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February 12, 2023

First half observations: Eagles 24, Chiefs 14

The Eagles are 30 minutes from glory.

The Eagles put on a show on offense and have some work left to do on the other side of the ball, as Philadelphia carries a 24-14 lead over the Chiefs into halftime of the Super Bowl.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

β€’ Aside from a Miles Sanders fumble, which was no small detail, there were no signs of early-game jitters for the Eagles on offense. Jalen Hurts has played in big games before, the biggest you can possibly play at the amateur level, but you never know how a guy will respond to this specific stage until they get there. Early returns? Pretty good.

Everything that has made this offense special all season was present on the first drive. There was a double-digit scamper for Hurts on the ground, with the QB dancing around the outside and using a DeVonta Smith block to pick up far more yards than it reasonably looked like he could get. Smitty was heavily involved on that first series, coming up with three receptions for 41 yards on the first possession as the Chiefs struggled to keep track of him. Dallas Goedert had a critical conversion over the middle, Hurts picking him out after coming under a bit of duress behind the line of scrimmage.

And then, of course, there was the short-yardage mastery. It looked briefly like Kenneth Gainwell had scored the opening touchdown, only for replays to show that Gainwell had gone down short of the goal line. No matter for this group β€” they lined back up and bullied the Chiefs at the point of attack, with Hurts scoring yet another QB sneak touchdown.

The thing that stood out the most early on was their play in the trenches. Hurts had a ton of time to work with in the pocket thanks to the work of the big boys up front, building off of one of this season's key themes. Philadelphia has been an absurdly dominant team up front, and that continued on the first series of the Super Bowl, the Eagles taking it right down Kansas City's throat to open the game.

β€’ Hurts didn't really get another chance to show out until the first-quarter clock was ticking down, with Philadelphia playing from behind the sticks on their second possession of the game. But in terms of reads and execution, there have been few issues behind center so far, which is going to give the Eagles a great chance to win if it holds.

Sometimes, of course, it helps to have the baddest weapon on the field. On Philadelphia's first play from scrimmage to open the second quarter, the Eagles decided they were going to go up top to A.J. Brown, trusting that their No. 1 guy to go and make a play on the ball. And the ball-tracking that has turned Brown into a Philadelphia star was prevalent on this play β€” there was work left to do when Brown turned his head, and he made it look too damn easy in the process of taking the lead back from Kansas City.

That's why Howie Roseman paid a pretty penny in order to bring this guy to Philadelphia. Hurts has been a willing deep thrower since he got his chance to start in Philly, but his hit rate has soared with Brown tracking those throws.Β 

(Again, have to shout the offensive line out here. Hurts was under absolutely no duress here and got to unload a bomb with the time and space to step into his throw. Awesome.)

β€’ It took a few possessions, but the Eagles finally got going on defense in the second quarter. A quick stop on Pacheco behind the line of scrimmage backed the Chiefs up on early downs, setting up a pivotal third-and-long for Kansas City deep in their own territory. And Jonathan Gannon, oft-maligned for not bringing enough pressure, dialed up a five-man rush on the pivotal play of the series, speeding Mahomes up enough to force an incompletion and a punt.

Any progress is good progress in this game.

β€’ The third-down throw Hurts made to Zach Pascal early in the second quarter is a special, special play. Under pressure for one of the first times all day, Hurts rolled to his right, spun back left, and then delivered a throw across his body on the move, ultimately finding Pascal just past the first-down marker for a huge conversion.

There are not many guys in the league who can make that play, period. He may not rank at the tip-top of the league in terms of pure throwers, but his versatility and ability to extend plays is off the damn charts.

β€’ There's a thin line between brave and stubborn, and if the Eagles hadn't converted on fourth-and-five late in the second quarter, there would have been a lot of people pissed off with Shane Steichen. But the Eagles sure seem like they've seen something to exploit with Hurts' legs, because they went back to their QB on the ground in a big spot almost immediately after his fumble.

When a guy runs like this, who can blame the Eagles for trusting him?

The thing I loved from Philadelphia in the first half, which was a contrast to Andy Reid's conservatism, was the four-down mentality they played with for the entire first half. The Eagles dared the Chiefs to try to stop them on a fourth-and-short deep in Chiefs territory, two minutes and change on the clock, and they baited Kansas City into the penalty that gave Philly an easy first.

From there? Well, the Eagles went right back to the Hurts well again, the QB following Jason Kelce to the left side for an easy march to pay dirt.

Really encouraging half on offense for the Birds. Outside of one big mistake and a Pascal penalty, they have rolled.

β€’ Getting an extra possession at the end of the half would have been huge regardless of the score or game situation. But β€” and no one celebrates an injury around here β€” getting the ball back by putting hits on Mahomes is a huge deal. He was in a ton of pain walking off of the field after being hit on third down, the second consecutive play where he took a hit in an effort to make something happen for his team.

Slowly but surely, the pass rush is leaving its mark on this game. Haason Reddick nearly sacked Mahomes on that final Chiefs drive, and I'd expect he's going to get home eventually.

β€’ A.J. Brown not only got YAC yards on a play with the clock running down in the first half, he saved the Eagles a timeout and gave them a chance to take a shot. They didn't take one, but still!

β€’ Jake Elliott, money.

The Bad

β€’ Miles Sanders fumbling the ball on the first play from scrimmage was not exactly how you wanted to start this game. He was fortunate it happened near the sideline.

β€’ As good as Philadelphia's offense looked on the first series, Kansas City at least matched them, if not surpassed them on the opening drive. Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce is the partnership at the top of every NFL scouting report for the Chiefs, but knowing is only half of the battle, and the Eagles got straight-up cooked on their first drive on defense.

Jonathan Gannon's unit didn't do much of anything well on the first possession. Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco gashed the Eagles on the opening series, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry on his three touches. With the Chiefs rolling on the ground, it got that much harder to keep them under control through the air.

A subplot to monitor the rest of the evening β€” Philadelphia's defenders did not appear to have a great grip on the grass in Arizona, slipping in space while trying to chase Kelce around the field. It ultimately cost Marcus Epps, on an island defending Kelce, on the Chiefs' opening touchdown, with Kelce leaving him in the dust for six points.

Have to be honest β€” can't say that I think Epps jamming Kelce is going to work out for the Eagles. We'll see.Β 

β€’ When you get to this stage, every single penalty is a big one, because the talent margins tend to be razor-thin between Super Bowl teams. Zach Pascal's OPI penalty on Philadelphia's second drive all but killed the series, and the Eagles put an extra nail in it with an ineffective run call to Kenneth Gainwell on first-and-20. No bueno.

If you want an even better example of how penalties can change a drive, look no further than Isaac Seumalo's soul-crushing penalty early in the second quarter. The Eagles were in cruise control, lined up for a QB sneak you would have bet on them to convert with ease, only for Seumalo to back the Eagles up into third-and-six with a costly penalty.

But Seumalo was not the guy who made the costliest error of the first half β€” that was Hurts, who simply lost the football on the ensuing play. There wasn't a big hit, or overwhelming pressure, or Hurts extending his arm trying to pick up a first down. This was just your quarterback screwing up and losing control of the football, which the Chiefs were ready to capitalize on:

This was an unbelievable swing at a moment where it looked like the Eagles could seize firm control of the game. Instead of marching toward a potential 21-7 lead, the Eagles were locked in a stalemate. Take issue with the play call if you want β€” a QB draw is pretty crazy in that spot β€” but Hurts will tell you himself that he owns that one.

The Ugly

β€’ Just wanted to make sure I made fun of the 49ers for being gigantic babies about losing the NFC Championship Game one last time before the season ends. Every day over the last two weeks, it has been a different guy crying that the Eagles weren't actually that good and that they should/would have won. Guess what, fellas, ya didn't.

β€’ "Just Wanna Rock" by Lil Uzi Vert >>>>>>>>>> the stupid chop that Chiefs fans do.

β€’ Andy Reid not going for it on fourth-and-three in the Super Bowl, resulting in a missed field goal for the Chiefs, felt like a bit of karmic payback for his mistakes at the helm of the Eagles. Great coach and all, but that was a long time coming.

Also, what the hell is he thinking? The Chiefs' offense was absolutely shredding the Eagles and had every reason to press the issue early. In the modern NFL, I feel like most good coaches go for it in that spot. And right now, that decision is a huge inflection point, one the broadcast rightly harped on throughout the half.

β€’ The NFL allegedly spent a bunch of time and money growing the grass for this game, and boy howdy, the playing surface looks like shit. Guys on both teams are slipping left and right, and then they're going to do a halftime show that you have to imagine is going to make the problem worse.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

β€’ What's going on with Sanders? There were trips to the locker room early, and his involvement was minimal following the early fumble. Stay tuned.

β€’ The NFL having "END RACISM" in the end zone while Chiefs fans do the tomahawk chop is, well, quite something.

β€’ If it takes that long to overturn the call, DeVonta Smith's catch should have stood as originally called. And I think that was a catch on its merits, so whatever.

Let's go back to old catch rules, I am sick of this nonsense.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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