Cody Schoeler’s NFL Super Bowl LVII Defenses Preview

From DL to ST, here’s all you need to know about the defenses for the big game on Sunday

Posted on February 11, 2023

  By Cody Schoeler, SuperWest Sports

We have reached the bittersweet moment of the NFL season when just one game remains. That game is the Super Bowl, though, so it’s kind of a big deal.

The biggest game of the year deserves the biggest preview of the year, so that is exactly what you are going to get from me.

I’m going to switch it up a bit by going from position group to position group on each team, getting you up to speed on who and what matters for Super Bowl LVII.

From the defensive line to special teams, here’s all you need to know about the defenses for the big game on Sunday.

Defensive Line
Speaking of defensive lines, let’s start with the one that dominated for the entire regular season.

The Eagles were nearly unstoppable in the trenches this year. They racked up a league-leading 70 sacks and had four players register double-digit sacks.

The most disruptive of the bunch is Haason Reddick, who led the team with 16 sacks.

He showed what he was capable of in the conference championship game when he forced a fumble on a strip sack on the first series, and also injured Brock Purdy while doing so.

He’s one of the best in the league at finishing pressures with sacks, partly because he has so much help up front. Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, and Javon Hargrave all racked up 11 sacks this season.

But the Eagles are deeper than just those four. Fletcher Cox is one of the leaders of the defense and still playing extremely well.

Rookie Jordan Davis has made a big impact this year, too (just not as big as he is). And the Eagles also added productive veterans Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph to create an elite rotation on the d-line.

Eagles defensive lineman Haason Reddick | Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Disrupting Mahomes is the number one way to beat this Chiefs team, as we saw when the Buccaneers beat them in the Super Bowl.

So far, no teams have really been able to do that but if any team is capable of it it’s the Eagles and their all-star defensive line.

The Chiefs don’t have the same amount of depth as the Eagles up front, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous in that area.

They actually finished second in the league in sacks with 55, thanks in large part to an incredible season from Chris Jones. He played at an insane level, absolutely dominating the game from the interior, something very few players are able to do.

And he notched his first two career postseason sacks last round, so he may just be heating up.

Jones will be going up against some steep competition in the Eagles’ offensive line but he is playing at a level where it doesn’t seem like anybody can stop him.

And even if he draws double teams and gets neutralized, it will still open things up for the other players on the Chiefs’ defensive line.

Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones | Getty Images

The biggest name outside of Jones to watch is Frank Clark, who pairs very nicely with Jones.

Clark is one of the most efficient postseason pass-rushers ever, ranking third all-time with 13.5 sacks, and has at least one sack in both games so far this postseason.

Most of the pressure will be on Jones and Clark to get the job done upfront, but they aren’t alone. Rookie George Karlaftis has been a nice addition to the team this year and has been getting better each week of his first season.

Mike Danna and Carlos Dunlap are also valuable rotation guys with the ability to get to the passer.

But rushing the quarterback isn’t the only thing that matters against the Eagles.

Stopping the run will be equally as important, if not more so. That’s where some of the other interior guys such as Derrick Nnadi and Khalen Saunders come into play.

The Chiefs were average against the rush this year but did have games where they got gashed on the ground by prolific running offenses.

It won’t matter how well the Chiefs rush the passer if they can’t stop the run, so it will be all hands on deck for them in the trenches on Sunday.

The linebacking play will also be incredibly important for the Chiefs because that is their best way to neutralize Hurts.

The key to that will be Nick Bolton, the second-year player who had a breakout year this season.

He isn’t the most polished player yet, but he is freakishly athletic, so he may be Kansas City’s best shot at matching up with Hurts.

He will probably be tasked with spying Hurts more than any of the other linebackers, so how well he manages that will be very important.

The Chiefs will also have Willie Gay in the middle, who has had a productive season playing next to Bolton.

Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton | Michael Owens/Getty Images

But after him, the Chiefs mainly rely on rookie Leo Chenal, and he could be the type of inexperienced player that the Eagles look to take advantage of.

The Chiefs’ backers will also have to worry about Goedert and the running backs in the passing game, which will make their day even more difficult.

Those guys in the middle could make or break Kansas City’s day on defense because if they struggle Hurts might have a field day.

The Eagles don’t really have a weak spot on their defense but the linebackers might be the closest to one. They have a solid group, it just isn’t stocked with elite players like the other position groups.

Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards | Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White are good players, but they are beatable. That is probably where the Chiefs are going to try to attack the Eagles’ defense, likely focusing on the middle of the field with Kelce.

That’s the key matchup for the Eagles. They’ve seen on film what Kelce can do to teams when teams struggle to guard him and will want to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes.

It also makes life a lot easier for Mahomes when his go-to weapon is constantly wide open, so that is not a recipe for success for a defense.

Edwards and White are certainly capable of playing well enough to at least limit the damage that Kelce does, and if they do so it may lead to success for the rest of the defense.

Of course, it also makes things easier for the linebackers when there is an elite secondary behind them, which is the case in Philadelphia.

The Eagles’ secondary might be as good as their defensive line, which is saying a lot.

Led by Darius Slay and James Bradberry, arguably the best cornerback duo in the league, the Eagles have been great on the backend this year.

But it’s not just those two that makes them so good, the Eagles also have C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who tied for the league lead with six interceptions.

Philadelphia allowed the fewest yards per game this season and the second-fewest yards per completion, which is the makings of an elite group.

Plus, the Eagles have given up just 269 yards in the playoffs, although they weren’t exactly playing great quarterbacks. That changes on Sunday when they face the league MVP.

Eagles cornerback Darius Slay | Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Mahomes will certainly challenge this group because he’s the best quarterback in the game, but the Eagles should be ready for the test.

Slay and Bradberry should be able to win most of the matchups with the Chiefs’ receivers, it just comes down to how well the Chiefs can scheme up ways to get them open.

It’s going to be a chess match in the secondary when the Eagles’ defense is on the field and one big interception could be all it takes to swing the momentum in their favor.

The Chiefs have a much different situation on the backend than the Eagles, although they’ve still performed well. Kansas City’s secondary is led by Justin Reid and L’Jarius Sneed, although the latter is currently dealing with an injury.

The rest of the secondary is made up of rookies, but they have played well beyond their years. Trent McDuffie, Bryan Cook, Joshua Williams, and Jaylen Watson have all been impressive in their debut years.

Chiefs safety Justin Reid | Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

The youth movement has worked well, too, with the Chiefs improving their pass defense from bad to average this year, allowing the 15th-most passing yards per game.

They’ll be up against a dynamic duo in Brown and Smith, but this won’t be the first time they’ve been challenged. The Chiefs are coming off a game against the Bengals and their elite wide receiver pairing.

Kansas City had enough success to win that game and hold the Bengals to just 20 points, largely due to turnovers in the secondary (and Jones’s play upfront).

The Chiefs will need someone to capitalize on a Hurts mistake. The best bet is probably Watson, who has grabbed a pick in each of the playoff games and might spend the most time guarding Brown.

The main thing the Chiefs’ secondary needs to do is to not get beat. If they can keep things in front of them and not let the game get away from them then that should be enough to keep the game close.

Special Teams
Nobody really pays too much attention to the special teams but when everything comes down to just one game, special teams can be the deciding factor.

Luckily for both of these teams, they have good special teams units, which is not a surprise.

Starting with kickers, both teams should have complete confidence in their guy to deliver when called upon.

The Chiefs have obviously done so in the past with Harrison Butker, including the game-winner against the Bengals.

He’s a perfect five-for-five in the playoffs on both field goals and extra points, so Kansas City should expect another reliable performance from him.

The Eagles’ Jake Elliott is also perfect this postseason, although he’s only been called upon for two field goals, but he’s also added nine extra points.

Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker | Touchdown Wire-USA TODAY Sports

Trusting your kicker is a huge benefit for both of these teams. Of course, they’re also hoping that it doesn’t come down to a kick to decide the game, but if it does, both teams will probably feel pretty good about it.

Punting is a more underappreciated aspect of the game because it doesn’t directly result in points, but it can be just as important.

This is where the Chiefs have the biggest advantage because they have all-pro Tommy Townsend.

He’s been a massive weapon for them at times, contributing some clutch kicks that have flipped field position and pinned their opponent in their own territory.

The Eagles haven’t had to rely on Brett Kern too much in the postseason but, when they have, he’s been solid. But Kern’s a veteran and should be able to do what he needs to do when called upon.

If any aspect of special teams is going to have a massive impact on the Super Bowl it’s the return game.

The Eagles appeared to have been set in that department with rookie Britain Covey, but unfortunately, he’s now listed as questionable, having suffered a hamstring injury.

Eagles kicker Jake Elliott | Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The same cannot be said for the Chiefs’ returners, who have used several players back there this year with mixed success.

Pacheco has been solid as a kick returner, possessing the explosive ability wanted for that position, but the punt returners have been a different story.

Skyy Moore has had some costly mistakes as a returner this year, which caused the Chiefs’ confidence in him to wane.

But he’s seemingly recovered from those mistakes and has been far more trustworthy of late. But that potential for him to muff a punt has to loom every time he lines up deep.

The Chiefs can also use Kadarius Toney or Mecole Hardman but will probably stick with Moore unless anything drastic happens during the game.

—More from Cody Schoeler—