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How the Chiefs could steal a Super Bowl game plan from the Colts

Indianapolis was one of the teams that was able to limit Philadelphia’s offense in 2022. What can Kansas City learn?

Philadelphia Eagles v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII this Sunday, how could they formulate a plan to hold Philadelphia’s very good offense at bay? It’s often helpful to examine games where opposing teams have had success.

Unfortunately, the Eagles have largely pummeled their opponents. Even in the playoffs, Philadelphia defeated its opponents by a score of 69-14.

But when quarterback Jalen Hurts was starting, two of the Eagles’ 2022 opponents held them to 20 or fewer points: the 4-13 Arizona Cardinals and the 4-12-1 Indianapolis Colts.

In Part 1 of this series, we’ll examine what the Colts did to limit the Eagles' offense.

Scrape exchanges

While Indianapolis and Kansas City have different coverage structures, both teams run very similar fronts: a 4-3 Over or a 4-2-5 Over in nickel personnel. The Colts are more willing to drop a safety down into the box to stop the run — but stylistically, they’re very similar.

Indianapolis did a great job of limiting Philadelphia’s option run game, doing a scrape exchange against read-option plays.

The defensive end who is being read will crash the mesh point to take away the dive, forcing the quarterback to keep the ball. The gap exchange happens with the linebacker scraping — getting over the top — of the climbing block to be the edge player. Effectively, this takes away both the quarterback and running back’s options.

The Colts were able to switch between scrape exchanges and having their defensive ends play contain, which frequently made Hurts make the wrong decision. When Hurts gave the ball away, defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart used their length and size to dominate on the interior. This helped limit zone runs. In some ways, the Eagles will attack defensive tackle Chris Jones in the running game, but he can use his length to help stop them.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has effectively used scrape exchanges — particularly against the Baltimore Ravens, who run a similar offense. Expect to see it again on Sunday.

Single-high coverages

Against Philadelphia, Indianapolis primarily played Cover 1 and Cover 3 coverages. In these two approaches, boundary cornerbacks have largely the same responsibilities. The Eagles consistently attack these coverages by throwing passes outside the numbers.

Hurts loves throwing to the back side of a passing concept against Cover 1, trusting wide receivers DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown to win outside the numbers. Both guys are talented enough to do that — but the Indianapolis cornerbacks were eventually able to drive these comeback routes enough that it was hard for Philadelphia to move the ball. They also got physical with the downfield Go routes, forcing tight-window throws that almost no quarterback can complete.

The Chiefs should play a fair amount of man coverage. They can drop their safety or blitz, but the Eagles’ answers to those moves won’t change; they’ll repeatedly call these outside-the-numbers throws. If Kansas City’s cornerbacks can stop them, that will significantly limit Philadelphia’s passing game.

Dropping a safety to the middle of the field

The Colts didn’t play a lot of coverages, but they did rotate their safeties down to the middle of the field, which was effective at taking away some of the man-coverage beaters the Eagles like to run.

I watched Hurts’ tape in seven games. He worked the back side against man coverage around 75% of the time. Indianapolis was able to take advantage by dropping a safety right down to the back side to play inside-out on that receiver.

If Philadelphia puts Smith or Brown on the back side of a concept, the Chiefs should rotate the weak side safety down to the box. This will help Kansas City against the running game, while also taking away Hurts’ ability to quickly work to that player. Hurts doesn’t progress to the front side of his read unless it’s a designed throw there — so if the back side is taken away, the passing concept can collapse.

The bottom line

Spagnuolo ought to give Indianapolis defensive coordinator Gus Bradley a call. His stylistically-similar defense was able to take away a lot of the Eagles’ running game with the same 4-2 Over front the Chiefs run — and also played tight man coverage to disrupt Hurts’ rhythm.

Philadelphia’s passing game is simple. Hurts has clear tendencies — and Kansas City should be able to take advantage. By dropping the weak side safety down to help double the back side, the Chiefs could limit both the run and the pass.

If an opposing defense can force Hurts to make secondary reads, it’s won the play. The Colts drew up the blueprint to make that happen.

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