Put it on the Line: Super Bowl LVII Offensive, Defensive Line Rankings

On Sunday, you can be sure the big boys up front will be putting it all on the line with everything they’ve got. Since there are only two teams left, this space will be a little bit different this week. Yes, I’ll still rank who I think is better on each line. However, I’m going to focus on the matchups between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles’ lines since that is what will matter most for Super Bowl LVII.

Offensive Line Rankings

1. Philadelphia Eagles

Last Week: 1

LT: Jordan Mailata

 LG: Landon Dickerson

C: Jason Kelce

RG: Isaac Seumalo

RT: Lane Johnson

They started the postseason as my top offensive line, and they’re ending it at the top. They’ve been battle-tested by some tough fronts this playoffs (including the previously top-ranked San Francisco 49ers), and they have passed the test, earning the right to play in the big game.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Last Week: 3

LT: Orlando Brown Jr. 

LG: Joe Thuney 

C: Creed Humphrey 

RG: Trey Smith 

RT: Andrew Wylie

The Chiefs didn’t generate much up front in the running game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but that was OK because they succeeded in their top two objectives: winning the game and keeping Patrick Mahomes from suffering a setback to his injured ankle. In fact, coach Andy Reid said Wednesday that Mahomes hasn’t been limited by injury this week. 

Defensive Line Rankings

1. Philadelphia Eagles

Last Week: 2

Eagles DL: Fletcher CoxJavon HargraveJordan DavisNdamukong SuhLinval Joseph

Eagles Edges: Brandon GrahamHaason ReddickJosh SweatRobert Quinn

The Eagles’ front has gotten to the quarterback often this year, and that trend continued in the NFC Championship game. Their ability to get to the passer significantly altered the game, resulting in 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey playing some quarterback after Brock Purdy suffered a torn UCL ligament and Josh Johnson suffered a concussion. 

The Eagles have a ferocious front, especially when they get to pin those ears back, so they end the postseason in the top spot.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Last Week: 4

Chiefs DL: Chris JonesKhalen SaundersDerrick NnadiBrandon Williams

Chiefs Edges: Frank ClarkGeorge KarlaftisCarlos DunlapMike Danna

A Chiefs front built to play with a lead did exactly that, putting Joe Burrow under pressure consistently throughout the night.  Unsurprisingly, Jones led the charge, not only sacking Burrow twice but making his presence felt on numerous occasions. Those were Jones’ first two postseason sacks in his 14th career playoff game.

Matchups to Watch

When the Eagles Have the Ball

Advantage: Eagles

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this Eagles offensive front is fast, physical and capable of causing problems for even the best defensive fronts. The Chiefs front’s strength is their pass rush, but they could stand to be a bit more consistent. The Eagles offensive line’s consistency and ability to take over a game give them a clear advantage in this matchup.

Something to watch from the Eagles: I expect Philadelphia to attack the Chiefs on the ground to keep Kansas City’s front guessing and slow down its pass rush, allowing Jalen Hurts more time to take shots downfield. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Eagles run at Jones, putting faith in their combo blocks to get some push while keeping Jones from using his quickness to wreak havoc in pursuit from the backside. In pass protection, I’d expect to see Jason Kelce turn to Jones’ side more often than not.

Something to watch from the Chiefs: You’ve heard it from commentators a lot: Steve Spagnuolo always has something dialed up for big games. I expect this game to be no different. He’ll try to give the Philadelphia’s front some looks they haven’t seen on film before, especially in high-leverage situations. While he’s known for his blitz packages, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kansas City mug up at the line of scrimmage showing blitz and dropping out at the snap. This creates just enough hesitation from the offense to lead to advantageous pass-rush matchups. 

When the Chiefs Have the Ball

Advantage: Eagles

After a regular season chock-full of sacks, the Eagles’ front displayed their dominance against a quality San Francisco front in the NFC Championship game. The Chiefs’ offensive line, on the other hand, has been inconsistent. While this matchup is a bit closer, Philadelphia has proven it has the depth to keep rotating players without much drop-off. The Eagles’ depth is what helps give them the advantage in this spot.

Something to watch from the Chiefs: While he is a couple of weeks healthier, Mahomes’ health likely isn’t quite what you’d like it to be heading into this game. Andy Reid has had plenty of time to think about how to keep his star quarterback upright against the team that led the league in sacks.

Having watched the NFC Championship video, I highly doubt they will have the hubris to try single-blocking Reddick with a tight end. With that out of the way, there are a number of things I expect them to do to keep Mahomes comfortable. They have a good blocking back in Jerick McKinnon who can help chip, they have speedy receivers who can take jet sweep touch passes, and Travis Kelce is known to rumble on a TE screen from time to time. All of these things help slow the rush down and are things the Chiefs already have shown to have in their bag of tricks. This will help buy enough time for those big downfield shots.

Something to watch from the Eagles: The Eagles would love to see Kansas City drop back to pass, something the Chiefs are often happy to oblige, as it will give their front a chance to get home. They haven’t had to rely on stunts and twists this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them utilize a few more stunts on Sunday. Those could muddy up the middle and help neutralize a few of the things the Chiefs might want to do to slow them down.

Those stunts force offensive linemen to move and communicate, and it allows rushers to disappear from any chips while the wrapper pulls around into any middle screens. Containing the outside of the pocket can be an issue with this strategy, but the Eagles have the quickness to get there. While Mahomes wasn’t hesitant to leave the pocket when opportunities were presented against Cincinnati, that little bit of lost escapability from what he normally has is probably enough to make this a viable wrinkle for the Eagles. 


Advantage: Eagles

The Eagles have the advantage on both fronts so, obviously, they have the overall advantage. Of course, there are other players on the field, and football is the ultimate team sport. That said, the big fellas up front have an outsized impact on the game, and if we’re going to put the game on the lines, the Eagles will fly out of the desert with the Lombardi Trophy.

Maxx Forde is a former CFL and FBS defensive lineman, playing for the BC Lions from 2015-2018 after a standout career at the University of Idaho from 2010-2014 where he was a two-year team captain and three-time Coaches Award winner. 


How Eagles Have Perfected the ‘Tush Push’, and Why Some Want it Banned

It was late in the second quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 29-21 Week 4 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The game was tied, 14-14, and the Eagles had a fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 12-yard line.

The fact that coach Nick Sirianni decided to go for it rather than let Jake Elliott kick a “gimme” go-ahead field goal wasn’t a surprise. Sirianni is one of the league’s more aggressive coaches, and his team had the fourth most fourth-down attempts (32) in the league this season.

The fact that they ran a quarterback sneak with Jalen Hurts on the fourth-and-1 wasn’t a surprise either. Hurts is a quarterback in a fullback’s body with a fullback’s strength.

However, what caught everyone’s attention was the assist Hurts got from tight end Dallas Goedert on the play. Goedert lined up on the right side in a three-tight end set, then came in motion across the formation. Just as the ball was snapped, he cut toward Hurts, put his hands on the quarterback’s butt, and pushed him forward for a 2-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, running back Kenny Gainwell scored on a 10-yard run up the middle.

The first reaction of many people watching the play was, Can he do that?  The answer was yes. Yes, he can.

Pushing the runner to advance him forward has been legal in the NFL since 2005 and the college game since 2013.

“Until they say that we can’t do it, it’s legal [and we’re going to keep doing it],” Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “We’re always going to do everything we can to put our guys in a position to succeed.”

Legal Play Since 2005

Until Steichen and Sirianni turned the Tush Push into an art form this season, teams didn’t really take advantage of the ’05 rule change. Occasionally, you’d see a running back give the quarterback a little nudge on a sneak or an offensive lineman give a runner a helpful shove forward downfield if defenders were holding him up and the whistle hadn’t blown. But that was about it.

Most teams, fearful of their quarterback getting hurt, weren’t even running sneaks on short-yardage and goal-line situations. In the four years from 2017 through 2020, just 13 teams ran 10 or more quarterback sneaks in a season, according to data provided to The 33rd Team by Sports Info Solutions. Only one of those 11 – the 2020 Patriots – ran more than 15 (22).

“Until they say that we can’t do it, it’s legal [and we’re going to keep doing it]. We’re always going to do everything we can to put our guys in a position to succeed.” — Shane Steichen

Last year, the number of teams that ran 10-plus quarterback sneaks increased to 10, though none ran more than 19 (Patriots again). This year, it has risen to 12, including five teams with more than 15.

No one has run more sneaks this season than the Eagles, who have attempted a league-high 33, which is the most by an NFL team since at least 1990. The Browns are a distant second with 20.

Hurts, who has run 31 of those 33 sneaks (backup quarterback Gardner Minshew ran the other two), has converted all but three of them.

Sneaky Play-Calling

The 12 teams to run 10-plus quarterback sneaks this season:

Team Made/Att. Pct. Team Made/Att. Pct.
Eagles 29/33 87.9% Chargers 11/12 91.7%
Browns 17/20 85.0% Jaguars 10/12 83.3%
Steelers 17/19 89.5% Bills 10/10 100%
Bengals 15/18 83.3% Giants 9/10 90.0%
49ers 13/16 81.3% Bears 9/10 90.0%
Cowboys 11/13 84.6% Broncos 9/10 90.0%

“It’s been a successful play for us,” said Steichen. “Our guys are really good at operating the play.”

“We really just trust those guys in that scenario,” Sirianni told reporters. “The confidence starts with those three guys up front (center Jason Kelce and guards Landon Dickerson and Isaac Seumalo. Then it’s the quarterback and then there are a lot of different elements to it. So, we have a lot of confidence in that play.”

Primarily because of Kelce, a five-time first-team All-Pro, the Eagles have been good at quarterback sneaks for quite a while now. They were 11-for-11 on sneaks in 2017 when they won the Super Bowl, converting 8 of 9 in 2018, 13 of 15 in 2019 and 10 of 13 in 2020.

“Kelce’s usually lining up across from guys that are 320, 330, 340,” said former Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick, the team’s longtime radio analyst. “He’s maybe 290. But it’s about technique. It’s about quickness. It’s about leverage. It’s about getting off the snap and taking the fight to them before they can take it to you. If he’s quicker on the punch than the defensive guy and he’s in a good leverage position, that’s where he wins.”

“Let’s not underestimate Kelce’s lower-body strength,” said Marty Mornhinweg, an analyst for The 33rd Team who was an offensive coordinator with four different teams, including the Eagles, and worked with Hurts in 2020 as a senior offensive consultant for Sirianni. “There’s a couple of things that come into play with that lower-body strength – leverage and angles. Kelce is really, really smart that way. He will use leverage and angles to get a little bit of movement there.”

“It’s about quickness. It’s about leverage. It’s about getting off the snap and taking the fight to them before they can take it to you.” — Mike Quick

Hurts also has unusual lower-body strength for a quarterback. The guy can squat more than 600 pounds. Last year, his first full year as the starter, the Eagles converted 13 of 14 quarterback sneaks, including 11 of 12 by Hurts. This year, with the incorporation of the Tush Push, they’ve been next to unstoppable in and-one situations.

Last year, the Eagles had 33 and-one plays on third and fourth downs. They ran the ball on 29 of them, but only nine (31.0%) were by Hurts. This year, they’ve had 45 and-ones on third and fourth downs. They’ve run the ball on 42 of them. Twenty-nine of those 42 runs (69.0%) have been by Hurts.

In their 20-17 Week 5 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Hurts, whose 67 rushing first downs were the third most in the league this season behind only the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs (93) and the Browns’ Nick Chubb (69), ran a season-high seven quarterback sneaks. He converted six of them. On every one of them, he got a little help from his friends.

A couple of times, it was Goedert, either lining up a couple of feet behind him or going in motion first and then pushing him forward as he did against Jacksonville. Several other times, the Eagles lined up in an elongated “I” formation, with one of their running backs and two of their wide receivers lined up behind Hurts. At the snap, the running back pushed the quarterback, while the wideouts were responsible for cutting off any unblocked penetration off the edges.

A Copycat League

“My first thought after I saw Nick do it early in the year was, why isn’t everybody doing this?” said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who spent 11 years in the league as an offensive lineman. “I put it on one of my (Twitter) breakdowns and said, why isn’t every team doing this in short-yardage and goal-line? All these teams that can’t gain a stinking yard when they need a yard just do what the Eagles are doing. It’s out there for everybody to do.”

That’s exactly what happened. The NFL is a copycat league. Since the Eagles’ early success with the Tush Push, almost every team has used it to a certain degree. Why it took 17 years for it to happen is anybody’s guess.

“I think the reason nobody has really been doing it before this is because it feels illegal,” said Charles Davis, an analyst for The 33rd Team and NFL broadcasts on CBS. “Middle of the night, you keep the notepad close to the bed in case an idea hits you. You wake up and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got it.’ Then you go, ‘No, we can’t do that. It’s illegal,’ and go back to sleep. Then you find out it’s legal, and you’re like, ‘Are you sure?’

“Personally, I want it to be illegal. I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea that you can run behind your guy and push him. I want to see the whole thing outlawed. I know I sound like one of those get-off-my-lawn people. But it just doesn’t seem right to me. I mean, why don’t we just go back to Pudge Heffelfinger and put straps on the quarterback and throw him over the line of scrimmage like they did back in the good old days? But give the Eagles credit. I may not like it, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t run it. It’s on the books. It’s legal. And they’re very successful with it.”

Mornhinweg said he would occasionally tell his running back to give his quarterback a little nudge on sneaks if the opportunity arose. But he never spent practice time on it like the Eagles do.

“I didn’t emphasize it a ton,” he said. “But if there was a running back behind the quarterback, I’d tell him to put his right shoulder on the quarterback’s left buttocks and give him a little help if he could.

“The key is to allow the quarterback to make his decision first. Let him get his momentum going. Then help the ball carrier move forward.”

“Just a pure quarterback sneak, I don’t know that we’re going to see it anymore. Until the rule gets changed — if it gets changed. I’ll be the one leading the charge to get it changed.” — Charles Davis

Mornhinweg said many teams were reluctant to use their quarterback on sneaks for fear of getting him hurt.

“If a quarterback was banged up – ribs, shoulder, that kind of thing – we probably weren’t going to sneak it unless it was a game-winning situation,” Mornhinweg said.

The Eagles weren’t at all reluctant to use Hurts on a quarterback sneak in their final regular-season game against the Giants, even though he was playing with a sprained shoulder. And after going 1-for-5 in the red zone in that game, they likely won’t be reluctant to let Hurts run or sneak on Saturday when the two teams meet for the third time this season in the divisional round of the playoffs.

“It’s been pretty impressive,” Davis said. “What they’ve done, they’ve almost made [the sneak] automatic. And they do it with various counters to everything they’ve done. They’ll say, ‘OK, we did it this way the last time. Now, we’re going to slide Hurts through the guard and tackle gap.’ They read things. They do things. And now, everybody is picking up on it and doing it too.

“Teams are putting the tight end in motion and having him jump in behind center and take the snap. They’re bringing other people around and having them come behind the quarterback and give him a push like the Eagles have been doing.

“I’d be surprised if, out of the next 100 quarterback sneaks, 99 of them don’t have some form of someone pushing the quarterback. Just a pure quarterback sneak, I don’t know that we’re going to see it anymore. Until the rule gets changed — if it gets changed. I’ll be the one leading the charge to get it changed. But I don’t know if anyone’s listening to me.”

The Tush Push has created enough of a stir that it will almost certainly be discussed at the March owners meeting. But whether there’s enough sentiment around the league to outlaw it, given how popular it’s become, remains to be seen.

“When I first saw it, it looked like something from a rugby playbook where you get into a big scrum and start pushing people forward,” Quick said. “Or something we did when we played in the playground as kids.

“But until they change the rules, you have to take advantage of the rules as they are. If you’re not doing that, you’re not giving yourself the best chance to win. And the rules state that you can … tush-push. As long as it’s successful and legal, they should continue to tush-push.”

Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.

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