It is always a bit sad for the fans of 30 teams to be watching the Super Bowl while their team is sitting at home. At least those of us who cheer for the Dallas Cowboys got a measure of comfort from watching the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, denying our beloved division rivals a second Lombardi Trophy. Now, we look to this season and hope that in a year the Cowboys will be standing on the stage after winning the biggest game in football. Clearly, they have to do better than they did last season to get there. This game provides some helpful information to help them do that.
Let’s start with something that is hardly a secret. This was a game that was driven by the two quarterbacks, regular season and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. Mahomes played through a painful ankle sprain and, while not statistically overwhelming, made just enough plays to get his team to the winner’s podium. He was undeniably efficient, completing 21 of 27 passes for three touchdowns with no interceptions, and was not sacked the entire game. That last fact was crucial, as he faced one of the best pass rushes in the league. Despite his injury, he also had some crucial runs, including one of 26 yards, the longest of the game for the Chiefs. Those came when he had nothing open in the passing game and he pulled the ball down and took off, finishing the day with 44 on the ground.
Hurts may not have been on the winning side, but he clearly was the reason his team was in it until the very end. He had 304 yards passing on 27 of 38 passing, and was attacking downfield a lot, with two of 45 yards. He found DeVonta Smith for 100 yards including one of those long receptions, and A.J. Brown had 96, with his own 45-yard grab that he scored on. Dallas Goedert added 60. This was a big hint that it really helps to have more than one very good receiver in the lineup. That is a real lesson to learn about roster-building.
Hurts also was big in the running game. He took off on plays he couldn’t find a target and was elusive as well. Kansas City also has an outstanding pass rush, but they only had two sacks for just a yard apiece that were more a matter of getting to Hurts before he could reach the line of scrimmage on a scramble. He would finish the game with 70 of their 115 yards rushing, including some designed plays. Like Mahomes, he also was playing through injury, a shoulder in his case, and he also did not throw an interception. He only had one real mistake, the fumble that Nick Bolton scooped and scored. It ultimately played a big part in determining the outcome, but as someone noted, he really played his butt off.
However, there was a clear contrast in the passing attacks which is an illustration of how there is not just one path to success. While Nick Sirianni had Hurts taking multiple deep shots, Andy Reid and Eric Bienemy have designed a short, ball-control passing game that was clearly in evidence. The longest completion of the game for Mahomes was just 22 yards, or half of the two deepest completions by Hurts. The Chiefs were able to sustain their offense through the air, as evidenced by them scoring on all four of their second half possessions. Kansas City’s offense got better as the game progressed, with 17 points scored in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia had the pattern it had all season of scoring their most points in the second quarter, also 17. This time, they were up against a team that was able to overcome that.
Dallas has a quarterback in Dak Prescott who can play both those kinds of games. He can make deep passes, run the ball effectively, and work the short game to move the sticks. What he needs is more help in the receiving corps. This game needs to be a reality check for the Cowboys in how they have failed their quarterback so far.
There are a couple of other cautionary tales in this game. First, it upends the old adage that offense wins games but defense wins championships. A good defense will help teams dominate lesser opposition, but this was really a shootout between two powerful offenses, and the Eagles, ranked second in the league in yards allowed for the regular season and eighth in points allowed, were unable to stop the Chiefs from having a nearly flawless second half on offense. As Bill Barnwell of ESPN explained, Kansas City used motion effectively, designed plays to get the ball out quickly, and Mahomes, bad wheel and all, was at times brilliant in moving around and evading the rush to extend plays. Philadelphia just could not come up with a single stop after halftime. And Sirianni, no matter how you feel about his often childish antics, is very aggressive on fourth down, with great success, especially with their nearly unstoppable QB sneaks on fourth-and-one. The way both teams approached things should be studied at the Star.
The other thing is how the running game was used. While the Kansas City actually did a good job bottling up everyone except Hurts on the ground, the Eagles were ineffective against the run, especially in the pivotal second half. The Chiefs would amass 126 yards on the ground after halftime, with six runs going for first downs. That argues for having an effective running game even given the importance of the pass. Dallas obviously feels that way. What they really need to take note of is that Kansas City sat former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire for the game and relied on seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco, who led the team with 76 yards and a touchdown. It is another piece of evidence that you don’t need to use high draft picks to find good NFL runners, and that draft status is the last thing you should use in setting you lineup and how you use your running backs. That is something that has been clear for a long time for those that have eyes to see. Maybe we should start a Go Fund Me to send Jerry and Stephen Jones to an optometrist.
There is another small lesson to add. Special teams are very important. The dazzling 65-yard punt return by Kadarius Toney set up one of those crucial second half touchdowns. This is more one to reinforce the way the Cowboys approach the game. They have a real potential game-breaker in KaVontae Turpin, who maybe needs more looks as a wide receiver as well.
Those are some of the things that I think Dallas needs to learn from the game they wanted to be in and aspire to reach. And that may just be scratching the surface.
Congratulations to the Chiefs and thank you to the universe for the Eagles losing.