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September 13, 2017

Eagles vs. Chiefs: Five matchups to watch

The Philadelphia Eagles will travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in a teacher vs. student matchup between Andy Reid and Doug Pederson.

Coaches aside, here are the five matchups to watch on the field:

1) Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill vs. the Eagles' corners

Last week against the Washington Redskins, No. 1 corner Ronald Darby dislocated his ankle, as we all saw. Darby is the Eagles' fastest corner, and the player best equipped to be able to stick with the blazing fast Tyreek Hill, who ran a 4.24 at his Pro Day during the 2016 offseason.

In Week 1 against the New England Patriots, Hill caught 7 passes for 133 yards and a TD. The Eagles' defense will not face a faster player than this all season:

Last week against the Redskins, the Eagles allowed Terrelle Pryor to get behind the defense a few times, but they were fortunate that Pryor and Kirk Cousins could not capitalize. If they still had DeSean Jackson, the outcome of those plays may have been different.

"Yeah, one of them we got a little bit loose in the way we handled a deep crosser," said Jim Schwartz. "That was more a scheme thing than anything else. Even the other plays, even if he's behind us, if we're visioning the ball and we can play the football, he's not behind us unless the ball can get over our heads. I think there were a couple of those situations also.

"I was generally pleased with our ability to play the ball in the air. We've worked really hard this offseason on that aspect. I think you saw it with Jalen. Patrick Robinson had a really good play on that where if he got his back turned, we're real vulnerable to getting the pass interference. He's got the guy faced out, the ball is way over thrown and he's just chill as can be.

"But there's a couple there scheme-wise, technique-wise, that we can play a little bit better. You're right, you have to play those plays or a guy like Tyreek Hill can make you pay for them."

Indeed, Hill can make you pay.

2) Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins and LB Jordan Hicks

For the second straight week, the Eagles will face a top 5 type of receiving tight end in the NFL in Travis Kelce, who had 85 catches for 1125 yards a season ago. Kelce was voted the 26th best player in the league by his peers in NFL Network's yearly series.

A week ago against the Redskins, Malcolm Jenkins did a great job against Jordan Reed, who made just 5 catches for 36 yards on 8 targets. 

Reed is 6'2, 243, and thus is a player that Jenkins (6'0, 204) can handle, size-wise. Kelce is 6'6, 260, so it will be interesting to see how Schwartz opts to defend him. He could go back to Jenkins once again, or perhaps try to get Jordan Hicks (6'1, 236) matched up on Kelce, as Hicks is outstanding in coverage from his linebacker spot in his own right. My guess is that Schwartz will try to mix it up.

3) Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt vs. the Eagles' front seven

The Eagles did an outstanding job against the run last Sunday when they held Redskins running backs to just 34 yards on 13 carries. This week they'll have a difficult challenge in stopping Chiefs rookie runner Kareem Hunt, who went off for 148 yards and a TD on 17 carries, as well as 98 receiving yards and 2 TDs on 5 catches. Here's his game from Week 1:

"If you want to spend too much attention on Tyreek than Kelce, then running backs, all those guys can make plays, and you have to play good, sound defense," said Schwartz. "You have to be good across the board. It's not just about taking one guy out of this offense. If you try to do that, I think there's a lot of other guys, like the running back [Kareem Hunt], [put] almost 250 yards up, I think, it was close to it. We can't over-play one person at the expense of the other guys."

Hunt was a player that we here at PhillyVoice loved leading up to the draft. The Eagles liked him too, according to Doug Pederson. 

"I liked him," Pederson said. "I did. I liked him. I thought he had a good career there in college. [He was] one of the guys that was definitely someone that we had our eye on."

The Chiefs got him instead, and now the Eagles will be tasked with stopping him.

4) Chiefs OLBs Justin Houston and Dee Ford vs. Eagles OTs Jason Peters and Lane Johnson

When asked what stands out about the Chiefs' defense, Frank Reich replied, "The pressure that they put on the passer. Playing in that environment on the road. Obviously, I've coached in that division and played against that defense a number of times. You know, it starts for them up front. They are very talented at linebacker. [Marcus] Peters is a great corner. Obviously, [Eric] Berry being hurt is a significant loss but they are very well-coached and they play good team defense. They are aggressive and it all starts with the pressure that they put on the passer."

The Chiefs have a pair of dangerous edge rushers in Justin Houston and Dee Ford. In 2014, Houston had 22 sacks. In 2015 and 2016, playing in only 16 games those two seasons combined, he had 11.5 sacks. Week 1 against the Patriots he had 2 sacks and looked like the player he was in 2014.

Ford, meanwhile, had 10 sacks in a breakout season in 2016. He had a forced fumble Week 1 against the Pats.

Last week against the Redskins, Jason Peters got hurt and missed all but one play in the second half. He said after the game that he would be ready to play Week 2 in Kansas City, though those proclamations from players should be taken with a grain of salt.

If the Eagles cannot block Houston and Ford, they have the potential to wreck the game.

5) The battle on special teams

In 2016, Football Outsiders ranked the Chiefs the No. 1 special teams unit in the NFL, with the Eagles coming in second. The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin had the Eagles at No. 1, with the Chiefs at No. 3. 

The Chiefs' special teams are coached by Dave Toub, who has gotten some sniffs as a head coaching candidate. Meanwhile, the Eagles have Dave Fipp, who has produced a consistently great special teams units in Philadelphia since he arrived in 2013.

It's worth noting that the Eagles will head into this game without kicker Caleb Sturgis, who was placed on IR with a quad injury. Filling in for him will be newly signed Bengals practice squad kicker Jake Elliott.

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