clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

During Steve Spagnuolo’s career, defending quarterbacks has changed a lot

The architect of two championship defenses understands the challenge of Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

When the Kansas City Chiefs face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday, many of the team’s players will be experiencing a championship game for the first time — but the game’s biggest stage is definitely not new to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

The coach has his opportunity for a second championship in four years as Kansas City’s defensive play-caller. In addition to winning Super Bowl LIV with the Chiefs, Spagnuolo called one of the most famous defensive performances in league history as the fifth-seeded New York Giants defeated the 16-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season.

When Chiefs head coach Andy Reid took over the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, he hired Spagnuolo to work under the late defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. On Wednesday, Spagnuolo reflected on how much the game has changed since then.

“So I was working with Jim Johnson in Philadelphia with Andy,” the coach recalled, “I can vividly remember Saturday night where we’d have the meetings. Then after the meetings, you have a snack [or] a meal, and the TV’s on. You’re watching college games. At the time — this would be the early 2000s or 1999 — they’re running option football.

“[It was] a little bit different than the way it is now, but the same concepts — you can give it off of the quarterback. And I remember Jim Johnson saying, ‘Thank God we don’t have to defend against that stuff.’ Because it changes everything.”

Kansas City Chiefs v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

But over the last two decades, mobile quarterbacks — and schemes designed around them — have become more common. College formations that were once brushed aside as “gimmicky” are now staples of professional offenses — especially the Eagles, whose quarterback Jalen Hurts has rushed for 760 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. That’s in addition to his 22 scores through the air.

“Now that [it] is in NFL football,” noted Spagnuolo, “it does change everything. It puts a lot more challenge on the defensive guys when the quarterback can not only drop back and throw — which this quarterback can do — but he can also beat you with his legs.

“And in that offense, he’s making decisions within the play to make you look bad. Because he can decide whether to hand it off, throw it, or run with it.”

It makes a defense’s job much more difficult than it was in the early days of Spagnuolo’s NFL career.

“I think football today is legendary,” he declared, “when you think about what quarterbacks do and how hard it is to run a defensive play. We’ve got to find a way to slow him down somehow.”

Reid agrees that it will be difficult to plan for Hurts.

“You’ve got to keep an eye on him, for sure,” the coach admitted. “He is a great runner — but he can also throw the ball well. You better keep an eye on him somewhere there — whatever approach we take.”

But Reid also reaffirmed his faith that Spagnuolo is up to the job — especially given his previous playoff success.

“Steve’s very creative [and] smart,” observed Reid. “A real tribute to Springfield College. He’s been in the league, and he had a good tutor in Jim Johnson when he was young. So he’s been able to build off of that scheme [and] be very innovative with it.”

Arrowhead Pride Premier

Sign up now for a 7-day free trial of Arrowhead Pride Premier, with exclusive updates from Pete Sweeney on the ground at Arrowhead, instant reactions after each game, and in-depth Chiefs analysis from film expert Jon Ledyard.