Super Bowl 57 to be won in the trenches, tried and true

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, left, and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes enter Super Bowl Sunday with high-powered offenses, but the game will be won in the trenches. (Photo by Mitchell Leff and Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Patrick Mahomes – now a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player – will find himself in the third Super Bowl of his six-year career. Jalen Hurts – also a 2022 MVP finalist – is new to this stage.

Unanimous first-team All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce and second-team All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Brown are among the matchup’s marquee weapons who’ve managed top-3 receiving touchdown totals in 2022 and could be the catalysts in a potential back-and-forth contest.

But while the team’s two offenses rank among the league’s highest-scoring operations, their differences remain distinct. When oversimplified, it’s Andy Reid’s pass-oriented offense versus Nick Sirianni’s more balanced attack. The true uncommon denominators, though, are the Chiefs and Eagles’ offensive fronts – and the apparent goals they seek to achieve, respectively.

“When you get in the playoffs, that combination right there – the O-lines versus the D-lines – it ends up being the kind of thing that wins or loses games,” Reid said.

The Kansas City Chiefs know what it’s like to have an untimely, poor showing from the offensive line. In the 2021 Super Bowl against Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs’ veteran front could not hold Tampa’s relentless pass rush or move them back in the run game.

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Kansas City allowed three sacks and 10 hits on Mahomes that night, mustering up nine points the entire night, which was an outlier for such an unstoppable pass-heavy offense. When the offensive line fails to protect the quarterback on vertical, long-developing routes like Kansas City used to dominate opponents, the outcome will likely be as ugly as that Super Bowl was.

“It’s magnified every level you go up (in the playoffs) – so, at the Super Bowl, it will be magnified the most,” Reid added.

The Chiefs’ offense, however, has had to make significant adjustments over the last year after trading away star receiver Tyreek Hill, who made iconic plays in Kansas City’s first championship run, like “2-3 Jet Chip Wasp” in Super Bowl 54 against the 49ers.

At the beginning of the year, Mahomes told the public that the offense could run through “a different player every single game,” and even jokingly apologized to fantasy football owners for the inconvenience. To Mahomes’ credit, that’s exactly what happened.

Players like Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Skyy Moore and Maquez Valdes-Scantling all stepped up in moments Mahomes needed him the most.

“They accepted the challenge every single day,” Mahomes said. “Even through those growing pains we had together, we kept getting better and better. That’s why we’re in the position we’re in today.”

While Kelce is still the No. 1 option for Mahomes, connecting for 21 receptions so far in the playoffs, the aforementioned conglomerate of weapons have combined for 28 receptions for nearly 300 receiving yards. Quick-hitters, gadget plays and clutch quarterbacking from Mahomes have gotten the Chiefs to this point, but it’s the offensive line that has given them the chance to hit those weapons on those crucial downs.

In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected center Creed Humphrey, who has made a significant impact up front in his second season. “He’s a smart kid – he’s big, he’s athletic and tough. That’s been a real solid position for us,” Reid said.

Humphrey will have a big assignment going up against veterans like Fletcher Cox, Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph (Suh and Joseph signed mid-season with Philadelphia) – and he’s intent on keeping them in front of him from snap to whistle.

“The focus is not letting that timer go off in your head,” said Humphrey, who knows when playing with a play-extender like Mahomes, it’s difficult to know when the ball is officially out of his hands. “It’s really just about blocking your guy until the whistle.”

The Vince Lombardi Trophy is on the line at State Farm Stadium. Who will walk away as Super Bowl 57 champions? (Photo by Reece Andrews/Cronkite News)

The Vince Lombardi Trophy is on the line at State Farm Stadium. Who will walk away as Super Bowl 57 champions? (Photo by Reece Andrews/Cronkite News)

With a defense like the Eagles, which had 78 sacks in the 2022 regular season (five sacks shy of the single-season record), Mahomes – who’s nursing a high ankle sprain – will have to be extra sharp with his reads and get the ball out quickly.

“You never know where that production is going to come from – but we have a lot of guys that are ready for the moment,” Mahomes said.

For an Eagles offensive line that finished as PFF’s top-ranked unit, their goals may contrast come Sunday.

With a quarterback as mobile as Hurts and a lead running back in Miles Sanders who’s anchored a deep position group with 1,269 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry, Sirianni has oftentimes game-planned his offense to run first and pass second – with his first-team All-Pro offensive linemen Jason Kelce (center) and Lane Johnson (right tackle) boasting proven proficiency in both.

Such has seemingly loosened secondaries in what has been a breakout passing season for Hurts, who collected 3,701 passing yards on a 66.5 completion percentage that resulted in 22 passing touchdowns to six interceptions in the regular season.

“We got to be able to run to win the game,” Sirianni said.

A captain and arguably the central leader in the Eagles’ offensive line room, Kelce was especially adamant about addressing the impact of Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones – a potential game-wrecker, even across from one of the league’s best interior fronts with Kelce, Landon Dickerson and Isaac Seumalo.

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Only the 49ers’ Nick Bosa, the Eagles’ Hassan Reddick and the Browns’ Myles Garrett broke off more than Jones’ 15.5 sacks, and he’s added two more this postseason.

“Chris Jones is the best – at least one of the best – I would say the best [defensive] tackle in the NFL,” Kelce said. “What he can do as a player, he’s got everything. Whenever you’re playing a defensive lineman, you try and figure out what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. Is it a quick guy? Is it a strong guy? Is he a long guy? Chris has all of it, and that’s not a combination you like to see.

“He’s a guy that can ruin games, he has ruined games, and he’s a guy that we’re going to have to apply a lot of attention to this week.”

Controlling the line of scrimmage is synonymous with directing a game’s tempo, which Philadelphia has accomplished in most of its wins but none of its losses this season. Of the Eagles’ 16 wins ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, 12 were marked by an advantage in time of possession. Their three losses weren’t, and the impact was especially prominent when the Commanders ended their bid for a perfect season.

Dropping to 8-1 in an abruptly unexpected 32-21 loss at home, the Eagles possessed the ball for only 19:36 of regulation — over 20 minutes fewer than was the case for the Commanders.

“No matter what level of football you’re at, whether it’s Pee Wee football, high school football, college football, professional football, you win games with the offensive and defensive lines,” Sirianni said. “That’s no different here.”

Noah Furtado NO-uh fur-TAH-doe (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Noah Furtado, who has interned at 247Sports affiliate Sun Devil Source for over a year now, is with Cronkite Sports this spring semester, his fourth at ASU. Furtado expects to graduate in May 2025.

Spencer Gustafson SPEN-ser GUHS-tuv-sun
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Spencer Gustafson is in his third semester at the Phoenix Sports bureau. Gustafson, a digital reporter, has interned with the Savannah Bananas and will graduate in spring 2023.

Reece Andrews REES AN-drooz (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Reece Andrews expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Andrews has worked for the State Press and at WCSN. He has also been in Cronkite News Los Angeles.