How Strategic Play-Calling Can Exploit Weaknesses in Super Bowl 57
The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles are fantastic teams, but obviously neither squad is perfect. Both teams have loaded rosters but are stronger in certain facets and certainly contain some weaknesses.
Let’s start with the Eagles since they do rank slightly lower than the Chiefs in our overall and offensive metrics. The Eagles rank fourth overall in EVE (our Efficiency Versus Expected metric) and fifth in offensive EVE during the regular season. They finished seventh in defensive EVE.
Philadelphia had one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL this season led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, ranking fifth in passing EVE and sixth in rushing EVE. They were less balanced on defense, however, at No. 3 in EVE against the pass and 20th in EVE against the run.
So, it’s worth starting with their run defense since it’s their only EVE rating that ranks lower than seventh in the league. However, it was really a tale of two halves of the season for Philadelphia and its run defense. Head coach Nick Sirianni, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and general manager Howie Roseman saw it was a problem and made motions to fix it.
From Week 1-10, the Eagles had one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. It didn’t help that rookie first-round pick Jordan Davis was placed on injured reserve in Week 8, but the unit was struggling even with him on the field.
So, the Eagles took major steps toward fixing their run defense by signing two experienced bodies up front in Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh prior to Week 11.
Joseph, 34, had been a free agent since his contract expired with the Los Angeles Chargers at the end of the 2021 season. The 13-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler signed a one-year, $2 million contract and played 208 defensive snaps with 126 of those coming against the run. Suh, 36, had also been a free agent since his contract expired with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2021 season. The 13-year veteran and five-time All-Pro also signed a one-year, $2 million contract and played 213 defensive snaps with 93 of them coming against the run.
Suh said this week that he wasn’t just going to sign with any old team. And he picked the right one since he has a chance to win a second Super Bowl on Sunday.
Joseph and Suh primarily took snaps away from Marlon Tuipulotu, a 2021 sixth-round pick, and Marvin Wilson, a 2021 undrafted free agent. Milton Williams, a 2021 third-round pick, also saw his snaps slightly decrease over the second half of the season. But the Eagles also put more big bodies on the field in obvious running situations. They went from averaging 2.5 interior defenders on run defense snaps from Weeks 1-10 to 2.8 interior defenders from Week 11 to the conference championship week.
All of that resulted in the Eagles having a top-10 run defense over the second half of the season, but it’s still a bigger weakness than their pass defense or offense. Including the postseason, the Eagles rank 20th in EVE against the run in situations when a run was expected, ninth in EVE against the run in neutral situations and 27th in EVE against the run with an expected passing play.
The Chiefs didn’t run the ball a lot this season, but the were still 10th in rushing EVE. They’re also 19th in rushing EVE with an expected rush (including the postseason), eighth in rushing EVE with an expected neutral play and ninth in rushing EVE with an expected pass.
So it’s not exactly a major strength of the Chiefs going against a glaring Eagles weakness. But if the Chiefs can get out to a big lead and try to put the game away by running the ball, it could become an issue for Philadelphia.
On offense, the Eagles don’t rank especially highly in moving the ball in expected rushing situations. They’re 20th in passing EVE in expected rushing situations and 14th in rushing EVE in expected rushing situations.
They’re much better at moving the ball in passing situations and rushing the ball in neutral situations. But they still finished the season first in rushing success rate and allowed the lowest run disruption rate this season.
Once again, though, that’s not exactly the biggest weakness for the Chiefs to exploit. Kansas City ranks 31st in EVE against the pass in rushing situations, though they’re second in EVE against the run in rushing situations. So the Eagles should be trying to pass the ball as much as possible on early downs and short-yardage situations. That would go against Philadelphia’s typical trends, however. The Eagles only pass the ball in expected rushing situations 18.7% of the time, ranking 20th in that rate.
The Chiefs rank second in our overall EVE, first in offensive EVE, first in passing EVE and 10th in rushing EVE. They finished ninth in defensive EVE, ninth in EVE against the pass and 12th in EVE against the run. So they’re a lot more top-heavy with what they do well, and that’s obviously passing the ball with the world’s best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City has Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon and a returning Clyde Edwards-Helaire to run the ball, but the team was middle of the road in anything other than rushing in neutral situations and finished 14th in rushing success rate. Their offensive line helped in a major way, allowing the third-lowest run disruption rate.
Kansas City’s biggest weakness on defense was defending the pass in rushing situations, but defending the run in neutral situations was also an issue. The KC defense ranks 24th in EVE against the run in neutral situations. The Philly offense is fifth in rushing EVE in neutral situations.
Eagles running backs Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell were all solid, and Sanders especially had a breakout year with 259 carries for 1,271 yards with 11 touchdowns in the regular season and another 28 carries for 132 yards with two touchdowns in two postseason games. But most of the credit for the Eagles’ rushing success goes to their offensive line. Philadelphia ranked fifth with 3.33 yards before contact per rushing attempt. The Eagles faced a heavy box on just 45.4% of rushing attempts, which was right around the league average.
All in all, this is a very even Super Bowl matchup between two well-balanced teams without major glaring weaknesses. And that’s demonstrated in the Super Bowl LVII line. The Eagles are favored by just 1.5 points with a point total of 51. They also have just a 56.8% win probability, according to our projection model.
If there’s a concern about taking Philadelphia, it’s that Sirianni’s squad had one of the easier paths to the Super Bowl in recent memory.
The Eagles lost two of their last three games to finish out the season (with Gardner Minshew at quarterback), earned a first-round bye, beat a New York Giants team that finished 24th in our overall EVE ranking and then appeared to have a true test against the San Francisco 49ers, who in turn lost starting quarterback Brock Purdy and fourth-stringer Josh Johnson, forcing Purdy back into the game when he couldn’t throw the ball.
Then again, the Eagles were very good for the rest of the season. They have a dangerous pass rush, a play-making secondary, an improving run defense, three high-quality pass-catchers in A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, a rushing attack they leaned on all season and one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL in Hurts.
So clearly they can beat a good team, as they did all season. But the Chiefs were slightly the better team this year, based on our metrics, and that’s mostly because of Mahomes’ otherworldly ability.
Weaknesses won’t exactly be exploited on Sunday, but there are edges to be won between the Eagles and Chiefs. We’ll find out Sunday which team can better take advantage of them.