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Formations Will Separate Chiefs, Eagles' Offenses in Super Bowl LVII

Oct 9, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) celebrates his touchdown with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This Sunday, the two best offenses in football will meet on the NFL's biggest stage. And even though Arian Foster was (rightfully) ridiculed for his assertion the NFL is scripted, Roger Goodell himself couldn’t have written the season finale any better. Football is legislated offensively and has been for some time now, as points put the people in their seats both at the stadium and in their living rooms.

For a sport that is still growing in popularity, a boat race in the championship game will continue to push the arrow upward. But perhaps the most interesting part of this clash between juggernauts isn’t simply who will score more points, but how they’ll do it.

There are, of course, some schematic similarities between these two offenses. For example, both are gun-heavy teams that rank toward the top of the league in RPO usage. But macro trends such as those don't show how differently they move the ball down the field.

As with any good team, personnel shapes the offense, and the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles have very different rosters. The Eagles are a complete team offensively. They have the top-ranked offensive line in Total Points, three pass-catchers (A.J. Brown, Dallas Goedert and DeVonta Smith) who rank in the top 30 in Total Points/route run, the eighth-best running back by Total Points and a capable dual-threat quarterback in Jalen Hurts.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, simply have Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, who each ranked first at their respective positions in Total Points. The offensive line ranked 22nd in Total Points, their leading rusher ranked 83rd in Total Points/carry among RBs and their WRs ranked 12th in receiving Total Points.

Mahomes, Kelce Lead the Way

For all intents and purposes, Mahomes and Kelce are doing most of the heavy lifting in Kansas City, and while I don’t think anybody pities them for that, it does inform the offense.

The Chiefs are primarily a trips team. They obviously have different formations they use, but they’re in 3x1 formations about 46% of the time, which ranked fifth in the league this year. Last season, they moved Kelce around a lot within those looks, but they’ve cut down on that quite a bit. In 2021, Kelce was aligned as the single-side receiver 30% of the time, but that figure is now down to about 18%. They’ll still move him around and motion him – he’s on the move pre-snap on about a quarter of their offensive plays – but he usually ends up on that strongside.

Chiefs 3x1 formation vs. Cincinnati Bengals

At any rate, they’re doing this to pass. Two of their three most common formations are both 3x1 formations with the running back away from the three-receiver side, and they never ran out of either. Not a single time – unless you count a bad snap that went down in the scorer’s book as a run – and it doesn’t matter, because they have Mahomes and Kelce.

Not only can Mahomes execute the offense at a high level and even extend plays when need be, it’s not easy to defend Andy Reid’s designer plays or guard Kelce on option routes. Defenses may know a pass is coming, but it’s easier said than done to stop it, especially when the formation isn’t balanced, and we’re getting into the world of special NFL coverage checks that can be manipulated and abused by a perceptive tactician like Reid.

Eagles Keep it Static

The Eagles' offense is a little different. They are very static, at least with their formations. For starters, they’re in 2x2 formations about 55% of the time – easily the highest rate in the league – and they motion very little. They employed motion on just 7% of their plays this year, the third-lowest in the NFL. Their passing game is also pretty straightforward.

Because they run 2x2 so often, a lot of their offense is built around letting their young quarterback pick a side to read based on the coverage. They love West Coast offense staples like slant-flat and spacing, they spam RPO bubbles and they do a good job of affording Hurts opportunities to push the ball downfield with deep crossing concepts and four verts, which he excels at. They ranked second in the NFL in EPA/play (0.51) on throws deep and outside the numbers this season. Their passing attack is fairly simple conceptually, but like with Kansas City, the personnel acts as the key weapon.

On top of that, they have a diverse run game. Their zone and gap usage splits are quite balanced, as their usage of each falls near the 50th percentile of the league, and they rank first in positive run percentage in both schemes. To make matters worse, Hurts is a bona fide running threat. A league-leading 43% of their runs were either option plays or outright quarterback-designed runs, and he ranked eighth in rushing Total Points this year.

These two teams have gotten this far not only because they’re talented, but because they have maximized that talent by creating constraints for the defense within what would otherwise seem to be predictable offensive presentations. Each team’s defensive coordinator has had two weeks to prepare to stop them, but that’s easier said than done. We know we’re gonna see some fireworks in this year’s Super Bowl: it’s just a question of what color the explosions will be.

Prepared by Bryce Rossler