Imagine you’re sitting in on the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive and defensive meetings this week.
You’re working late, eating crummy pizza, greasy subs, drinking pop and looking at game tape. You look for weaknesses. You scheme for ways your units can gain an edge.
Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy looks at the Eagles’ defensive tape and maybe shudders a little. He checks out that defensive front and sees pressure coming from all angles.
He sees the fierceness with which the line attacks. He sees each lineman with the ability to get to the quarterback.
He checks stats. He sees four Eagles with double-digits in sacks — Haason Reddick (16), Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat and Javon Hargrave (each with 11). He sees Fletcher Cox with seven sacks.
He watches tape from the NFC title game. He sees what a force of nature Reddick was, running over anything in his path.
“Man, they get to the quarterback a lot,” Bieniemy whispers to himself. “Good thing we have Patrick Mahomes.”
He might even count heads on the tape to check if the Eagles have only 11 guys on the field.
Bieniemy analyzes the secondary and doesn’t see weakness. Cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry are excellent. Receivers are covered tightly on their watch. The secondary breaks up and intercepts passes.
Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson is all around the ball. Marcus Epps is a hitter. Nickle back Avonte Maddox is everywhere.
“Good thing we have Patrick,” Bieniemy tells himself again.
“Even the linebackers make plays. T.J. Edwards is a great run-stopper and Kyzir White makes tackles and helps on pass defense.”
WE CAN RUN
After more tape, Bieniemy sees an opening. “We can run the ball,” he tells his staff. “Look, the Eagles are only ranked 16th in the league in rushing defense. That’s our ticket.”
The Chiefs would be better suited to run if their best back, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, can play. He hasn’t played since Week 11. They still have Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon.
And a bigger question is: Why would you run the ball when you have Mahomes?
One of Bieniemy’s staff points out that the Eagles’ successful formula is stopping the run early then turning loose the pass rush in likely-pass downs.
Bieniemy calls Andy Reid and tells him the offensive staff will be working late again.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has his own set of dilemmas. His first concern is Jalen Hurts’ health. Will Hurts be the free-range, triple-threat quarterback who led the league MVP race before he was injured?
Or, will Hurts be rusty, maybe a touch hesitant to run? From what Spagnuolo knows about Hurts, he knows he’ll get a warrior mentality from the quarterback, no matter how his injured shoulder feels.
Spagnuolo checks the tape of the offensive line. He knows his best defensive lineman, tackle Chris Jones, could be his most important player in the game. He also sees it won’t be easy going against the Eagles’ tough and athletic offensive line.
Spagnuolo sees center Jason Kelce blocking men larger than him and getting outside to block defenders downfield. He knows Kelce will be a problem.
As will tackle Lane Johnson — who hasn’t allowed a sack, it seems, since Len Dawson was the Chiefs’ quarterback. As will tackle Jordan Mailata, and guards Landon Dickerson and Isaac Seumalo.
“Note to self,” Spagnuolo says. “We need to strengthen our lines.”
Spagnuolo hopes defensive end Frank Clark is right: “Chris Jones — the most unstoppable man in football,” Clark said after defeating the Bengals.
Protecting Hurts is one thing, but this offensive line also opens holes for the Eagles’ fifth-ranked running attack. Hurts is a master at run-pass options, which gives defenses limited options on how to stop them.
Miles Sanders was a 1,269-yard rusher this season. Hurts gained 760 yards and missed two games. Kenny Gainwell is the Eagles’ leading rusher in the playoffs and elusive Boston Scott is a touchdown machine.
If “pass” is the option Hurts chooses, Spagnuolo has more issues. The Eagles have three Pro Bowl-worthy receivers in A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert.
What’s Spagnuolo to do? Double-team Brown? Or Smith? Can’t double-team everybody. Who’s going to handle Goedert, especially if the Eagles emphasize him?
Spagnuolo next sees on tape that Hurts takes off and gains first-down yardage when a play breaks down.
“Yikes,” Spagnuolo mutters to himself. “Now what?”
VERY FEW BAD STRETCHES
When you go through all the game tapes, you realize the Eagles don’t have many exploitable weaknesses. If you want to say run defense, the numbers support you.
You also realize the Eagles haven’t played many bad games. Their worst game was the second Gardner Minshew game at home, against the Saints. I don’t think the Chiefs are going to judge the Eagles’ assets based on the Saints’ game.
They didn’t play well — four turnovers — in the loss against Washington, but still were in position to win if Quez Watkins didn’t fumble after a long reception. They didn’t play well at Dallas, but still had chances to win.
They’ve had some uncomfortable moments and tight games. But of their 16 wins, nine were by at least two scores. In the NFL, that’s not easy to do. Better order more pizza, Chiefs coaches.