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

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

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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 other teams. 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.

On Tuesday, we looked at how the Chiefs could find success with the Colts’ game plan. Now let’s see how the Cardinals limited the Eagles’ offense.

Note: Eagles’ left tackle Jordan Mailata didn’t play in this game — and left guard Landon Dickerson was limited.

Run blitzes

The Cardinals went into their game against the Eagles with a clear disadvantage in their defensive front. They couldn’t afford to use their standard fronts against an Eagles’ offensive line that typically bludgeons it opponents with their talent advantages. Joseph knew he had to get creative with his fronts, which included a variety of run blitzes and slants to make up some gaps.

Joseph would bring linebackers and safeties right at the snap, muddying the picture for the Eagles’ offensive line. This also limited the offensive line’s ability to climb to the second level, since they had to make adjustments for blitzers coming right at them. Running back Miles Sanders also had trouble navigating this traffic; Arizona was able to generate negative runs from him.

The Chiefs should do something similar. Letting Philadelphia center Jason Kelce pull (or climb up to linebacker Nick Bolton) is a terrible proposition for the Kansas City defense. Instead, I would let Bolton work downhill based on the defensive play-call. There might be times when the Eagles will beat Kansas City with a trap run — but by being creative with its fronts, the defense could keep the Eagles from winning double-teams and climbing to the second level, which will limit the efficiency of their running game.

Safety rotation

Similar to the Colts, Joseph was rotating his safeties — but at a much higher rate than the Colts did. Joseph would drop back and rotate to Cover 4, or drop either of his safeties down and play Cover 1 or Cover 3 to deal with some of the crossing routes.

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has been terrific this season, but he’s not great at helping the structure of a play. On this rep, we see a simple play-action concept with wide receiver A.J. Brown running a drag route — but Hurts doesn’t do anything to look off the dropping safety. He looks that way, but the safety read Hurts’ eyes, generating a pass breakup on the play.

For Hurts, the Chiefs should be willing to drop their safeties — and change the look post-snap. That way, they can force Hurts to try and read a passing concept post-snap. If Kansas City can do that, there will be opportunities for interceptions. In a game where every possession will be important, turnovers will be a huge factor.

Sending pressure

Here’s the critical thing I would do against this Philadelphia offense: blitz them nonstop.

Here’s the simple reality: the Eagles’ offensive line is unbelievable. Hurts hasn’t been touched once this postseason. If your goal is to rush four and play zone coverage behind it, Philadelphia will pick you apart with Run-Pass Options and Empty formations.

The Chiefs have to disrupt the rhythm of the Eagles’ offense. Joseph laid out the blueprint for how it can be done. The Cardinals’ DC was sending constant pressure, which ultimately affected Hurts. Has wasn’t willing to sit in structure and read a play out. Instead, he opted to scramble around, trying to create. Hurts is not going to pick your blitz apart inside the pocket, either — so I’d send constant waves at him, leaving no choice but to try and create.

It’s not just Hurts that devolves against the blitz, either. The Philadelphia offensive scheme tends to fall apart against the blitz, too. The team’s main answer is to throw a lot of perimeter screens to attack the edges against the blitz. This worked on the first drive in Arizona — but after Joseph made an adjustment, the Cardinals had multiple tackles for loss against these screens.

Because Hurts is limited in throwing to the middle of the field, the Eagles have to resort to more perimeter action to beat blitzes — but that’s good for the defense. The play-calls get very predictable, so the secondary can fly downhill much more frequently. Philadelphia will run a fake screen wheel from that — but largely, it only calls screens to beat blitzes

The Chiefs could also defend these screens by presenting pressure and dropping everyone. If they do that, they can get more bodies to the edge to stop the screen game.

This wasn’t just a one-game trend, either. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans had clearly planned to present pressure with double A-gap mugged looks — but they were willing to send pressure or drop everyone from that. They only did that three or four times, but it was effective almost every time.

The Eagles' offense struggles to beat the blitz — so I’d lean all the way into that.

The bottom line

Vance Joseph isn’t my kind of defensive coordinator, but his defensive style is unique — and can present offenses with a lot of problems. He’s willing to be creative, allowing him to solve problems in nontraditional ways — which is big against Philadelphia.

The Eagles attack static defenses very well. They’re going to find a hole in your structure and then ruthlessly attack it. Once they identify that, your defense is compromised.

What’s the best way to counter that? Don’t give the same look! If you’re constantly changing your structure, it’s hard for Philadelphia to pinpoint what you want to do. Joseph did that by sending constant pressure and rotations — something that Spagnuolo loves to do.

If Spagnuolo can mix in some of what we saw from the Colts and Cardinals — who both operate defenses stylistically similar to Kansas City’s scheme — I genuinely think he can find ways to limit the Eagles. It certainly won’t be easy — but some remnants of a blueprint have been left out there, and I think the Chiefs are well-equipped to take those ideas and run with them.

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