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Win A Super Bowl With This One Weird Trick

Kansas City Chiefs' wide reciever Kadarius Toney step into the end zone and scores a touchdown during Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on February 12, 2023. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

You can only beat who you play, but it’s true the Eagles defense never faced a quarterback as good as this one. There’s more to it than that, though. They also never faced an offensive line as good as this one; they recorded zero sacks of Patrick Mahomes, after racking up 70 in the regular season—third-most all-time—and eight more in two playoff games. And, crucially, they never faced an offense as relentless or adaptable in its play-calling. The Eagles didn't have many weaknesses, but Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy found one, and hammered it, and it won Kansas City a Super Bowl.

The box score looks like one of second-half adjustments for the Chiefs offense, but that's not quite right. KC's defense simply couldn't get off the field in the first 30, and their offense couldn't get into a rhythm, but once they got their reps in, the groove followed. They scored on every second-half possession, and, astonishingly, Mahomes had just one incomplete pass, a ball he deliberately threw away. They said after the game that they really didn't do anything different following the break, because the Eagles were showing them more or less what they'd prepared for. "They played the same type of coverages. We just weren't executing like we needed to," said Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator. So they spent the extra-long halftime talking about execution, and eating chicken strips, and getting themselves hyped. "That 29 minutes was perfect," said receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. "I didn't get to see the Rihanna performance, and she was probably amazing." She was pretty good, yeah.

So the difference, ultimately, in the second half was less about drawing up anything new and more about finally getting in position to call one particular play, one Bieniemy said was high on their play sheet. Reid dialed it in for a crucial third-and-3 from the Eagles' five, and Kadarius Toney high-stepped in at his leisure. It was KC's first lead; they wouldn't trail again.

There are two things to watch here, and neither works without the other. The first is the stacked receiver formation on the near side, with Toney being behind Travis Kelce when the ball is snapped. The Chiefs love stacking receivers, and why not? Best-case scenario, you buy some brief confusion in the coverage, and worst-case, you've got a body in front of the stacked receiver to clear some room. KC had already used the stack formation to effect earlier in the game, with Mahomes finding a stacked Kelce for an 18-yard score.

The second thing, the thing that made this play special enough that the Chiefs had only busted it out once all year, the thing that broke this game and pried a comically large gap in the Eagles' usually unforgiving secondary, was the pre-snap movement. Toney went in motion to his left, showing a jet sweep, but then doubled back. Brutally simple design. Maybe it doesn't work if he doesn't commit so hard to the fake, running full-speed and stopping on a dime, but watch the replay above: that's selling it. Cornerback Darius Slay, assuming Toney would keep going, handed off the coverage to a safety lined up in the secondary. When Mahomes snapped the ball, with Toney mid-pivot and stacked, no one picked him up.

All according to plan.

"We work hard every day to know the personnel, to know exactly how they’re going to play us," Toney said.

"We knew they’d pass off the motion guy," Mahomes said.

But great play design isn't about just scouting a defense; it's also about knowing how that defense is scouting you. It's no coincidence it was the little-used Toney in motion. Both of his previous touchdowns this year had come on jet sweeps, and the Chiefs had to know the Eagles were looking for one again.

The play is called Corn Dog, as Reid explained to Peter King, and it doesn't play out like it did unless the defense fully bites. A handoff is the first option, but if the CB commits, Mahomes was to take advantage with a quick throw. "Good play against man coverage," Reid said, perhaps a little understatedly. It's not clear who initially designed the play—Reid said he didn't remember, but gave credit to Bieniemy and to RBs coach Greg Lewis and pass game analyst David Girardi. But philosophically it's the Platonic ideal of the Andy Reid Gadget Play, at once simple and fiendish. "If you practice them long enough, they aren’t trick plays,” Reid said earlier this week, “they’re just plays.”

OK, but why name it Corn Dog? "We like to eat," Bieniemy said.

The Chiefs would go back for seconds less than three minutes later. Again on the doorstep, again they motioned into a stack formation—this time with rookie WR Skyy Moore cutting in before doubling back. Avonte Maddox picked up the motion, taking himself out of the play. James Bradberry followed Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was lined up in front of Moore, into the middle of the field, leaving Moore every bit as wide-open as Toney had been.

This was actually a separate play from Corn Dog, but it had the same motion-stack, the same corner route, the same effect on the Eagles' secondary, and the same result. Patrick Mahomes was great on this night, but on his two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, he didn't need to be. KC's coaches had found the Philly defense's kryptonite.

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