Super Bowl 2023: Chiefs and Eagles have great offenses, but built differently around QBs
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jimmy Johnson was lamenting how the game has changed since he was coaching.
Johnson, who won two Super Bowls as coach of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s, said it used to be that a team with a good quarterback who wouldn’t turn it over could win championships. Johnson said that has changed, and being good at quarterback isn’t good enough.
“You need a franchise quarterback,” Johnson said.
Well, yes and no.
Johnson’s statement ignores that quarterbacks like Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Foles (and, if we’re being honest, the 2015 version of Peyton Manning) either won Super Bowls the past few years or came a play or two away from it. Nobody would call them elite.
Super Bowl LVII offers a contrast in how to build an offense. The Kansas City Chiefs do have the best quarterback in the game, MVP Patrick Mahomes, and a supporting cast that isn't overflowing with star talent. The Philadelphia Eagles got a monster season out of quarterback Jalen Hurts, but plenty of people would argue the stellar cast around Hurts elevated him and not the other way around.
The Chiefs and Eagles both have great offenses. Kansas City’s offense finished first in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and the Eagles were third. They just built their offenses in different ways.
Chiefs reshape their offense
This past offseason, the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill, one of the best receivers in football, to the Miami Dolphins. During the draft, the Eagles traded for a big-time No. 1 receiver, stealing A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans.
The Chiefs could afford to make a move like trading Hill. Most teams can't. They don't have a Mahomes.
Hill was great in Miami. He had 1,710 yards and helped revive Tua Tagovailoa’s career. The Dolphins went to the playoffs. And Mahomes set an NFL single-season record for combined passing, rushing and receiving yards even without a four-time All-Pro receiver.
The Chiefs still had the incomparable Travis Kelce at tight end, but the running game was just average and there might not be a top 25 or 30 NFL receiver on the roster. But JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and rookie Skyy Moore, among others, played their roles.
"Nobody is happier for Tyreek than I am," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "He made a lot of money and he gained a lot of yards. He had a great year. On the other hand, I’m proud of our guys and the job they’ve done. We had a lot of new faces in there."
It’s unfair to the players around Mahomes — including a good offensive line — to say he does it all on his own. His receivers still need to make plays and usually do. Mahomes also benefits from having Reid, a future Hall of Fame coach.
But everyone also understands that Mahomes’ combination of physical skills and the mental mastery of the game carries the Chiefs’ offense. His talent allowed the Chiefs to use Hill in a big trade to reload for the future. It’s hard to say where the Chiefs offense would be without Mahomes, but it wouldn’t be first in the NFL.
"Listen, Pat Mahomes is a pretty good quarterback," Reid said. "We didn’t lose Pat Mahomes. That was a good thing. He makes those guys look good in a lot of ways, and they help make him look good too."
Jalen Hurts emerges with great cast
Hurts had a great season. Hard stop.
Whether or not he had help from his teammates really doesn’t matter. Joe Montana spent many years throwing to Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver ever. John Elway didn’t win a Super Bowl until he was paired with Terrell Davis, an MVP and Hall of Fame running back. Tom Brady went from Randy Moss to Rob Gronkowski. Nobody diminishes their greatness because they had legendary teammates.
"[Hurts] has fit in very well with that team," Reid said. "His play has proven out to be very, very good, and he'll do nothing but get better with time."
And yet, it’s OK to acknowledge that Hurts benefitted greatly from being in perhaps the best situation of any quarterback in the NFL. Brown is a No. 1 receiver and so is DeVonta Smith, a 2021 first-round pick. Dallas Goedert is a top-10 tight end. The running game has been fantastic for two seasons. And it's not just the guys catching and running the ball.
“I think we have the best offensive line in the league,” Goedert said. "The things they do are absurd."
The Eagles looked at a young quarterback in Hurts who had shown signs of improvement but also inconsistency, and bet that he could thrive with a superior supporting cast. And they were right.
"We have a lot of guys who are explosive with the ball and can make plays," Smith said. "It makes your job a whole lot easier."
Part of the reason the Eagles could build a loaded offense is Hurts is still on his rookie contract. Hurts’ minuscule salary cap hit of $1.64 million this season is a reason the Eagles could get Brown (or, elite pass rusher Haason Reddick for the defense).
"When we made the big move on draft night to get A.J., obviously that uplifted our offense tremendously," Goedert said. "Anytime you get one of the best wide receivers in the game, it's huge for our offense."
Perhaps when Hurts graduates to a $40 million per year deal, he’ll show he is in the Mahomes tier of quarterbacks who elevate the talent of everyone around them. We won’t know until it happens. The Eagles might want to win this Super Bowl, just to make sure.
If you're lucky enough to have a quarterback like Mahomes, it makes everything easier. The rest of the league has to follow the Eagles model if it wants to win a Super Bowl, and maximize everything around the quarterback.
The Super Bowl LVII matchup shows that both approaches can work.