National Football League
How Chiefs overcame adversity and limited Joe Burrow; Jalen Hurts' Achilles heel?
National Football League

How Chiefs overcame adversity and limited Joe Burrow; Jalen Hurts' Achilles heel?

Published Jan. 30, 2023 2:18 p.m. ET

In the first half of Sunday's AFC Championship Game, Patrick Mahomes performed like he's been able to early against Lou Anarumo's defense.

He posted +0.30 expected points added per attempt, a 50% success rate, 8.7 yards per attempt, a 68% completion rate and threw a touchdown (with no picks) on 20 dropbacks.

In his prior three games in the first half, he posted +0.44 EPA/att, 64% success, 8.8 YPA, 75% comp, 6:0 TD:INT

Keep in mind, this time Mahomes was doing it on a bum ankle.


But the second half is when things really changed this time around.

  • Yesterday: -0.01 EPA/att, 46% success, 6.7 YPA, 67% comp, 1:0 TD:INT on 26 dropbacks
  • Prior 3 meetings: -0.39 EPA/att, 35% success, 5.8 YPA, 57% comp, 0:2 TD:INT

One of the biggest factors in these numbers was Anarumo's ability to use disguises and mix coverages to force Mahomes to hold onto the football.

In his prior three meetings, he averaged 3.0, 3.3 and 3.3 seconds per attempt in the second half. However, on Sunday, Mahomes averaged just 2.7 seconds per attempt in the second half.

But the even bigger deal was how well Mahomes performed when holding onto the ball.

Look at his performance when holding onto the ball in the second half for at least three seconds, compared to the previous meetings against Anarumo's defense:

  • Yesterday: +0.52 EPA/att, 50% success, 9.6 YPA, 73% comp, 1:0 TD:INT and 1 sack on 12 dropbacks
  • Prior 3 meetings: -0.76 EPA/att, 11% success, 3.9 YPA, 29% comp, 0:1 TD:INT and 5 sacks on 19 dropbacks

Mahomes simply performed out of his mind on one good ankle when having to hold onto the ball with the game on the line in that second half. That's the biggest reason the Chiefs advanced to Super Bowl LVII.

Pressure on Burrow

We discussed all week how Joe Burrow's Bengals offensive line, dealing with injuries to three starters, benefited by playing a weakened Bills pass rush on ice. He would face far more pressure in this game against the Chiefs on solid footing.

That pressure was a big factor in this game, for two reasons. First, it forced Burrow to get rid of the ball extremely quickly.

On Burrow's pass attempts without pressure, he averaged a target depth of only 5.3 air yards and only 2.2 seconds per attempt. He was getting rid of the ball fast and underneath.

When Burrow was clean and could throw deep, he saw massive success:

  • Clean but fewer than 9 air yards: -0.20 EPA/att, 39% success, 3.7 YPA, 78% comp, 14-of-18
  • Clean and 9 or more air yards: +1.15 EPA/att, 70% success, 12.3 YPA, 70% comp, 7-of-10

The problem for Burrow was there were not enough of these attempts where he was kept clean long enough to push the ball down the field.

He was throwing short when clean often to prevent pressure from coming. Because when he threw under duress, he averaged -0.50 EPA/att, 22% success, 6.2 YPA and 39% comp on 5-of-13 with 5 sacks taken.

Overall, Burrow was pressured on 39% of his dropbacks. That was the most he's been pressured in any game against the Chiefs. Yet the Chiefs blitzed on just 17% of dropbacks, their lowest blitz rate for any game vs Burrow.

Burrow did great identifying blitzes and getting rid of the ball. It was natural pressure that killed the Bengals.

On non-blitzes, the Chiefs still recorded pressure on 45% of Burrow dropbacks and held him to -0.10 EPA/att and 37% success, the lowest marks in any game against the Chiefs when unblitzed.

How the Eagles rolled over the 49ers

The Philadelphia Eagles defense forced three turnovers and the running game rushed for 148 yards and four touchdowns. Colin Cowherd reacts to the Eagles' victory as they advance to Super Bowl LVII.

Hurts' Achilles heel?

The 49ers played man coverage at a 17% rate this season, which was fourth-lowest in the NFL.

Entering the game, we knew this could be a problem for Hurts, because he has struggled against zone this year.

Hurts was the No. 2 QB in the NFL vs man coverage in 2022, averaging +0.35 EPA/att and 8.7 YPA. But against zone, he dropped to +0.06 EPA/att though still delivering a healthy 8.6 YPA.

And against the 49ers, Jalen Hurts had predictably massive splits against zone.

  • Against man coverage: +0.64 EPA/att, 50% success, 7.5 YPA, 50% comp and 18.5 air yards/att on 6 dropbacks
  • When facing zone coverage: -0.29 EPA/att, 30% success, 4.0 YPA, 63% comp and only 6.9 air yards/att on 20 dropbacks

Once the Eagles saw Brock Purdy leave the game, they effectively turtled offensively.

On early downs, the Eagles went:

  • 62% pass in the first quarter
  • 44% pass in the second quarter
  • 23% pass in the third quarter
  • 0% pass in the fourth quarter

Jalen Hurts had 71 passing yards and 8 completions in the first quarter. He didn't top either of those numbers in the final three quarters combined (50 passing yards, 7 completions).

In that first quarter, Hurts went 3-of-4 for 45 yards against man coverage (including the 29-yard completion on 4th down to DeVonta Smith, which counted but was dropped). When facing zone, he went 5-of-7 for 26 yards.

In that first quarter, the 49ers used man coverage on 4 out of 12 Hurts dropbacks (33%).

They played man coverage only 2 more snaps the rest of the game on 14 additional dropbacks (14%).

Most of the Eagles' offensive decline later in the game was intentional after watching the 49ers' quarterback situation shift from third-string backup (Brock Purdy) to fourth-string backup (Josh Johnson) to an "unable to pass the ball" Purdy once Johnson was forced out of the game.

It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs elect to defend the Eagles.

On the season, the Chiefs played man coverage on 28% of opposing dropbacks. That was eighth-highest in the NFL this year.

Warren Sharp is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He is the founder of Sharp Football Analysis and has worked as a consultant for league franchises while also previously contributing to ESPN and The Ringer, among other outlets. He studied engineering before using his statistical acumen to create predictive football models. You can follow Warren on Twitter at @SharpFootball.

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