Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (55) answers questions from the media during team availability at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix on Feb. 7, 2023.

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Attack Mahomes or play keep-away? Eagles mull their options

Brandon Graham has already strip-sacked the greatest quarterback of all time in a Super Bowl. What to do for an encore?

Call 27-year-old Patrick Mahomes the GOAT, too, and try to make it a double.

The veteran defensive end helped the Philadelphia Eagles lock up their first Super Bowl victory five years ago with a strip sack of Tom Brady late in the 41-33 win over the New England Patriots. This Sunday, against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII, Graham and the NFL’s top defense is tasked with figuring out the next generation’s exemplar quarterback, Mahomes.

“Man, getting a strip sack on him too, that’d be nice,” Graham told reporters Thursday. “But we’re going to have some fun, man. He’s definitely the GOAT because he’s already won one and you can see he’s been here a lot of times already. And he’s young.”

Head coach Nick Sirianni wasn’t keen on spelling out how his team’s defense is strategizing for Mahomes, whether it will feature an increase in blitzing or focus on keeping the ball out of his hands.

It was pointed out to Sirianni at Thursday’s press conference that in Mahomes’ three career playoff losses, his Chiefs have lost the turnover battle twice and had less time of possession than their opponent in all three defeats.

Sirianni said when he was the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator and faced Mahomes’ Chiefs in 2019, it became “a little bit of a keep-away game.” That day, the Colts ran the ball 45 times, had possession for 37:15 and handed Kansas City its first loss of the young season, 19-13.

“So we have that in our pocket. We also think it’s important to score points. Obviously I won’t give too much of the game plan away of what we’re trying to do. But we also understand how dangerous Patrick Mahomes is and how good of a football player he is.

“Sometimes when you do play a keep-away battle, per se, you still gotta be good and efficient on third down. You still gotta be good and efficient to extend drives.”

Sirianni’s Eagles have been able to run the ball at will, led by dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts and a deep backfield that features Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott.

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon put the keys to the matchup simply.

“Not have the ball thrown over our heads and take it away,” he told the Eagles’ team website.

Gannon touted his unit’s adaptability as a foil to the Chiefs’ creativity on offense.

“Every game you turn on, (Reid is) doing something new. We’ve got to be prepared for all of that,” Gannon said. “One of our staples is adaptability. We know that we’re going to have to adapt in game and we’ve got to be ready to make adjustments in game, in real time, and ultimately execute the plan and those adjustments to have a chance.”

But the ultimate strength of the Eagles’ defense is its pass rush, which finished with 70 sacks in the regular season, the third-highest total in NFL history.

“I don’t think you go into this game thinking you are going to get clear paths to the quarterback,” said Haason Reddick, who had 16 sacks in the regular season and 3.5 in the Eagles’ first two playoff games. “They’re going to have something built-in to account for what we do, so it comes down to winning one-on-one battles, or whatever it’s going to be, in this game. You also know that Mahomes isn’t a guy who is going to go down easily. He can buy time with his legs. He can move, even with that ankle (Mahomes suffered a high-ankle sprain against Jacksonville in the AFC Divisional round).

“It’s a challenge and, as you know, I love challenges.”

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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