Super Bowl LV is a showdown between two powerhouse offenses, featuring maybe the best quarterback matchup in Super Bowl history. The GOAT vs the Kid, the old vs the new, the passing of the torch, whatever you want to call it, the matchup between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes will be an epic and historic moment for the game of football. However, while it’ll be fun to these two greats go head-to-head, neither of them will be the X-Factor in this game.
Both the Chiefs and the Buccaneers have dynamic offenses who won’t have trouble moving the ball down the field. However, both teams have glaring weaknesses on defense, it’s just a matter of who exploits those weaknesses more effectively.
Decoy Tyreek Hill
Last time the Chiefs played the Buccaneers in week 12, Tyreek Hill had over 200 yards and 2 Touchdowns… in the first quarter. I would say those are videogame numbers, but even Madden rookie mode might not allow that stat line. Tyreek Hill is chilling rent-free in Bucs HC Bruce Arians’ and DC Todd Bowles’ heads right now. He’s just lounging by the amygdala with a coconut pina colada while the Bucs try to figure out how to stop down the fastest man in the NFL (Scotty Miller, I’m sorry, but you’re delusional).
As ridiculous as Hill is, Bowles and Arians aren’t going to let him make a fool out of them in the Super Bowl. They will have 2-3 deep safeties and safety help on his side at all times. Unfortunately for the Bucs, that will leave room for the ever-so-reliable, and possibly even more dangerous, Travis Kelce to wreak havoc on underneath zones the entire game. The Bucs secondary is actively bad and they just aren’t up to the task of holding down the league’s top passing attack. Assuming that the Bucs pour a lot of effort into guarding Hill, I predict about 150 yards and 2 TDs from Kelce, so take the over on all his props.
Attack Jamel Dean
Jamel Dean has had a pretty rough playoff stretch. In the Wildcard against Washington, Dean was primarily lined up against Cam Sims, who finished with seven receptions for 104 yards. He held up pretty well against Emmanuel Sanders and the Saints, but then again, Drew Brees looked like Captain America at the end of Endgame. Then in the NFC Championship, Dean got absolutely charred by Marquez Valdez-Scantling of all people. He got beat deep twice and MVS finished with 4 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The Bucs can’t afford to give Dean any extra help with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to deal with. So, if the Chiefs can line up a combination of Demarcus Robinson, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman on the outside throughout the game, Dean will be in for a rough night. Using Tyreek Hill as a decoy will again come in handy when the Chiefs inevitably test Jamel Dean deep. Look for Demarcus Robinson, who has a height and athleticism advantage in that matchup, to make a key play or two for this offense. The Chiefs have every opportunity to pour on the points against a tragic Bucs secondary.
Pressure Tom Brady
It’s no secret that Tom Brady has been poor under pressure this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady completed just 41% of passes under duress in the regular season, while he completed 71% when the pocket was clean. In the playoffs those marks are even worse: he has a 61% completion percentage when pressure-free, and under duress, he has completed a pathetic 29%. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, getting to Tom Brady is no easy task.
From week 9-16, Brady was only sacked 8 times. They also only lost two games in that span, one of which was to the Chiefs. The Bucs offensive line has improved greatly from last season, largely thanks to first-round pick OT Tristan Wirfs. It’s been extremely difficult to get to Brady without bringing a little extra, which is always dangerous against a veteran mind like Brady. He can read defenses better than any other QB in the history of the game, so blitzing is always a risk. Luckily, the Chiefs have one of the better secondaries in the league, which leads me to the next key to success for this defense.
The Chiefs cornerback trio of Bashaud Breeland, Charvarious Ward, and L’Jarius Sneed is colossally underrated. They may not be household names, but together, they make up a fearsome pass defense. The Chiefs are going to dial up a lot of different coverages in this game, they know they can’t be predictable against the GOAT, but expect a lot of man blitzes to try to take advantage of Brady’s poor accuracy under pressure.
These DBs will have to give their pass rush enough of a cushion to get to Brady because he will read those blitzes easily. The Chiefs corners will need to get up to the line and knock the Bucs wideouts off their routes early. Press or tight coverage and blitzes against the Bucs’ vertical passing attack may not be the safest tactic, but it’ll give the Chiefs the best chance to force incompletions and cripple the Chiefs’ offense. This will be the secondary’s biggest test of the season on the biggest stage in sports. It should be fun to watch.
Lean on the Run Early (Clock Control)
The key to this game for the Bucs is controlling the clock on both sides of the ball, and to do that, they have to be successful in the run game. The Bucs should have a very specific game script. They have one significant advantage over the Chiefs, and it’s in the run game. The Chiefs’ run defense has been downright dreadful this season and the Bucs have a top offensive line to go along with an explosive running back duo in Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette.
The Bucs need to try to control the narrative of this game early by running the ball and taking the time off the clock before the chiefs stomp all over their defense and it becomes a shootout. Once that happens, the Bucs will abandon the run-first mindset and Brady will have to let it fly. If the Bucs can get 2 scores on the board early by creeping down the field primarily on the ground, they will wear out the Chiefs defense both mentally and physically and be in good shape to finish out the game through the air.
Give Brady the Offense
Bruce Arians says the reason that Brady has done so well is because Arians lets him coach while Bellicheck didn’t. This is his chance to prove it. Tom Brady said that he does well in the snow because his mind doesn’t slow down, but their bodies do. I know this game isn’t in the snow, but that quote still holds value. Brady has been here nine times and won six times. He knows what it takes to win a Super Bowl, how to predict and read defensive schemes, and how to pick apart a defense.
In a weird way, Tom Brady is the best coach you could have because he can do exactly what he envisions as a play-caller. This is familiar territory for Brady, he’s at home in Tampa and he’s at home in the Super Bowl. I know that Brady and Arians are at odds sometimes, but Brady having a say in the play calling will give them the best chance to win. This game could cement Brady’s legacy as the best of all time and make it a lot harder for Mahomes, or anyone else, to catch him. A competitor like Brady physically can’t squander that opportunity.
Disguised Zone Coverages
The Chiefs’ offense is practically unstoppable. No team in the league can match up with them man to man, especially not the Bucs’ vulnerable secondary. The best chance the Bucs have to throw off the Chiefs’ offense is to bring a combination of disguised zone coverages with a significant decrease in blitzes.
The Bucs have the fifth-highest blitz percentage in the league according to Pro Football Reference, but Mahomes’ trademark backpedal flick and his elusiveness in the pocket will make that terrifying Bucs pass rush look like a pee-wee practice. Being unpredictable on defense and disguising coverages will, at the very least, give the Bucs bare pass rush some time to get after Mahomes. However, even that won’t really stop this Chiefs offense.
Deep/Off Coverage (Clock Control)
The Bucs can go down the field and score almost as well as the Chiefs. What they can’t do is score as quickly as the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes can throw 6 passes and score in less than three minutes on every drive, but the Bucs are at their best when they march down the field slowly with a mix of runs, short passes, and a deep shot or two. Unfortunately, the Bucs will get worn out quickly if they have to come back on the field and score every five minutes because the Chiefs keep picking apart their secondary like an apple orchard.
So, the Bucs will need to play a deep cover three and just give up the underneath yards. That way, time will be ticking off the clock and their offense will have time to rest. If the Chiefs score quickly and often, the Bucs have already lost. This is the scheme that many teams have chosen to implement against the Chiefs: ‘we know they can’t stop them, so we might as well slow them down,” and sometimes that still doesn’t work. The Bucs still need to play effectively in deep zones against the most dynamic and spacially aware passing attack in the NFL. It’s a tall order, but if the Bucs can succeed at just one of these keys to success, they will be in this game. This should be one of the best Super Bowls we have seen in the past 20 years and I can’t wait to see the strategies that these two teams think up.