GLENDALE, Arizona — Opponents of the Kansas City Chiefs tried to stop playing so much zone against them because Patrick Mahomes would eat them alive. So this year they all got the idea to play the Chiefs with more man coverage.
It's an unenviable decision to have to make.
The Chiefs won Super Bowl LVII 38-35 Sunday night against the Eagles in large part because they took advantage of favorable matchups at crucial moments. Philadelphia's defense wasn't bad — it held Mahomes' offense to 31 points and, as Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said, 24 points when not including the chip-in touchdown after the Kadarius Toney punt return — but they weren't good enough on three touchdown plays.
The Travis Kelce, Toney and Skyy Moore touchdowns were all products of the Chiefs getting favorable matchups for their players and then having them go win against one man.
"Man coverage is something that a lot of people wanted to play us in this year," Chiefs senior offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy said. "Sometimes there's success with it and they got great players and great scheme, but our guys, when they're playing man coverage, they gotta win."
The Chiefs did a good job of keeping the Eagles defense off balance, finding success in the screen game and on the ground. They used Mahomes under center at a slightly higher rate than their season average, again contributing to making the defense think twice.
What also helped was a slippery field that Haason Reddick called the worst field he's played on in his life. The slipperiness hurt the vaunted Philly pass rush, and all night the Chiefs looked like they were better prepared for the field conditions. Veteran equipment man Allen Wright was in constant communication with the groundscrew all week and knew the Chiefs would need the seven-stud cleats for the field Sunday.
Kelce's 18-yard touchdown in the first quarter came when he did a short motion inside the receiver and got matched up on safety Marcus Epps. He ran an in-out-and-up route that had Epps — you guessed it — slip in coverage and give him just enough space to make an uncontested touchdown catch.
Once Mahomes saw the safety covering Kelce, it was obvious where he was going with the football. It also helped that Mahomes had a clean pocket for much of the night to keep the time needed for Kelce to get open.
"I think when you have time it kind of gives you an opportunity," Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "And we have Pat Mahomes sitting under center. And if you give him enough time, things can happen. I thought we did a great job of giving him enough time, that extra second to make that particular throw. On top of that just his athletic ability in the pocket too to step up and make some plays happen as well."
In the fourth quarter down 27-21, the Chiefs again used motion with Toney, who hadn't really been involved in the offense up to that point. Toney, one of the fastest offensive players in the league, appeared to be going in a jet motion before stopping and changing direction at the snap. Darius Slay was ready to pass it off but Toney's stop and change of direction was too quick.
"We saw something a little different on tape and we knew we could take advantage of what they weren't doing," Bieniemy said. "Kadarius did a hell of a job of finding a way to get himself open."
Said Kelce: "On certain motions, they were trying to pass things off or things like that and they just got caught on a bad defense against a good play and that's what makes Andy Reid the best."
Less than three minutes later and thanks to the 65-yard punt return by Toney, the Chiefs would be knocking on the end zone door again. Kansas City ran a play that's slightly different, this time with Moore. He ran the same sort of motion as Toney before changing direction just as James Bradberry began to pass him off to another Eagles defender.
"As soon as I went in motion and I saw him come in motion with me, I knew I had him," Moore said after the game.
"That's just a credit to Coach Reid and his play calling and his system and everything that comes with our offense. Studying and doing a lot of changing the looks around to get what we want. And I feel like it worked to perfection tonight."
Two Super Bowl victories in four years and the early makings of a dynasty is what the Chiefs have. Reid, 64, promised he'd be back next season to continue his Hall of Fame career with the greatest young quarterback the league has ever seen.
With these two together — and a first-ballot Hall of Fame tight end — who's going to derail them? When you can't play zone against them, they're going to get you in a disadvantageous position in man coverage and win anyway.
"I thought, collectively as a staff, our guys, we have a great collective group of coaches," Bieniemy said. "Obviously, it starts with our head man. Our guys study hard, we prepare, and as a staff we do a great job of over-communicating and it's not about any egos. We always want to do what's best for our guys, putting them in the right position so they can go out and be the best that they can be. Today we did a great job of that."