The NFL is a copy-cat league. You know this. I know this. The league itself knows this. So, whichever team wins the Super Bowl is sure to serve in some way as an inspiration to 31 other teams in the league, who try to learn from them about how best to chase the next Lombardi Trophy. Winning the ring is the ultimate goal, so why not steal ideas from the team that actually does it?
This year, the Kansas City Chiefs once again provide teams with a bunch of important lessons in roster-building and strategy, but so did their opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles. (As well as their respective opponents in their conference championship games: the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers.) In the space below, we'll walk through a few ideas teams around the league can take away from the two teams that squared off in this year's Super Bowl.
Don't settle for 'good enough' at QB
From 2013 through 2016, Alex Smith was actually pretty damn good. He went 41-20 during the regular season, completing 64.5% of his passes at an average of 7 yards per attempt, with 76 touchdowns against just 28 interceptions. The Chiefs came in first or second in the AFC West in each of those four seasons, and made the playoffs in three of four years. They did not make it past the divisional round, though, and the Chiefs recognized that Smith was good, but not great.
So, in the 2017 NFL Draft, they aggressively moved up the board to draft Patrick Mahomes, hoping he could take their offense to new heights. Even after Smith had arguably his best season in 2017, the Chiefs moved on and gave Mahomes the reins under center. The rest is literally NFL history. In five seasons as the starter, he has two 5,000-yard passing seasons, two seasons leading the NFL in passing touchdowns, two regular-season MVPs, three All-Pro appearances (two First Team), two Super Bowls, and two Super Bowl MVPs. Safe to say the Chiefs made the right move.
On the other side of the field, the Eagles are ALWAYS looking for more quarterback talent. Even after Carson Wentz had an MVP-caliber season in 2017, the Eagles still saw fit two seasons later to take a quarterback in the second round of the draft. Philadelphia was ridiculed in some circles for drafting Jalen Hurts, but general manager Howie Roseman believed that giving his team options in the pursuit of elite quarterback play was the best path. It turned out to be the right one. Wentz fell off hard, and Hurts this season was the MVP runner-up behind Mahomes. He was spectacular in the Super Bowl, just as he was throughout the regular season. Don't be surprised if, even if Philly signs Hurts to a contract extension befitting his level of performance, the Eagles continue stacking talent in the quarterback room.
Offensive lines (and line coaches) are very important
The Chiefs learned this lesson two years ago, and it paid off in their Super Bowl victory on Sunday night. Mahomes was under duress all game in Kansas City's Super Bowl LV loss to the Buccaneers, and it undermined the team's entire offense. That offseason, the Chiefs went out and remade their entire offensive line. They traded for Orlando Brown, signed Joe Thuney to a big-money deal, and drafted Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Lucas Niang. Four of those five players comprised Kansas City's starting offensive line in the Super Bowl -- a group that gave up ZERO sacks against the team that led the NFL with 70 quarterback takedowns during the regular season. It also cleared the way for Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon to rush for 111 yards on 19 carries. Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck is one of the most underrated contributors to this run.
Philly, meanwhile, built its entire team around its trench talent. Jason Kelce is one of the best (and most unique) centers in league history. Lane Johnson is a walking future Hall of Famer. Jordan Mailata was a rugby player who was discovered by Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who took just four years to turn him into a top-flight left tackle. Landon Dickerson became an above-average guard pretty much right away. Isaac Seumalo was a backup for years before moving into the starting lineup. That quintet made up the best offensive line in football all year, clearing the way for the league's best run game and helping Hurts reach new heights as a passer. Stoutland, much like Heck, does not get enough credit for his contribution to an elite offense.
Be willing to adjust your offensive philosophy
The Eagles proved the benefit of this both last season and this season. Early in 2021, Philadelphia wanted to operate a pass-heavy offense. The Eagles just did not have the right talent to play the way they wanted to. Hurts wasn't ready yet as a passer, and they didn't have the elite receiver talent they would eventually land this year. So, midseason, the Eagles pivoted HARD into a run-heavy philosophy. Their efficiency took off and it led them to the playoffs.
But organizationally, the Eagles know you need an elite pass offense to win big. So, they didn't just rest on their laurels and stick with the same run-focused offense. They went out and traded for A.J. Brown, pairing him with DeVonta Smith. And they came out this year with an offense that could beat opponents in whatever way they needed to in that given week. They could go run-heavy and dominate like they did against the Giants and Packers, or they could throw the ball all over the yard like they did against the Titans.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, completely overhauled their skill-position group this season in reaction to the way the league defended them in 2021. No team in the league saw more zone, and especially two-deep zone, than Kansas City did last season. They struggled with it for a while before finding answers, but last offseason, they decided that if that's how teams wanted to play them, they'd lean into it and remake their offense to beat those looks.
They traded away Tyreek Hill, and brought in much bigger, more physical receivers that could help them play a more traditional offensive style. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling aren't as good as Hill. They're not even close. But they fit with Kansas City wanted to do this year, both in the passing game (a slot man and a field-stretcher) and the run game (they're both fantastic blockers). The Chiefs ran much more under center, straight dropback, straight play-action (as opposed to run-pass option) stuff this season than they had previously in the Mahomes era, and it worked out splendidly for them.
Find your matchup nightmares and attack with YAC
The Chiefs have Travis Kelce. The Eagles have both Brown and Smith. Even going back to the conference title participants, the Bengals have Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, and the 49ers have Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk.
Those dynamic playmakers afforded their quarterbacks the luxury of getting the ball out quickly and allowing the pass-catchers to make hay with the rock in their hands. Among 39 quarterbacks who threw at least 150 passes during the regular season, the quarterbacks of those four teams ranked first (Jimmy Garoppolo), second (Mahomes), third (Brock Purdy), seventh (Hurts), and 18th (Joe Burrow) in yards after catch per completion, according to TruMedia. Attack with YAC, folks.
Prioritize the pass on defense
Just as building the most efficient and explosive pass offense possible should be your priority so, too, should stopping opponents from being able to do the same. The Chiefs (15th) and Eagles (21st) both finished outside the top 10 in rushing defense efficiency, according to Football Outsiders' DVOA. They were each more concerned with stopping the pass than stopping the run, and with good reason. Especially when you have an offense that will stake you to a lot of leads, you want to be able to get after the opposing quarterback and cover things on the back end. Both teams invested more resources (in different ways) in their pass defense than their run defense, because that's the proper way to do things in the modern NFL.
Find your game-wrecker(s) up front
As mentioned, Philadelphia led the NFL with 70 sacks during the regular season. In Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave, and Brandon Graham, the Eagles had the first quartet of teammates in league history to reach double-digit sacks in the same season. Reddick, in particular, has the ability to just destroy teams from the edge, and Hargrave is a nightmare to deal with on the interior. Unleashing that group (plus Fletcher Cox, Linval Joseph, Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Davis, and more) on opposing offensive lines is almost unfair.
The Chiefs don't have the same depth of pass-rush talent, but they do have Chris Jones and Frank Clark. Jones was a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year, and this was the best season of his career. If it wasn't for the existence of Aaron Donald, so many more people would talk about what an absolute freak show of a pass rusher Jones is, and he now has 7.5 sacks or more in five consecutive seasons, bookended by two 15.5-sack campaigns. Clark hasn't been the player the Chiefs thought they were getting when they traded for him and gave him a huge contract a few years ago, but he seems to always come up big during the team's playoff runs, and his athleticism makes him a terror to deal with on the outside.
Throw bodies at the secondary
Just as they did with their pass-catcher corps, the Chiefs aggressively remade their secondary this offseason. They allowed Charvarius Ward to leave in free agency, and said goodbye to Tyrann Mathieu as well. They brought in Justin Reid to replace the Honey Badger, and spent FIVE of their 10 picks in the 2022 draft on defensive backs. They selected Trent McDuffie in the first round, and he became their starting slot corner. They picked Bryan Cook in the second round, and he was their third safety. They nabbed Joshua Williams in the fourth round and Jaylen Watson in the seventh round, and Watson became their No. 2 perimeter corner and Williams played a significant role all year. Throw in 2019 draft pick Juan Thornhill and 2020 pick L'Jarius Sneed, and that's every significant contributor in Kansas City's secondary.
Philly, meanwhile, traded for Darius Slay a couple years back. It signed James Bradberry off the street after he was cut by the Giants. And mere days before the start of the regular season, the Eagles traded for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. They claimed Marcus Epps off waivers a few years back, moved Avonte Maddox all over the secondary until finding his best role, signed Reed Blankenship off the street, and brought Anthony Harris back after he was waived. You can never have too much depth in the defensive backfield, and these teams know it.
Philadelphia lined up to go for it three times on fourth down in the Super Bowl. The Eagles converted twice and drew an offsides penalty on the other opportunity. That aggressiveness was consistent with how the Eagles operated all year, and it paid off for them.
The Eagles scored more points off of drives where they went for it on 4th down than any team in the NFL—or any team *this century.* Nick Sirianni’s aggression is a huge edge in a game where possessing the football means everything. pic.twitter.com/AJEhORTW81— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) February 8, 2023
The one time they didn't go for a go-able fourth down in the Super Bowl, they ended up kicking a field goal on fourth-and-5 deep in Chiefs territory, and Kansas City drove for the go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing possession.
The Chiefs had their own issues with fourth-down decision-making, but their willingness to throw the ball on early downs throughout the game and the season is how they made up for it. It's a passing league, and a quarterback-centric league, and leaning into that is the best way to win. We saw that on Sunday night, and throughout the year, and will likely continue to see it in the future.
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