The Buccaneers’ Week 12 defensive performance against the Chiefs is not one they’ll hope to replicate in the Super Bowl. Tampa gave up 543 yards and numerous big plays. Only self-inflicted mistakes by the Chiefs Offense (fumbles, penalties, too-cute red zone play-calling) kept them from a blow-out win. While there will be a few key personnel differences between that first matchup and the Super Bowl, it is worthwhile to take a look back and see how these teams approached each other previously. Our breakdown from Week 12 is below:
It’s fun to watch Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid come together and execute at a high-level, isn’t it? In Week 12 against the Buccaneers, they combined for a passing attack that racked up more than 450 yards and had an answer for everything Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles threw their way.
The Chiefs were able to get two big-play touchdowns out of Tyreek Hill in the first quarter using routes that enabled him to take advantage of his speed and separate from defenders. On the first, a 75-yarder, Hill was able to beat cornerback Carlton Davis deep (despite a large cushion) with an out-an-up route. Focus on the top of the screen.
Hill’s move to the outside got Davis to break on the out-route and stopped him from gaining depth. This allowed Hill to run by him easily.
Even when you play soft zone against Hill, he can still beat you deep, which is why allowing free releases off the line against him is a bad idea.
The problem that Carlton Davis faced on Sunday is that Hill is not so easy to stop in press man either. On the below 44-yard touchdown, Davis got his hands on Hill at the line (#3 receiver inside to the left). He wasn’t able to disrupt his route enough, though. And Hill had space to run away from him across the field on a deep-over route.
It’s a dangerous proposition to try and account for Hill with just one defender. That said, these two touchdown passes had something in common besides Hill’s speed: Mahomes held the deep safety in the middle of the field so he couldn’t provide help on Hill. Below, you can see that Mahomes was looking to his left at the top of his drop right before releasing the ball. Both throws were to the right.
From that point forward, the Buccaneers did everything they could to take away the deep ball. We saw them get to lots of Tampa-2 looks in multiple ways with the middle-seam defender playing extra deep. We also saw more looks like this one below, with 5 defensive backs playing deep against Kansas City’s empty formations.
But what does that coverage do? It leaves fewer defenders underneath. Here, Travis Kelce was left 1-on-1 to run an option route with lots of space.
As the Buccaneers then started to focus on Kelce underneath, openings were created elsewhere. Below, Kelce was aligned as the inside #3 receiver to the right. Watch how the underneath coverage gravitated towards him, leaving a huge window on the backside for Sammy Watkins.
Mahomes’ eyes also played a role in that completion.
With nothing else working, the Buccaneers tried blitzing Mahomes. Of course he and the Chiefs had an answer.
Slide the protection left and throw hot off the free rusher to the right. Easy pitch and catch.
In case you haven’t noticed, Mahomes isn’t a one-trick pony. He can beat you deep or he can beat you with short and quick passes. He is extremely accurate downfield and can fit throws into impossibly tight windows, like on his 3rd touchdown pass of the game.
As impressive as some of the above throws were, Mahomes’ best passes of the day may have come on two 3rd downs in the 4th quarter. This first one is a throw that literally no other QB in the NFL can make.
Mahomes dropped and slid left (and slid and slid and slid) to buy time and avoid the pass rush that he saw coming from his right. Then he flicked the ball 30 yards with ease back into the middle of the field. This is something you can only do if you have his arm strength and the ability to consistently throw from off-balanced positions. That’s one of the best passes you’ll ever see.
On the 3rd-and-7 conversion that sealed the win, Mahomes again made a throw that you really don’t see many quarterbacks make.
This wasn’t impressive for the throw itself. It was the patience with which Mahomes played here that made the completion. Even when it looked like he was going to run it, he still kept a downfield focus that enabled him to find Hill late. As we wrote last week, his ability to make plays late in the down is such a differentiator.
Over the final 3 quarters, the Buccaneers did succeed in preventing the big play, at least to some extent. Mahomes was 11-14 for 229 yards with 2 touchdowns in the first quarter. He completed 26 of 35 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown the rest of the way. Tampa didn’t exactly shut him down, but he only averaged 6.66 yards per attempt over the final 3 quarters.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the Chiefs still had no problems moving the ball, and this chewed up the clock. Kansas City held onto the ball for 28 of the final 45 minutes, including more than 10-and-a-half minutes in the 4th quarter. Those 3rd-down conversions shown above played a large role in that.
It’s amazing that the Chiefs only finished with 27 points. Believe it or not, despite the yards they picked up, they left some big plays and points on the field. Mahomes actually missed a couple of throws. There were also a couple he couldn’t get to because of pressure. Kansas City’s red zone offense was a major culprit as well, scoring just 2 field goals in 3 trips inside Tampa’s 20-yard line. You can blame some of that on the Buccaneers’ pass rush. Some of it was self-inflicted. Just a thought, but maybe calling a double-reverse pass with tight end Travis Kelce throwing the ball is not a great idea when Patrick Mahomes is your quarterback. That said, criticizing Andy Reid’s play calling is generally not warranted. Given his track record, he’s allowed to make a mistake once in a while.
Red-zone woes aside, the Chiefs appear to be rolling on all cylinders as we head into the home stretch of the season.
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