Super Bowl LV Preview: Buccaneers (11-5) vs. Chiefs (14-2)

We’ve heard an awful lot about Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady during the last two weeks. It makes for good drama and television. Unfortunately, the two quarterbacks will never be on the field at the same time during the Super Bowl. This is not a match up between Mahomes and Brady. This is Mahomes and the Chiefs Offense vs. the Buccaneers Defense. This is Brady and the Buccaneers Offense vs. the Chiefs Defense. Below, you can see how they match up head-to-head:

Buccaneers Offense vs. Chiefs Defense
STATS TBO KCD
Chiefs Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
STATS TBD KCO
K.C.’s Offensive Line Concerns
When the Chiefs have the ball, the matchup that will likely have the biggest impact on the game’s outcome is the Buccaneers’ pass rush against Kansas City’s protection. The Chiefs’ offensive line has been banged up all year, and they took a significant hit with the loss of Eric Fisher. In the Super Bowl, it looks like we will see Mike Remmers moving from right tackle to left tackle, Andrew Wylie moving from right guard to right tackle, and Stefen Wisniewski sliding into the starting role at right guard. That’s 3 positions across the offensive line that will have different starters from what the Chiefs used during the home stretch of the season. Not ideal.

That said, Andy Reid will likely find ways to move Mahomes around and force Tampa’s D-line to hesitate, like he did in that Week 12 matchup. In that game, 23 of 53 called passes (43.4%) were either play-action, RPOs, or designed movement (and there was 1 shovel pass in there). This kept Tampa’s pass rush guessing all day, and Mahomes torched them for 462 passing yards. Even with their banged up O-line, I think the Chiefs will still find ways to be an explosive offense on Sunday.

Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce
We wrote earlier this week about how the Buccaneers might treat Tyreek Hill so that he doesn’t have a monster game like he did in Week 12. It’s likely that Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles will take a different approach and dedicate extra attention to Hill to keep him from getting consistent 1-on-1 matchups throughout the night.

If the Buccaneers do aim to take Hill away, it’s not hard to see tight end Travis Kelce benefitting. Expect to see the below look often, a 3×1 set with Kelce isolated in the slot to the 1-receiver side. The Chiefs have used this formation frequently throughout the season to help define the coverage for Mahomes, force the defense to focus on all the speed to the 3-receiver side, and then get Kelce an advantageous iso matchup. Look at all the attention Tyreek Hill drew here (#3 inside receiver to the right), enabling Kelce to get a 1-on-1 in space with no help defenders nearby.

KelceTDvsBrowns3x1SBLVPre_SL

The Buccaneers will have to pick their poison on defense and keep pace on the other side of the ball to win this one.

Tom Brady vs. the Aggressive Chiefs Defense
So how can Tampa find ways to put points on the board? By beating man coverage and the blitz. In that Week 12 matchup, the Chiefs were aggressive (as they have been all season). They blitzed on more than 50% of the Buccaneers’ called pass plays and played man coverage on more than 50% as well. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers struggled against both.

Kansas City loves to use nickel and dime personnel to get more defensive backs and speed on the field. In their first matchup, the Chiefs’ ability to blitz with speed and utilize schemes that create free rushers limited Brady’s ability to read the field post snap and find the open receiver. Instead, he often had to pick his receivers pre-snap, hope his decision was right, and then get rid of the ball quickly. It wouldn’t be a surprise, then, to see the Buccaneers come out in “12” personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) a little more often. This would, in theory, force the Chiefs into nickel, get less speed on the field, and limit their blitzing capabilities.

Buccaneers Run Game and Play-Action
I don’t anticipate the Buccaneers winning due to their running game. However, in the playoffs they have increased their run frequency (43.6% from 37.5% in the regular season) and their use of play-action off of it (more than 25% in the playoffs from less than 18% in the regular season). This has been done to limit opposing pass rushes, and it will likely be the same approach Tampa uses in the Super Bowl to keep Kansas City from being able to attack quite so aggressively with their blitz schemes.

Steve Spagnuolo’s Disguises and Late Movement
So what do the Chiefs need to do to stop Brady and the Bucs? Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will likely play lots of man coverage and blitz frequently again. However, they can’t do that on every snap. When they play zone and don’t blitz, it will be critical that they do a better job of disguising their looks than they did in Week 12. Brady picked them apart on snaps where they took a more straight-forward approach (9-11, 126 yds, TD, 144.7 QB Rating vs. zone coverage & no blitz). Kansas City’s front-4, while good, will not win this matchup on its own.

Luckily for the Chiefs, Spagnuolo generally does a great job of using disguise and late movement to slow down the decision-making process for quarterbacks. Often, Tyrann Mathieu is lurking at the center of those disguises. Below is a common look we’ve seen out of Kansas City under Spagnuolo. Watch how the Chiefs showed a blitz initially but then dropped out into cover-2 with Mathieu moving to the middle hole position.

MathieuDisguseSBLVPreviewPIC
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

You can see that Mathieu didn’t rush to get to his spot. Instead, he slowly lurked and read the quarterback’s eyes.

MathieuINTvsDENDisguiseSBLVPre_SL

It will take disguises like that (and even better than that) to keep Brady off balance in the Super Bowl.

Prediction
That Week 12 matchup was decided by just 3 points, but it really wasn’t that close of a game. The Chiefs were the better team on both sides of the ball. If not for some self-inflicted mistakes, they would have won by at least two scores.

However, these teams are much closer now than they were 10 weeks ago. In what is truly one of the most intriguing matchups in Super Bowl history, I like the Buccaneers to keep it close but the Chiefs to win by a score of 35-27.

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