The Philadelphia Eagles have evolved from a 9-8 wild-card team a year ago, one that had some questioning whether they should make another change behind centre in the off-season, into a cohesive unit one win away from a Super Bowl championship.
Much of the credit can go to general manager Howie Roseman whose bold vision and corresponding transactions have drastically remoulded a roster five years removed from a victory in Super Bowl LII.
He stuck with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, added key contributors A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Haason Reddick, James Bradberry, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson among others in the past two years alone, plus he fleshed out an already-stout defensive front by adding Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph mid-season.
A dominant running game aided by a career year from MVP candidate Hurts on one side of the line of scrimmage, plus a bullying defensive line and ball-hawk secondary on the other resulted in the team clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Philadelphia is a slight favourite over the Kansas City Chiefs heading into Sunday, however Hurts injured his throwing shoulder in December and the Eagles haven’t needed to overcome much adversity in the post-season thus far.
Here are five key questions facing the Eagles heading into Super Bowl LVII:
1) Can they continue running the ball dominantly?
Teams that win the rushing yards battle in the Super Bowl have won 41 times. The team that wins time of possession also boasts a 41-15 record in Super Bowls. This can favour the Eagles if their rushing attack lives up to its reputation on Sunday.
The main reason? It’s a five-part answer: LT Jordan Mailata, LG Landon Dickerson, C Jason Kelce, RG Isaac Seumalo and RT Lane Johnson.
Philadelphia’s offensive line has been a force all season. Miles Sanders and Jalen Hurts combined for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns with their legs during the regular season and this offence also effectively mixes in Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott on a regular basis.
Philadelphia averaged 147.6 rushing yards per game during the regular season and led the league with 32 total rushing touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen’s group has continued chewing up the field in the post-season, averaging 208 yards on the ground and finding the end zone seven times in two games.
Something to consider if this ends up being a close game of inches: is there anything Kansas City can do to stop Philadelphia in short-yardage situations? They’ve got the most dominant QB sneak in the league. Don’t be entirely shocked if several times throughout the game we see a double cheek push result in an important first down, touchdown or two-point conversion.
2) Can the Eagles D-line win at the line of scrimmage?
The Chiefs were felled by the Bengals in last season’s AFC Championship thanks in large part to Cincinnati being able to get to Patrick Mahomes consistently with a three- and four-man pass rush. Yes, it’s a different season, these are different teams under different circumstances and this Kansas City offensive line is undoubtedly a quality unit. However obvious, this is still an area Philadelphia will look to exploit.
The Eagles had four players each with double-digit sacks and the team led the league in that category. Mahomes tends to thrive under pressure but if the D-line can corral the Chiefs superstar with a four-man push like they’ve done to opposing QBs so often this season, while limiting scrambles, then it increases the chances Mahomes makes a rare mistake or Philly simply has an easier time defending the pass.
3) How much will Hurts rely on his arm?
Hurts has only needed to complete 31 passes so far in the post-season and one point of concern for Philadelphia is whether Hurts has fully recovered from a sprained SC joint in his throwing shoulder. His completions and yards have declined week-over-week since returning and, as Warren Sharp pointed out, Hurts has been less effective throwing the ball, both overall and especially to the right side of the field, since Week 18.
A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are the top two targets for Hurts. That wide receiver duo both were quiet in the NFC Championship against the 49ers, but this Chiefs secondary has been ripe for the picking all season. Kansas City allowed a league high 33 passing touchdowns this season. Brown and Smith alone have combined for 18 receiving touchdowns.
4) Can Philadelphia’s coaching staff go toe-to-toe with experienced trio on the Kansas City sideline?
Nick Sirianni, in his second season as Eagles head coach, led this team to a first-place record and did so by leaning on his talented coordinators to help strategize on both sides of the ball. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has taken advantage of the wide array of size, speed, youth and experience of his group. Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen did the same on offence and Philly ended up with an overpowering rushing attack. While it’s only the second year with these three at the helm, it could also be their final game together with Steichen a candidate to be the next Colts head coach.
The coach/coordinator combo on the Kansas City sidelines already have a combined five Super Bowl rings and hope it’ll be eight by Sunday night.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has appeared in six Super Bowls throughout his extensive coaching career, winning his first as a head coach with the Chiefs three seasons ago. This will be his fourth Super Bowl appearance as a head coach. Kansas City’s defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has won two Super Bowls and is the only coordinator to win a Super Bowl with two different franchises (Giants, Chiefs), while the team’s offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who spent the final season of his playing career with the Eagles in 1999, is looking to win his second Super Bowl with this coaching staff before potentially taking a new gig this off-season.
We saw former Eagles bench boss Doug Pederson make some bold calls with OC Frank Reich and DC Jim Schwartz back in 2017 when they beat the Pats – remember The Philly Special? Can Sirianni, Gannon and Steichen channel that same energy despite the comparative lack of Super Bowl experience?
5) Which Eagles DB can make a momentum-turning big play?
Mahomes has only been picked off once in the past six games, but the Eagles have a ball-hawk secondary that had 17 interceptions in the regular season. Mahomes was picked off twice by the Bucs the last time the Chiefs were in the Super Bowl. Travis Kelce and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have been Mahomes’ most targeted pass catchers in recent weeks with Kelce the focal point of Kansas City’s pass-heavy offence – he has a whopping 21 catches on 25 targets for 176 yards and three TDs in two playoff games. How will the likes of Darius Slay, James Bradberry, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and the rest of the Philly secondary deal with Kelce’s dominance and Mahomes’ ability to spread the ball around?
Gardner-Johnson, one of the Eagles’ safeties, had a five-week stretch in the middle of the season during which he had six interceptions. The interceptions co-leader will likely see some one-on-one coverage with Kelce during the game.