. Relying on the short and intermediate passing game

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This year, it’s been a common theme of opposing defenses to play deep coverage, eliminating big-play opportunities for the Kansas City offense and forcing them to win by running the ball and completing short passes.

It will be more of the same this week — and maybe the most extreme example we’ve seen. The Eagles’ defense is likely to consistently play two deep safeties, keeping everything in front of them. Philadelphia also has the league’s lowest blitzing rate.

The Chiefs have still succeeded against this strategy — that is, when they haven’t shot themselves in the foot with turnovers — but they may not face another team that will commit to it as much as Philadelphia. Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3, the Eagles allowed just one completed pass of 20 or more air yards; it was early in the game — and they made sure it didn’t happen again.

But the Cowboys still thrashed them with short and intermediate passes. The Chiefs will be forced to do the same. Since the Eagles’ weakest coverage group is their linebackers, watch for a focus on passing to tight ends; this may be a week where we see a higher volume of passing plays out of 12 and 13 personnel — that is, with two or three tight ends on the field.

2. Defensive line winning in the trenches

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I had a similar emphasis on the defensive line against a banged-up Baltimore Ravens’ line in Week 2. In that game, the Chiefs failed to do it, but there’s reason to be more confident about it this time.

The Eagles’ offensive line will be missing their Week 1 starters at left guard, right guard and left tackle. They have quality backups — like former first-round pick Andre Dillard at left tackle — but their offensive system isn’t as well-equipped to make up for it compared to the Ravens.

They’ll try their best — we can expect a heavy emphasis on running the ball and using quarterback Jalen Hurts as a ball carrier by design — but their rushing attack doesn’t have the misdirection and other complexities that helped Baltimore to dominate that matchup.

The Chiefs’ defensive line should have a massive impact on this game. If they don’t, it’s fair to speculate that they’ll never take over a game like we imagined they would during the offseason.

3. The significance of the interior offensive line’s performance

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like there are mixed opinions on how the Chiefs’ offensive line has played so far. While keeping in mind the defensive lines they’ve faced, I’ve been impressed with the group through three games — but it’s not getting any easier this week.

The Eagles have as disruptive of an interior defensive line duo as exists in the NFL. The one-time All-Pro Fletcher Cox is the big name, but Javon Hargrave has been the more dominant player this season. In fact, he’s been one of the most productive in the NFL: he leads all defensive tackles in sacks (four) and has the sixth-most pressures.

It’ll be another big challenge for the new interior offensive line. Right guard Trey Smith has shown everything you could ask from a rookie; he already has an argument to be the best of the three interior offensive linemen. Along with center Creed Humphrey and left guard Joe Thuney, their success will have a significant impact on the offense as a whole.

The second level of the Eagles’ defense lacks physicality and an attacking mindset against the run. If the Chiefs can neutralize Hargrave and Cox in the running game, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire could be in for another productive game.

4. Executing pass coverage

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Against the Los Angeles Chargers, Chiefs defenders struggled to cover receivers — making life easier for quarterback Justin Herbert. On Sunday, they’ll face some young, talented pass catchers — but no one that should be too much to handle.

A bounce-back performance from the Kansas City secondary will also help the Chiefs’ pass rushers — the linemen didn’t have their greatest day against Los Angeles — but some of the times they did beat blockers, Herbert had the ball out very quickly. If the coverage can hold up a little longer against the Eagles, a player like Chris Jones should be able to take advantage of Philadelphia’s beat-up offensive line.

Jalen Hurts has also struggled as a traditional dropback passer; against Dallas in Week 3, he had a few bad throws that turned into game-changing interceptions. After not forcing a turnover last week, the Chiefs’ defensive backs should have a chance to get some — as long as they properly execute their coverages.

5. Eliminating mistakes

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t much that needs to be said about the Chiefs’ string of giveaways over the last two weeks. Players know they need to be safer with the ball in their hands; it’s an aspect of the game that can be fixed quickly.

The defense won’t be perfect; they’ve proven that so far this year. But the offense cannot continue to put them in bad positions by constantly committing turnovers. If the defense was a stronger unit, they might be able to get away with it — but as an offensive juggernaut, the offense needs to help out the defense as much as possible.

If Kansas City can eliminate turnovers, it’s not likely to be much of a contest.

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