We have a Super Bowl matchup. The Philadelphia Eagles will take on the Kansas City Chiefs. There will be plenty to dive into over the next two weeks in the lead-up to that game, but first, let’s take a look at how both teams got there on Sunday.
*all data provided by TruMedia unless noted otherwise.
Eagles Overpower On The Lines
The NFC Championship wasn’t supposed to be decided this way. While a 31-7 Eagles victory over the 49ers became anti-climatic with the injuries to San Francisco quarterbacks and the eventual inability to throw, there was still plenty to take away from the Eagles’ performance that highlighted why Philadelphia was here in the first place.
Let’s start with the defensive line, which took over the game from the start. The Eagles started the game defending the 49er’s heavier personnel looks with a 5-2 front with just four defensive backs on the field. With those five-man fronts, Philadelphia had the ability to protect against the horizontal run and rush five against passing plays.
The alignment also allowed Haason Reddick to line up wide and create a mismatch off the edge. On the strip-sack that injured the elbow of Brock Purdy on San Francisco’s opening drive, the 49ers came out in 12 personnel with both tight ends tight to the right with Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel out to the left. Reddick lined up wide of the two tight ends.
That left Tyler Kroft one-on-one in pass protection against the edge rusher with one of the fastest get-offs in the league. It did not go well for San Francisco. Purdy’s elbow was injured as Reddick got to the ball and he was forced to leave the game.
Josh Johnson came in and was immediately under duress. Johnson dropped back 15 times in the game and was pressured on 11 of them (73.3%). His first dropback was a play where Reddick came in unblocked for a sack. The Eagles had a four-man line in nickel on a second-and-6 against an 11 personnel look from the 49ers.
Reddick again blew up the play with his speed. Before the snap, Jauan Jennings motioned across the formation from left to right. At the snap, Jennings tried to get hands on Reddick but the Eagles’ pass rusher was already through. George Kittle was also supposed to come across the formation after the snap, but wasn’t quick enough for Reddick.
Philadelphia had seven quarterback hits in the game. There were only 21 San Francisco dropbacks — a 33.3% rate. This isn’t necessarily new for the Eagles. They finished the regular season second in pressure rate and first, by a wide margin, in sacks.
No teams were better at converting pressures and hits into sacks. 60.5% of Philadelphia’s hits have been converted to sacks between the regular season and playoffs. The league average is around 43%. 27.9% of the Eagles’ pressure have turned into sacks. The league average is around 19%.
The Eagles have typically combined that with some of the best secondary play in the league behind it, but that wasn’t much of a concern in this game. Josh Johnson could not find success while constantly under pressure and after he was forced to leave the game with a concussion, Purdy returned but was not able to throw.
San Francisco was in an impossible spot at that moment. Christian McCaffrey and Kyle Juszczyk are listed as the emergency quarterbacks and Jauan Jennings was recruited to Tennessee as a dual-threat quarterback but that’s not the type of offense that is planned for a full drive, let alone nearly a full half in a playoff game.
A traditional quarterback allowed the 49ers to run some of their actual run game, but the Eagles were prepared without any threat of a pass. Once Purdy came back in after Johnson’s injury, the 49ers ran 13 times for 23 yards (1.77 yards per carry), with a 28.6% success rate and 23.1% of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles’ run game worked on the other side of the ball. It wasn’t an overly efficient run game — 0.06 EPA per rush with a 42.9% success rate — but the rushing attack did its job early in the game with a few designs and calls designed to put San Francisco defenders in conflict.
On Phiadelhia’s opening possession, the Eagles had a second-and-goal from the 6-yard line. The offense came out in a 3×1 set with Sanders offset to the weak side. Jalen Hurts saw the defense and changed the look at the line. Sanders shifted over to line up to the right of the quarterback. That shift moved safety Talanoa Hufanga to the trips side. The Eagles ran at that vacated space and Sanders was untouched on his way to the end zone.
With 1:40 remaining in the second quarter and a first-and-10 on the San Francisco 41-yard line, the Eagles came out with a trips bunch to the right and the back to that side. Having A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith as part of the bunch drew a ton of focus from the San Francisco defense. Fred Warner lined up as the linebacker to that side and didn’t move through the mesh between Hurts and Kenneth Gainwell. With the right side of the field frozen, Gainwell was able to run behind an incredible pull from Jason Kelce for a 17-yard gain with 15 yards before first contact.
Later in the drive, the Eagles had a second-and-5 from the 49ers’ 13-yard line. The Eagles again came out with a trips bunch to the right. That side of the 49ers defense was focused on the bunch and ready for a potential screen — even Nick Bosa gave a bit of a lean outside — but Sanders followed another pull from Kelce to the weak side and ran into the end zone untouched for the second time.
With a 21-7 lead at halftime, the Eagles mostly had to just not screw up the second half and that was accomplished. Hurts got more involved in the run game — perhaps a risky move in a decided game — but he looked good enough as the Eagles could expand the QB run game with an extra week of rest for Hurts heading into the Super Bowl.
Chiefs Had The Best Player In Football & The Best Player On The Field (Those Were Two Different People)
We wondered what Patrick Mahomes would look like on a sprained ankle and the answer turned out to be mostly like Patrick Mahomes. It was clear the ankle was bothering the quarterback later in the game, but the injury had little impact on the production Mahomes had in this game. He finished with 0.13 EPA per play.
There was also the mystery of how Lou Anarumo and the Cincinnati defense would attack Mahomes. Would the Bengals force the quarterback to move by blitzing or would they tempt him to scramble by rushing three and dropping eight into coverage? The answer was a little of both, especially early.
In the first quarter of this game, the Bengals blitzed Mahomes on a third of his dropbacks. He averaged -0.22 EPA per play against an extra pass rusher in the first quarter but he still went 3-of-4 passing with the only incompletion coming on a third down drop by Kadarious Toney in the end zone for what could have been a touchdown had the receiver hung on.
The extra rusher didn’t have much of an impact on Mahomes, who was moving in the pocket just fine. His second pass attempt of the game was a sprint out to the right which resulted in a 16-yard gain to Travis Kelce. In the first quarter, Mahomes averaged 0.32 EPA per play and 8.67 yards per attempt.
Cincinnati’s strategy stayed mostly the same in the second quarter. Mahomes only had six dropbacks in the second quarter but the Chiefs blitzed on two of them. On a fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 14-yard line, the Bengals brought six against an empty set but the Chiefs moved the pocket for Mahomes. Mahomes pumped and reset to find Kelce in the end zone.
Mahomes didn’t have much trouble extending plays in this game. On dropbacks that lasted longer than three seconds, Mahomes went 14-of-19 for 175 yards and two touchdowns. He had three scrambles and two sacks for an average of 0.42 EPA per play.
Some of those extended plays invited pressure because the Bengals were not winning early. Cincinnati’s average time to pressure was just 2.69 seconds and on throws when Mahomes got the ball out within 2.5 seconds, he was pressured just 9.5% of the time. Compare that to the Chiefs, who had an average time to pressure of 2.35 seconds and Joe Burrow was pressured on 25% of his dropbacks that finished within 2.5 seconds of the snap.
The pressure and extended plays worked for Mahomes, who averaged higher EPA per play when under pressure than when not.
Patrick Mahomes, Pressure Splits, AFC Championship Game
data per TruMedia
|Time to throw
Mahomes’s best play of the game was a 19-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a third-and-10 in the third quarter. Valdes-Scantling and Skyy Moore were stacked to the right and had a switch release off the line. Moore’s post route drew the single-high safety, which left Valdes-Scantling with a leverage advantage to the inside against Mike Hilton. Mahomes found space to step up in the pocket and threw a laser just before he was hit.
Valdes-Scantling finished with six catches for 116 yards and that touchdown. By the end of the game, he was Kansas City’s healthiest receiver. The Chiefs lost Kadarious Toney, Mecole Hardman, and JuJu Smith-Schuster during the game. In the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had 18 offensive snaps. Valdes-Scantling was on the field for all 18. Skyy Moore played 15 while Marcus Kemp and tight end Noah Gray played 11.
This also came without the support of a running game. Kansas City tried but running back attempts went for 27 yards on 15 carries (1.8 yards per carry). The Chiefs’ longest “run” of the night was actually a backward pass to Isiah Pacheco while Mahomes was under pressure with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter to start the Chiefs’ final drive. Because the pass was backward, it officially counts as a run. The play gained six yards.
The next play was the Mahomes scramble for five yards (tied for the second-longest team run), which drew the late hit penalty that set the Chiefs up for the game-winning field goal.
Kansas City would not have been in that position without spectacular play from the defense, especially Chris Jones. Jones was a monster in the game with five quarterback hits, two of them sacks. The only player since at least 2000, as far back as TruMedia goes, to have more quarterback hits than a Conference Championship Game was DeMarcus Ware, who had seven in 2016 against the New England Patriots.
Throughout the game, Jones was consistently in the backfield and the Bengals did not have anyone who could handle him in pass protection. Even when he wasn’t in the backfield, he was helping open things up for teammates, constantly drawing a double-team that left other pass rushers one-on-one.
Jones had two big pressures in the fourth quarter. One forced Burrow to spike a ball at his offensive linemen’s feet, which was called for intentional grounding and set up a third-and-16, which the Bengals converted. But on Cincinnati’s final drive, Jones had a sack on a third-and-8 that forced the Bengals to punt. Jones lined up on the edge and blew through right tackle Hakem Adeniji.
Under pressure, Burrow was 4-for-11 with five sacks for -0.43 EPA per play.
With the pass rush able to get home against a weakened offensive line, the Bengals tried to play safe elsewhere on offense. Cincinnati had gone empty less often in 2022 after it as Burrow’s way of protecting himself, controlling the line, and getting the ball out quickly in 2021. In this game, the Bengals went empty on just 6.1% of Burrow’s dropbacks, the second-lowest rate in a game for his career, ahead of Week 7 2021 at 5.3%.
The Chiefs also played aggressively in the secondary and at the line of scrimmage. Per Next Gen Stats, Kansas City played press against Ja’Marr Chase on 60.9% of his routes. Chase had three catches on 61 yards on four targets when pressed, but that threw off timing in the short area of the field. The Chiefs pressed Chase on 55.2% of his routes in the regular season meeting and leaned heavier on it and found more success in this game.
With the timing thrown off, defenders sitting in the shallow part of the field, and the threat of pressure, Burrow was forced to check down more than he’s used to. 39% of his pass attempts were at or behind the line of scrimmage in this game. That was his second-highest rate of the season, behind Week 5 against the Ravens when Burrow averaged -0.11 EPA per play.
Joe Burrow, Pass Depth, 2022
data per TruMedia
|Reg. Season, WC & DIV
When Burrow did throw past the line, he was forced into tight coverage. The Chiefs only had one pass defensed when these teams met in the regular season but had seven in this game while Burrow threw into close coverage of a yard or fewer of separation on 22% of his pass attempts — almost all of those to Tee Higgins, who had three catches for 53 yards and a touchdown on seven tight window targets.
Even while the Bengals were able to find some success, the Chiefs were able to make things as hard as possible and the weaknesses across the Cincinnati offensive line were just too much to overcome. The Chiefs came through exactly when they needed to and an average regular season unit had a star shine bright to lift it in the biggest game of the season so far.