Key Matchups as Eagles’ Travel to Kansas City
After a big win on the road, snapping a five-game losing streak in Washington, the Eagles find themselves back on the road, down in Kansas City facing Andy Reid's Chiefs.
The Chiefs are coming off a big Week 1 win in New England, behind big games from rookie running back Kareem Hunt and second-year wide-out Tyreek Hill. The Eagles defense will have their hands full with them, along with tight end Travis Kelce.
Here are five things to watch in the Eagles game against the Chiefs Sunday.
1. Eagles Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham against Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt.
Hunt rushed 17 times for 148 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs' Week 1 win over the Patriots, adding five receptions for 98 yards and two additional touchdowns, the Eagles linebackers will have a tough assignment trying to keep him in check on Sunday. While Hunt is not an explosive back, he is patient and has very good vision and can slip and slide his his way through the smallest of holes. If the Eagles linebackers can remain patient and tackle, they could keep the rookie in check.
One thing is for sure, the Eagles know they can't put all their attention on any one player.
"If you want to spend too much attention on Tyreek than Kelce, then running backs, all those guys can make plays, and you have to play good, sound defense," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.
"You have to be good across the board. It's not just about taking one guy out of this offense. If you try to do that, I think there's a lot of other guys that can … Like the running back [Kareem Hunt], [put] almost 250 yards up, I think, it was close to it. We can't over-play one person at the expense of the other guys."
2. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce against Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Kelce had five catches for 40 yards in the opener, with the Patriots sending plenty of attention his way on Thursday night. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles send as much attention towards the tight end with the presence of Hill. As the strong safety, Jenkins would match up against him a lot when the team isn’t in nickel. Last week, the Eagles did a good job against Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, who caught five passes for 36 yards.
There is no question Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is well aware of Kelce.
"Well, I mean, they are both talented guys and I think what stands out about it is if you pay too much attention to any one guy, that another guy can make you pay," Schwartz said when asked about Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, who had big games in week one. "That 87 [Chiefs TE Travis Kelce] has a lot of attention, also, Kelce. They have a lot of talent across the board and the quarterback can get the ball to all of them."
3. Chiefs offensive line versus the Eagles defensive line.
It’s hard to pick out one or two match ups along the line, but the Eagles can come at you in many ways. According to Pro Football Focus, the duo of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, combined for three sacks and 11 total pressures in Week 1. The Redskins line is a better overall offensive line unit than the Chiefs and could be a factor.
If the Eagles can get pressure on Alex Smith, it could help the Eagles secondary which will be missing top cornerback Ronald Darby for the next 4-6 weeks with an ankle injury.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz acknowledged the importance of this match up this week during this weekly press conference.
"I think it starts up front," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Turnovers are generally the result of heavy contact and pressure on the quarterback. Whether the quarterback releases it and makes an errant pass, which you saw on one of ours, or you hit him in the pocket and he fumbles, which you saw in our game also – a couple times."
4. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith vs Eagles Secondary
Alex Smith had one of the best games of his career against the Patriots, who have a much better secondary than the Eagles on Thursday night. Smith shredded the Pats, going 28-of-35 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns. While the Eagles secondary hung in there against the Redskins, Kirk Cousins missed on a couple of open throws, with the receivers getting behind the Eagles secondary.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson coached Smith during his time as offensive coordinator in Kansas City and talked about what makes him an underrated quarterback.
"He’s a very cerebral guy. He's a deep thinker. He studies. He prepares. Very athletic, probably more athletic than people give him credit for, runs extremely well; tough. Very smart, doesn't turn the ball over. Everything you want from a quarterback, and so when looking at a quarterback, yeah, you'd love to have all those traits and characteristics in a quarterback."
If Smith has time, as he showed in the opener, he has the weapons to have another solid day against a weak Eagles secondary.
5. Eagles running backs vs Chiefs defense.
The Chiefs defense did a pretty good job against the Patriots run game, hold New England to 120 yards on 35 carries.
The Eagles struggles to move the ball consistently on the ground last week, with veteran Darren Sproles the most active running back last week, with 33 plays. However, it was free agent addition LeGarrette Blunt who led the team in rushing, with 14 carries for 46 yards. Wendell Smallwood played just 15 snaps, carrying the ball just four times. So while those numbers suggest the Eagles have pegged Blunt as their main ball carrier and Sproles as this top pass catching option out-of-the-backfield, does Pederson turn to Smallwood for more explosion this week?
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson acknowledged that it can be a challenge getting these guys all touches.
"It can be a challenge early in the game," Pederson explained. "But at the same time, once you find something that works and the combination of runner, running style, running play, you try to keep coming back to that particular play throughout the game until an opponent can stop it."
"So it's kind of like a quarterback, maybe, that struggles early in a game and you go into a hurry-up-tempo offense to kind of get them into that rhythm. It can be the same for a running back."
The Pick: Chiefs 28, Eagles 17