In this series, we review the Kansas City Chiefs’ performance primarily using Next Gen Stats (NGS) — along with other advanced metrics that turn up during the season. For any questions on the statistics used in this series, please refer to our Football Analytics Glossary and Metrics page.
In this edition, we’ll consider how the Chiefs’ defense could stop the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII this Sunday evening. Using advanced analytics, the answer is apparent: Kansas City needs to stop the Philadelphia running game — and get pressure on quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Stopping the run
According to both NGS and DVOA, the Eagles have the league’s best running team. The Chiefs' defense, however, ranks 18th in NGS defensive rushing efficiency and 15th in run defense DVOA.
Digging a little deeper, NGS has Kansas City ranked eighth against shotgun runs. This is important because NGS says that two-thirds (66%) of the Eagles’ runs come out of shotgun — and they’re most efficient in shotgun, too. Philadelphia averages 5.1 yards per rushing attempt from the shotgun, but just 3.8 yards from under center. So if the Chiefs can slow down the Eagles’ shotgun running game, they would stand to have a decent chance of shutting down the running game as a whole.
Kansas City faces another tough situation in the red zone, where Hurts has an absurd 22.1 EPA on rushes. That leads the league by eight points. Hurts has accounted for 11 red-zone rushing touchdowns — all of these in goal-to-go situations. Philadelphia running backs have rushed for 17 other red-zone touchdowns.
The Kansas City rushing defense, however, ranks seventh in red-zone DVOA, per Football Outsiders. Against the pass, the Chiefs rank 28th in red-zone DVOA — while the Eagles rank 21st in red-zone offensive passing DVOA.
Stopping Philadelphia on first down runs will also be a priority for Kansas City this Sunday, because the Eagles run the ball on 54% of their first downs — and they’re good at it. Per DVOA, Philadelphia ranks second on first-down runs. Unfortunately, the Kansas City defense ranks 20th on first-down runs. So it’s going to be a tough task for the Chiefs to slow down the early-down running game — although Kansas City can force some early second-and-longs, which would allow defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to get after Hurts with blitzes.
Getting pressure on Jalen Hurts
Hurts has had an amazing season in 2022 — but one of his biggest weaknesses is throwing under pressure. Per NGS, Hurts is the NFL’s 10th-worst passer under pressure — and seventh-worst against the blitz.
When pressured without a blitz, Hurts’ EPA per dropback is -0.67 — but Philadelphia’s offensive line has only been allowing four non-blitz pressures per game. It’s going to be tough for the Chiefs’ defensive line to generate consistent pressure against the Eagles’ offensive line.
This is where Spagnuolo can win the game for Kansas City. The Eagles have allowed pressures on 28.2% of their snaps, which shows how great their line is at picking up blitzes. But when the blitzes work is when Philadelphia falters; Hurts is the third-most sacked quarterback on blitzes — and against blitzes, his completion rating sits is just 46.1%.
I expect Kansas City to blitz a lot with L’Jarius Sneed, Nick Bolton and Willie Gay. By doing so, the Chiefs will be relying on rookie cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson to contain wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith on the outside. McDuffie and Watson have posted -6.9 and -5.6 coverage EPAs against the blitz this year — both of which are top-30 numbers this season.
If Kansas City can limit Philadelphia's running game early in drives, I like its chances for another Super Bowl championship.