When the Buccaneers and Chiefs played in Week 12, Tampa seemed to have no plan to treat Tyreek Hill like he was special. They left him in lots of 1-on-1 situations, and he responded with 7 receptions for 203 yards and 2 touchdowns…IN THE FIRST QUARTER! Balance has been so important to the effectiveness of the Buccaneers Offense all postseason, so the defense can’t allow Hill to go off like he did in Week 12 and make them one dimensional.
So how should the Bucs handle Hill differently this time? They can take a coverage approach, at least in select situations, that prioritizes removing Hill from the play. This would be similar to the approach they took in the NFC Championship Game. The Buccaneers double-teamed Davante Adams on several snaps. The same approach against Hill seems warranted. The Chiefs’ other pass-catching options, including Travis Kelce, are really good. But Hill can wreck a game unlike anyone else in the NFL.
Taking Hill away calls to mind an approach used by Bill Belichick and the Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. New England rolled coverage over the top of Hill throughout the night, as you can see on this play. Focus on Hill at the top of the screen:
Using this approach, the Patriots kept the Chiefs scoreless for an entire half and limited Hill to just 1 catch for 42 yards on the night.
Keep in mind that this approach also requires excellent execution. Hill can still find ways to get open downfield against double-teams, as you can see below from the Chiefs’ Week 14 win against the Dolphins:
One thing to notice about the difference between the two above double-teams is that the inside was taken away on the snap against the Patriots, making the safety help over the top easier to execute. There was really only one place Hill could go. On the touchdown against the Dolphins, Hill was given a free release inside. The safety dropped down to take away any routes across the field, where Hill is so dangerous. However, that left him vulnerable over the top, which was where Hill was taking his route on this play. With the free release inside and Hill able to build up speed, he was able to get open downfield for a touchdown despite two defenders accounting for him.
The Chiefs used play-action and designed movement on this play to get the Dolphins D-line moving laterally and Mahomes moving away from pressure. This bought time and allowed Hill’s speed to beat Miami’s secondary.
Finding ways like this to give Mahomes time to throw will be key for the Chiefs with their banged up O-line facing a ferocious Tampa pass rush.
Even if Hill is taken away with doubles, his presence will lead to 1-on-1 opportunities elsewhere. This game-winning touchdown pass in Kansas City’s Week 16 victory over the Falcons is a great example.
Focus on Hill in the slot to the left. Watch his man and the deep middle safety go with him, creating a void for Demarcus Robinson on the outside.
As we mentioned previously, the Buccaneers have shown the willingness to double-team an offense’s best receiver. With Davante Adams double-teamed in the NFC Championship Game, the Packers were able to get big plays from other receivers in 1-on-1’s, like on this 50-yard touchdown pass.
It’s a safe bet that Andy Reid and Mahomes will find ways to take advantage of 1-on-1’s elsewhere if Hill gets extra attention.
Everything is a matter of degree when it comes to play-calling. The Buccaneers likely won’t double Hill on every single play. The more they can, however, the better chance they have of keeping the Chiefs from creating big plays through the air and the greater likelihood they’ll have of disrupting drives by taking advantage of Kansas City’s banged-up offensive line. They have to make sure they execute their doubles well and then handle their 1-on-1 matchups elsewhere. Otherwise they’ll end up with results similar to what happened in Week 12.