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Film review: How the Chiefs can slow the Eagles’ pass rush

How can Kansas City keep Philadelphia’s pass rushers from taking over the game?

Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Philadelphia Eagles for Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona.

The Eagles’ defense is known for abusing quarterbacks and creating chaos by consistently pressuring opposing passers. In the first part of this series, we broke down what makes Philadelphia’s pass rush work. In this part, we’ll explore what other teams have done to counter it — and how the Chiefs should attack it on Sunday,

Here’s the key thing to remember: the Eagles’ edge rushers are elite at getting after quarterbacks. But offenses can run plays that exploit Philadelphia’ emphasis on rushing the passer.

The screen game

A screen pass — where the offensive line deliberately allows pass rushers to come upfield so the quarterback can throw a short pass to a running back in the open space that’s been created — is a common way to blunt a strong pass rush. No NFL coach is better at designing and calling these plays than Kansas City’s Andy Reid. Former Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz says no coach installs screen passes with so such detail.

What makes these plays so effective is that pass rushers can often overlook what is happening around them as they focus on the quarterback's every movement. Earlier this season, the Green Bay Packers were able to exploit this tendency against the Eagles.

As we see here, the Packers show a run-action pass, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers pulls the ball and sets up a little deeper in the pocket. As the Philadelphia edge rushers come upfield, the interior offensive line leaks out to the right — with Aaron Jones following. With a huge void around him — and excellent open-field blocking — Jones picks up a big gain.

Screens don’t always have to be thrown to running backs, either.

Here, the Chicago Bears also use run-action. Left tackle Braxton Jones sells the run block perfectly, Then he takes a great release off the line, crushing the safety to set up a decent gain. Milton Williams tackles tight end Cole Kmet — who isn’t known for his quickness — from behind. A more athletic tight end might be able to make a bigger play.

Kansas City’s offensive line is excellent at blocking in space. We should get multiple opportunities to watch it at work.

Moving the pocket

Teams can also neutralize a strong pass rush by moving the pocket. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson was able to get Trevor Lawrence some open looks against his former team by utilizing his quarterback’s mobility.

As we see, the pre-snap motion and run action force the defenders to move to the left. Haason Reddick gets caught looking at the running back, so Lawrnece is able to boot around him and find his tight end — who is wide open.

While the Chiefs do not run many toss plays, they can still run this look by selling an inside zone run going one direction — and then having Mahomes roll to the other side.

Later in the game, Lawrence got a chance to complete a deep ball.

Even though Lawrence shows the ball, this isn’t a true run-action pass — but the full slide protection from the offensive line (and the tight end sealing Reddick inside) gives Lawrence enough time to fire the pass downfield. He misses the throw, but he is able to set his feet outside of where the traditional pocket would be.

Whether the Chiefs can move the pocket in these ways will largely depend on Patrick Mahomes’ ankle — but if his mobility isn’t significantly restricted, the Chiefs will have another counter for the Eagles’ pass rush.

Outside runs

Running the ball is a time-honored way of slowing down a pass rush. But Kansas City has not been great at running the ball in the playoffs. Even in the regular season, the team has struggled when running outside; it’s had to run between the tackles to grind out yards.

But while traditional outside runs have not worked, the Chiefs have had success with jet sweeps and other quick-hitting outside plays. Other teams have found success with similar calls against Philadelphia.

As we see on this play, both Reddick and Josh Sweat work vertically upfield as often as they can. But this time, Reddick basically becomes the read man on an option play. While this is not an option play, the way Rodgers pitches it to Jones — with Reddick in between — makes it look like one. Great blocking to the outside gives Jones a nice pickup.

Even with Mecole Hardman out of the game, Kansas City will likely still run jet sweeps — or another play that could exploit the Eagles around the edge. These plays can take advantage of defensive linemen who are not often asked to set the edge

On this play, Reddick is flying upfield — but since CeeDee Lamb is running at full speed, he gets around the defender and finds his blockers.

Quick passes to running backs

While screen passes have worked against the Eagles, some teams have also found success with running backs running actual routes. These tend to be quick-hitting plays that emphasize getting the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly.

Here, the Cardinals use Eno Benjamin on a Texas route, where he cuts out of the backfield and then darts back inside. It catches the Philadelphia linebackers off guard, allowing Kyler Murray to get the ball off just before the pass rush gets to him.

This is just the kind of play where Kansas City running back Jerrick McKinnon — who scored nine receiving touchdowns to lead the league’s running backs — could find success.

The Dallas Cowboys had a chance to get Tony Pollard a touchdown with a similar play.

We have seen the Chiefs run this same play for a touchdown. The running back releases through the line of scrimmage on the snap and quickly gets to the flat. The tight end and receiver to the play side both run slants. It should be an easy touchdown, but Prescott and Pollard don’t connect.

The bottom line

There is no denying that Philadelphia’s pass rush is elite. It will deserve as much respect as Kansas City can give. But if the Chiefs want to win this game, they must find a way to consistently protect Mahomes — or at least put the Eagles in a position where their aggression can be used against them.

How Kansas City handles Phildelphia’s pass rush will be the final test Kansas City will have to pass to bring the Lombardi Trophy home. But Andy Reid will have his team ready to go — because he knows that in his hands, the pen is mightier than the sword.

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