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Did Chiefs put out the blue-print to beating Rams defense in Super Bowl 57?

Did Patrick Mahomes and Chiefs show teams how to have success against Rams defense?

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Syndication: Arizona Republic Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Over the past three years, the defense that Brandon Staley started with the Los Angeles Rams caught fire. In a copy-cat league, it only makes sense that the scheme designed by a coordinator who had worked under Vic Fangio and led the NFL’s number one defense in his first year, would be replicated by other teams.

That’s exactly what happened.

While Staley left the Rams to become to head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, Sean McVay liked what he saw so much that he had Raheem Morris run the same scheme once he took over the Rams defense. Behind their defense in the postseason, the Rams went on to win the Super Bowl.

Former Rams secondary coach, Ejiro Evero, took Staley’s scheme and started running much of the same with the Denver Broncos in his first year as a coordinator. The same can be said about Jonathan Gannon and the Eagles, Ed Donatell in Minnesota with the Vikings, Joe Barry with the Green Bay Packers, and others.

The defense took the NFL by storm and forced offenses to re-think how they create explosive plays. The Staley defense is designed to stop explosive plays and make offenses operate within the defense’s shell.

This forces the offense to win by “death by 1000 paper cuts”. If quarterbacks are patient and are ok taking the underneath quicker routes, they can find success. However, with how explosive plays benefit an offense’s chances of scoring points, it’s more natural to look for these types of chunks.

Like most things in the NFL, it’s only a matter of time before offenses catch on and the tables are turned. That seems to have been the case in the second half of the Super Bowl between the Eagles and Chiefs.

While the Chiefs opened up with a touchdown, their final three drives of the opening half ended in empty possessions, including two punts. However, in the second half, Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes seemed to adjust, resulting in four scoring drives. Three of those ended in touchdowns.

The Chiefs went from averaging 0.182 expected points added (EPA) per play in the first half to 0.554 EPA per play in quarters three and four. In other words, the Chiefs were three times more efficient in the second half than they were in the first half.

For much of the season, the Eagles defense was a clear example of what the Rams defense could be with a pass rush. It looked very much like the Rams defense with Von Miller at the end of the 2021 season and in the postseason. Under Gannon, the Eagles finished with the number one pass defense and number six defense overall in DVOA.

The Eagles defense was historic when it came to rushing the passer. They had four players with double-digit sacks and finished with a team total of 70. According to Next Gen Stats, the Eagles converted 32.1 percent of their pressures into sacks this season which was the third-highest rate since 2016.

A good pass rush is important when it comes to any defense, but with the defense that the Rams and Eagles run, it’s emphasized even more. An effective pass rush allows the defense to be more aggressive in its coverage. When that happens, they can add more variety to their coverages in passing situations.

If it doesn’t, you get what happened to the Rams this season and the Eagles in the Super Bowl in which Patrick Mahomes was pressured on just 25.9 percent of his dropbacks. According to Next Gen Stats, this was the first game since Week 12 where the Eagles did not record a pressure rate over 34 percent.

This was obviously a huge problem for the Rams this season along with quarterbacks getting the ball out very quickly. The quarterbacks getting the ball out quickly part is what’s especially relevant when it comes to the Chiefs offense against the Eagles defense.

A pass-rush needs time to get to the quarterback. An offense can mitigate that by using quick game and getting the ball out fast. In the Super Bowl the Chiefs and Mahomes changed their process and the ball was coming out quicker.

In the divisional round against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 34 percent of Mahomes’ passes came out under 2.5 seconds. That number jumped to 56 percent in the Super Bowl. That’s a 22 percent difference in a matter of three weeks.

To add to Solak’s point, Mahomes had an average depth of target of 7.6 yards this season. Mahomes’ lowest average depth of target came against the Houston Texans in Week 15 at 5.3 yards. However, it’s no coincidence that Mahomes’ next two lowest numbers come against the Eagles and Rams at 6.1.

Two of Mahomes’ three quickest “time to throw” numbers came against Broncos and Chargers. The Broncos and Chargers run defenses in the same schematic tree as the Rams and Eagles.

In Sunday’s game against the Eagles, these quicker throws were opened up by using motion to create mismatches in the passing game. In match zone and match man defenses, there are rules players are taught to follow. The Chiefs exploited these and this was seen on two of Mahomes’ touchdown passes. This resulted in one of the more efficient second halves of football in Super Bowl history.

Of course, not every team has Patrick Mahomes as their quarterback or Andy Reid scheming their offense. Having a quarterback that has pinpoint accuracy as well as being one of the best at avoiding sacks certainly helps. Not every team is the Chiefs offense which has become on of the best in NFL history.

It’s also worth noting the field conditions of the Super Bowl that saw Eagles pass rushers slip consistently. The play below in which both edge rushers end up on the grass is just one example. It’s hard to know what the Eagles pass rush would have looked like on a better playing surface and how that would have impacted the game.

The NFL is cyclical. Defense adjusts to what offenses are doing and visa versa. When McVay took over the NFL in 2017, defenses adjusted using the 6-1 fronts to take away the outside zone and play action. McVay was forced to adjust and ended up winning a Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford in more of a drop-back passing offense.

Did the Chiefs put out the blue-print to exposing the defensive scheme that the Rams and a lot of other NFL teams run in the Super Bowl last Sunday? That’s still to be determined. It’ll certainly be interesting to see if other teams put their own spin on what the Chiefs did to the Eagles. Whether or not they can execute that is another question. The cat and mouse game between NFL offenses and defenses is what makes the NFL so good.

This also isn’t to say that the Rams or Eagles for that matter need to completely re-think how they play defense. As is the case with every offseason, adjustments will need to be made. It’s only a matter of time before we see what those adjustments are.