The Eagles go to Kansas City on Sunday, where Doug Pederson will face off against his mentor, Andy Reid. Pederson played for Reid in Green Bay and Philadelphia. He coached under Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City. There will be a lot of talk about how much these two men know each other, as well as how much these teams know each other.
That will be a big storyline, but this would be a big game no matter who the coaches are. Both teams are 1-0 and trying to get off to a 2-0 start. The Chiefs have Super Bowl aspirations and the Eagles want to play some football beyond January 1 as well. Getting off to a 2-0 start doesn't guarantee you anything, but every win helps you get in better position at the end of the season.
The Eagles were 2-0 last year, but those were very different circumstances. They played a couple of bad teams in the Browns and Bears. Beating the Redskins and Chiefs, both on the road, would show the Eagles have significantly improved from last year and could be a legitimate playoff contender. The Eagles struggled on the road in 2016, so winning in Kansas City, one of the toughest places to play, would really be a big win. This game is a chance for the Eagles to show just how far they've come since a year ago.
Quarterback Alex Smith led the Chiefs to an upset of the Patriots in the season opener. Smith played at a high level and showed the ability that made him the top overall pick in the 2005 draft. He is smart, athletic, and an accurate passer. Smith doesn't have a strong arm and there are times when he gets in a rut with throwing short passes. That wasn't the case in the opener as he threw the ball all over the field. The Chiefs scored 42 points and gained 537 yards. Doing that against a Bill Belichick team is pretty darn impressive. Shocking, really.
You can bet that performance by Smith and the Chiefs really got the attention of Jim Schwartz and his players. They know this is going to be a major challenge. The Chiefs are loaded with weapons. Tyreek Hill might be the fastest player in the entire league and is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. Tight end Travis Kelce will remind you of Rob Gronkowski at times. Rookie Kareem Hunt ran for 148 yards and hauled in a 78-yard touchdown pass in his debut. Good luck shutting them down.
Kansas City also poses problems with its scheme. The Chiefs run one of the most creative offenses in the league. They have run-pass options. They throw a ton of screens. Because of Smith's mobility, they can run option plays and really stress the defense. Defenders must be disciplined and they must diagnose plays correctly. You can't guess or you'll end up in the wrong spot.
My guess is the Schwartz goes into attack mode and blitzes more than usual. That can throw off the timing of their attack. When you have a creative offense, timing is critical. Penetration disrupts that and can break things down.
As good as the Chiefs looked in the opener, they weren't facing defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, defensive end Brandon Graham, or safety Malcolm Jenkins. The Patriots' defense doesn't have the same kind of athletes or weapons that the Eagles do. Plus, they lost linebacker Dont'a Hightower during the game to a knee injury. This game is a great opportunity for the Eagles' defense to show just how good it is.
Kansas City gave up 371 yards and 27 points in the opener, but it did some good things against Tom Brady. The Chiefs sacked him three times and held him to a less than 50 percent completion rate. That does not happen very often.
Linebacker Justin Houston is the key pass rusher. Lane Johnson will square off against him and have his hands full. Johnson did a solid job against Ryan Kerrigan last week and will have to play even better this time out.
The best way to slow down any pass rusher is to run the ball and pound on him. The Eagles' run game wasn't good in the opener and they know that. The coaches and players studied the tape carefully and made some adjustments. We'll have to wait for Sunday afternoon to see if the changes work. The Eagles want to run the ball, but they have to execute better.
Carson Wentz and the offense attacked the Redskins vertically a lot in the opener. None of the designed deep passes worked out. The timing was just a bit off. I expect the Eagles to keep going deep. The receivers showed the ability to get behind the defense and Wentz has a strong arm. It is just a matter of fine-tuning the throws. When they start working, those can be game-changing plays.
Kansas City has a great cornerback in Marcus Peters, but they lost star safety Eric Berry to injury. That leaves them vulnerable in the middle of the secondary. The Chiefs think they have the depth to handle this, but you don't lose a star like Berry without there being some drop-off. This is another reason to throw some deep balls. Test the Chiefs out.
Expect Wentz to attack the middle of the field with Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor. They combined for 14 catches in the opener. If the Chiefs try to focus on them, that leaves Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery with favorable matchups outside.
Pederson and Reid know each other very well. This isn't a game for tricks or secrets. I think the Eagles will be in attack mode, on offense and defense. Schwartz will have his guys really going after Smith. Pederson will have Wentz throwing the ball vertically. You will need big plays to go into Kansas City and come out with a win.
Reid has an 8-3 record when going against his former assistants. That's impressive, but you do have to remember that often his assistants were taking over awful teams that needed to be completely rebuilt. He was beating teams that won just a few games in those seasons. Facing Pederson and this Eagles team is a whole other story.
Big Red might still come out on top, but his team will have to really earn it. Pederson and his players want to beat Reid in the worst way. They want to show the best coach in Eagles history that this team is back and on the way to a good season. Winning in Kansas City would be huge.