Winning the battle of the trenches—the battle between offensive lines and defensive lines—is a major part of winning every game in the NFL. In Super Bowl LVII’s matchup of four dominating units—two on each team—in the trenches, that battle is going to be especially important.
Looking back at the conference championship games and both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff runs to this point, you can point to their wins in the trenches as big reasons for sustained success in the postseason.
The Chiefs got to Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow five times in the AFC Championship Game, throwing the young quarterback off of his rhythm. By the time the game was over, Kansas City had won and Burrow finished the game with his worst passer rating since a four-interception performance in Week 1. One of their greatest assets on that defensive front is defensive tackle Chris Jones, who led all defensive tackles in pass-rush win rate by a longshot this season. His 21% win rate per ESPN was four points higher than the defensive tackles tied for second on the list.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Chiefs have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, particularly on the interior. They’ve allowed pressures on fewer than 14% of quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ dropbacks so far this postseason, something that’s become especially important as the gunslinger continues to fight through a high ankle sprain.
On the other side of the matchup, the Eagles might have an even more formidable couple of trenches units up front. Their offensive line is not just one of the best but probably the best front five in the NFL. From tackles Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson to guards Landon Dickerson and Isaac Seumalo to five-time First-Team All-Pro center Jason Kelce, there isn’t a single player to point to as the “weak link.” They’ve done an excellent job not only keeping quarterback Jalen Hurts upright for all of the regular season and playoff run but leading the way for their dominating rushing attack as well.
Defensively, they somehow might be even better. Four of the members of their defensive front—outside linebacker Haason Reddick, defensive ends Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham, and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave—finished the regular season with at least 11 sacks. If that weren’t enough, 11-year veteran defensive tackle Fletcher Cox also had seven of his own this year. All of those guys have also recorded at least one sack and one tackle for a loss in their playoff run thus far. It was that unit up front that stopped a formidable Giants rushing attack—both running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones—in the divisional round and utterly dominated the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Come Super Bowl Sunday, the Chiefs and Eagles will pit strength against strength in the trenches on both sides of the ball. With both quarterbacks a bit banged up—Hurts suffered a shoulder injury late in the season and Mahomes has the aforementioned ankle sprain—each team has a particular necessity to keep their signal-callers protected.
Even if both Hurts and Mahomes were fully healthy, limiting the pressures of opposing defensive lines would have always been a key. When any quarterback is pressured, he has the tendency to make more mistakes, and even Mahomes is no exception to that rule. His seven intercepted passes under pressure this season were the fourth-most in such situations in the NFL this season. Hurts, to his credit, is a bit better about avoiding interceptions under pressure thanks to his mobility and superior ability to scramble, but when he does attempt to pass in those situations, his completion rate is still under 50%.
When Super Bowl LVII arrives, the bigger winner on both sides of the trenches will be the team that comes out on top to end this season.
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