clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Opponent Scout: Chiefs must be patient, take what Eagles give them

The Kansas City offense must rely on short passes and the running game to counter Philadelphia’s conservative defense.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In this weekly opponent scout series, I’ll break down the Kansas City Chiefs’ upcoming opponent by examining their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies — and how those things affect their matchup with the Chiefs.

In Week 4, it’s a battle of 1-2 teams, as the Chiefs visit the Philadelphia Eagles. After winning their season openers, both teams have lost their last two games.


Overview

The Eagles are entering this game on a short week; they were pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys 41-21 on Monday Night Football.

Since Week 1, Philadelphia’s offense has struggled to get much going; they have the seventh-lowest rate of possessions ending in a score, averaging 21.3 points per game. They are an efficient rushing attack, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt on the season — the league’s second-highest rate — but they don’t rely on the run. They rank 18th in offensive DVOA.

On defense, the Eagles are in the Top 10 for both points and total yards allowed. But they fail to create turnovers; they’ve had only one takeaway all season. Their conservative philosophy invites offenses to run on them — and they do: the Eagles have allowed the most rushing attempts in the NFL. They hold the 14th spot in defensive DVOA.

Offense

The Eagles haven’t had a consistent identity on offense. After two weeks of relying on the ground game, Philadelphia switched it up. Against Dallas, they spread out their offense and threw the ball; Philadelphia running backs combined for just three carries.

That plan, however, did not work. Quarterback Jalen Hurts threw two costly interceptions in a blowout. He has struggled to be a traditional dropback passer; his 89.6 passer rating from a clean pocket is one of the worst marks among starting quarterbacks.

So it’s hard to imagine the Eagles will repeat their Dallas game plan. Instead, they will likely take a page out of the Baltimore Ravens’ book: using Hurts as a threat on designed runs. They did so in Week 1, when Hurts turned four designed carries into 38 yards — three of them with gains of 14, 13 and nine yards.

This strategy should also help their offensive line, which will be missing three Week 1 starters due to injury: right guard Brandon Brooks, left guard Isaac Seumalo and left tackle Jordan Mailata. Instead of asking a group of backups to protect Hurts, Philadelphia can make their job easier by calling plenty of runs. Since Hurts is also a ball-carrying threat, this would also create an extra blocker on those designed plays.

As uncomfortable as Hurts can look operating from the pocket, his athleticism allows him to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he’s out of structure. This season, his 125.9 passer rating and 11.1 yards per attempt while under pressure are both the second-highest marks in the league.

This season, he has primarily relied on rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith — but he still distributes the ball fairly evenly. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor, running back Miles Sanders and tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz have all seen at least 11 targets. Their X-factor is rookie wide receiver Quez Watkins, who is a big-play threat on any snap.

Defense

The Eagles primarily play from a two-high safety shell, a conservative scheme that prevents big plays and keeps everything in front of them. They’ll invite offenses to run or gain five or six yards through the air, trusting that they’ll rally quickly to make a tackle. The strategy relies on the offense to miss a throw or take a shot that isn’t actually open, resulting in lots of third-down attempts — where the defense will get more creative to try and get off the field.

So far this season, they’ve blitzed less than any team in the league, only sending an off-ball defender on five snaps. They can get away with this because of their disruptive defensive line.

Since starting defensive end Brandon Graham has suffered a season-ending injury, the biggest threats (literally) on their front are interior linemen Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox. Cox has been established as one of the best at his position — but this year, Hargrave has been the more dominant player.

Per PFF, Hargrave has the second-highest win rate on pass-rushing snaps among interior defensive linemen. He leads the Eagles in pressures, sacks, quarterback hits and tackles for loss. He’s also been a force against the run.

On the second level, Eagles linebackers have lacked physicality — and an ability to plug gaps in rushing defense. If their defensive front isn’t blowing up the line of scrimmage, the ball carrier is getting a big gain — because linebackers are failing to get downhill and make a play.

Along with their flaws in run defense, Philadelphia’s linebackers have been a liability when covering the short and intermediate levels of the field; specifically, they’ve had trouble against tight ends. Last week, Dallas completed 15/16 passes within 19 yards of the line of scrimmage — earning 9.8 yards per attempt and scoring three times. As Eagles linebackers tried to cover him, tight end Dalton Schultz had a field day.

Week 3 was Philadelphia's first test against a high-powered passing attack — and it didn’t go well. But in Week 4, they’ll get shot against another one.

Bottom line

The Chiefs’ defense needs to be prepared for a high-volume rushing attack in which the quarterback is consistently featured. In Week 2, they failed against that kind of offensive scheme — but the Eagles do not execute it as cleanly or as efficiently as the Ravens do. And while Hurts is a running threat, he’s just not on the same level as Lamar Jackson.

On offense, Kansas CIty just needs to focus on taking what the defense gives them; they won’t need to push for a big play that isn’t there. By now, they’ve gotten used to facing this kind of defense — and without turnovers, they’ve handled it well. Sunday will also be another great challenge for the offensive line — especially the three interior players.