After 15 days of rest, the (7-2) Kansas City Chiefs are finally back in action, with a game that makes the wait through the bye week worth it. Kansas City will host the (8-1) Philadelphia Eagles at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday Night Football; kickoff is set for 7:15 PM Arrowhead time.
The Chiefs sit as a three-point favorite, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, signaling a very even contest.
The rematch of Super Bowl LVII is as anticipated as it was leading into the season, and possibly more so: the Chiefs have the potential to take a stranglehold of the AFC playoffs with a win, staying at two losses with head-to-head tiebreakers against two of the other three-loss contenders. Philadelphia would remain the only one-loss team in the NFC with a victory.
I have five things to watch in the NFL’s best primetime game this season:
1. A cleaner Chiefs’ pass offense
Coming out of the bye week, the Chiefs’ focus is on reducing turnovers and penalties. Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy expressed that this week, along with saying the longer-developing pass plays can be executed better — despite the focus of defenses to bottle it up.
“When you look at our downfield numbers, we’re still taking shots,” Nagy told reporters on Friday. “The biggest thing is we want to be a little bit more efficient with those numbers. You still need to keep defenses honest, however you do it.”
The Eagles’ defense may give Kansas City’s passing attack an immediate chance to prove they can play cleaner: Philadelphia is allowing the fifth-most passing yards per game this season and third-most touchdown passes. The midseason addition of safety Kevin Byard was necessary because the Eagles’ back end can be exploited.
With Philadelphia surrendering the fewest rushing yards per game (66.3) in the NFL, teams must attack through the air. Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be dropping back early and often; it will be a good test for Mahomes’ decision-making, being patient and efficient — but also striking when the big-play opportunity is there.
2. Constantly accounting for Jalen Hurts’ legs
In Super Bowl LVII, Eagles’ quarterback Jalen Hurts attacked the Chiefs on the ground with 70 yards, but only 12 of them came on scrambles. The designed run game got Hurts loose a few times, an aspect of offense that has gotten the best of Kansas City’s defense at times under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
It gives the offense an additional player to use in the run game, but Philadelphia’s system may be even harder to defend because of who’s taking the snap.
“[Jalen’s] one of those quarterbacks that can beat you with his brain, he can beat you with his legs, and he can beat you with his arm,” Spags described in his Friday press conference. “He does it all. He’s faster than you think he is, just when you think you got him, he’s in and out of there.”
This season, only Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has more yards on designed runs than Hurts. With the addition of running back D’Andre Swift — currently seventh in the NFL in rushing yards — the Eagles will attack the Chiefs in more than one way on the ground; Kansas City is allowing 4.5 yards per rush attempt, the sixth-highest rate in the league.
3. Eliminating Philadelphia’s explosive plays
As Kansas City accounts for Hurts’ ability to run, it has to balance that with effectively covering wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. The duo will be on the field for nearly every offensive snap and are a threat to catch a long pass at any moment. In last year’s matchup, each was on the receiving end of a 45-yard completion.
“[Hurts] has [weapons] all over the place with the wideouts,” Spags acknowledged on Friday. “We’re going to be totally in tuned to that, because we feel like the explosive plays bit us the last time we played them. We have to eliminate those, try to make them earn it a little bit.”
Ideally, Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed is the primary coverage defender for Brown — while cornerback Trent McDuffie matches up best with wide receiver DeVonta Smith. When the two are inevitably switched up, don’t be surprised to see Hurts force Brown a jump ball or two; that’s how Philadelphia scored the second touchdown in Super Bowl LVII.
4. The Chiefs’ execution in short-yard offense
As previously mentioned, the Eagles’ run defense is arguably the league’s best, and that’s because of the monsters they can play along the defensive line.
That’s not the most favorable matchup for a Chiefs’ offensive line that has struggled to get a push on run plays in recent games — specifically later in the downs: the Chiefs have failed to convert on six of the team’s 14 rush attempts on third or fourth and short this season.
The Chiefs’ coaching staff will need to have a pretty deep bag of play calls prepared for those situations, focused on ways to negate the talent of Philadelphia’s front. The Eagles do rank 25th in third-down conversion rate allowed, so Kansas City has a chance to control the game on these crucial downs if the unit executes.
5. The turnover battle
The Chiefs and Eagles are both on the negative side of turnover differential this season: Kansas City is -4, while Philadelphia stands at -2.
However, the Eagles’ defense has only managed to create three takeaways over the last six games. On Kansas City’s side, the unit has forced a takeaway in every game this season — including eight over the last six games.
If the Chiefs’ offense can move on from past errors and execute the plan for cleaner execution, the inevitable turnover forced by the Kansas City defense could make the difference. In the Eagles’ only loss this season, the New York Jets decided the game by forcing four turnovers and intercepting Hurts three times.