The Kansas City Chiefs were destined to win Super Bowl LVII over the Philadelphia Eagles. How do I know that? Because my BTSC colleagues and I all picked the Eagles to win the game. If that isn't the kiss of death, I don't know what is.
I was fairly confident that the Eagles would emerge victorious by gradually wearing down the Chiefs with their dominant offensive and defensive lines, and overall superior depth. However, a surprising reality revealed itself throughout the contest.
The Chiefs matched up better against the Eagles than I thought they would.
The Chiefs offensive line neutralized the Eagles record setting defensive line, shutting down the Eagles league leading pass rush. This allowed the Chiefs to focus on their biggest advantage on offense; the offensive brilliance of Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy.
Their halftime adjustments, particularly the misdirection motion plays designed to exploit the Eagles over aggressive defensive tendencies, resulted in a near perfect offensive performance in the second half, where the Chiefs scored on all their possessions.
On defense, the Chiefs managed to withstand the Eagles first half offensive onslaught, at least well enough to stay within striking distance heading into the second half. The Chiefs were obviously focusing on limiting the Eagles dominant rushing attack, forcing the Eagles to move the ball through the air.
Although the Eagles were successful in doing just that in the first half, resulting in a substantial time of possession advantage; the Eagles were never quite able to establish their running game, enabling their dominant offensive line to wear down the Chiefs defense. One man was essential in shutting down the Eagles ground game, and he is the focal point of this article.
Chiefs inside linebacker Nick Bolton almost single-handedly stifled the Eagles running game, especially Pro Bowl RB Miles Sanders, while playing one of the best games of his professional career, all on the sport's biggest stage.
Bolton was definitely the Chiefs biggest advantage on defense, an advantage that precious few saw coming, and was easily the defensive player of the game. Bolton had 9 total tackles in the game, 8 of the solo variety. Each one was vitally important in a contest that seemed to teeter on the edge of a blowout on multiple occasions in the first half.
Just when it appeared the game was getting out of hand, Bolton picked up an unforced fumble by Jalen Hurts and raced to the end zone for a momentum shifting touchdown. Simply put, Bolton helped keep the Chiefs within striking distance until their offense could find their footing in the second half.
Bolton has been everything that I thought he could be as a professional since the Chiefs selected him in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. I wrote an article about his potential fit with the Steelers during the pre-draft process, even though the Steelers already had an undersized Mack linebacker in Devin Bush. I believed that Bolton would be ideal insurance in case Bush struggled to return to form after his season ending knee injury in 2020. As we now know, he never did.
Bolton is everything that Bush never was. Bolton is intense and instinctive. He doesn't run a 4.4 forty like Bush, but his natural instincts allow him to play faster than he times. He never takes a false step, as his first step is impeccable. That is old school football vernacular, and a common trait shared by the majority of the all time great inside backers.
Repeatedly during the Super Bowl, Bolton beat the ball carrier to the spot, broke down smoothly, and delivered a crushing blow, all while executing yet another form tackle. Bolton gave an inspired performance when it was needed the most, worthy of all the post-game accolades and attention he has garnered.
The Eagles interior linebackers were basically invisible throughout the game, which shouldn't have been a huge surprise. They were the beneficiary all season from the Eagles dominant defensive front and pass rush. Once the Chiefs offensive line neutralized that expected advantage, the interior defense was exposed.
Nick Bolton never gets mentioned when pundits spew out their repetitive lists of the NFL's best at his position, but that's OK. Bolton is a 22 year old standout who just completed his second season, and isn't even close to entering his prime. Plus, he just became a Super Bowl champion. Life is good, and the young man's future is bright.
Now it's time for the Steelers to find a well rounded, sideline to sideline downhill enforcer of their own. Preferably equipped with the competitive heart of a champion. Like Nick Bolton.