Balanced Buccaneers Offense Controlled the Chiefs Defense in Super Bowl LV

In their Week 12 loss to the Chiefs, the Buccaneers Offense struggled to handle Kansas City’s aggressiveness on defense. This was largely because they spread it out and were one dimensional. Tampa called a pass on more than 75% of their offensive plays in that game, which allowed the Chiefs to take full advantage with their blitz schemes. In the Super Bowl, however, the Buccaneers adjusted by using personnel groupings that tempered the Chiefs Defense and striking an almost-perfect balance on offense.

Throughout the night, the Buccaneers used more base personnel packages and even had an extra offensive lineman on nearly a third of their offensive snaps. This forced the Chiefs to also match up in base personnel more often. Why was this an issue? The success of the Chiefs Defense is largely based on their ability to attack with speed and aggressiveness. They predominantly like to blitz out of nickel and dime personnel. That was mostly taken away with the bigger personnel groupings. After blitzing more than 50% of the time in their first matchup with great success, the Chiefs only ended up blitzing 30% of the time in the Super Bowl.

Taking away Brady kneels and one aborted snap, the Buccaneers called 29 runs and 30 passes. The ability to play with balance only helped their play-action become that much more effective. We said coming into the Super Bowl that the Buccaneers should lean more on play-action against the Chiefs. They only called play-action on 6 of 42 pass plays in that first matchup, allowing the Chiefs’ pass rush to pin their ears back and get after Brady with those aggressive blitz schemes. This time, however, Tampa called play-action on 13 of 30 passes, a whopping 43%. This helped to completely slow down the pass rush, whether Kansas City was blitzing or not. Brady had all day to throw, and the results were outstanding. He completed 10 of 13 passes off play-action for 135 yards and 3 touchdowns.

On their third drive of the game, you could see the Buccaneers start to go to work on the Chiefs’ pass rush. This was play-action to the right with a screen left to tight end Cameron Brate. Watch how the entire D-line reacted to the run-fake.

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It seemed like the Chiefs were on their heels from that point forward.

3 plays later, the Buccaneers were in the end zone, again off of play-action. Focus on the matchup between Rob Gronkowski and safety Daniel Sorensen.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Bucs used zone-run play-action to their right and brought Gronkowski underneath the formation to the left. This is split-flow action that they often use in the run game, with Gronkowski kicking out on the back side. But Gronkowski wouldn’t block on this play. Instead, he released to the flat. His man, Sorensen, was caught looking inside at the run-action, which enabled Gronk to outflank him to the edge for the easy touchdown.

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That wouldn’t be the last time the Buccaneers were able to use play-action to take advantage of the Gronkowski vs. Sorensen matchup.

On their first drive of the 3rd quarter, the Bucs again went with play-action, this time pulling center Ryan Jensen to sell the run. Watch Sorensen (#49), who was again responsible for Gronk in man coverage. He fell off of Gronk in response to the run action, and the result was an easy 25-yard gain that set up Tampa’s 4th touchdown.

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Play-action can influence the defense at all levels, and that’s exactly what we saw throughout the Super Bowl. Tampa’s pulling linemen and good run fakes held up the pass rush and moved defenders in coverage all night.

The Buccaneers didn’t just use play-action to dink and dunk it down the field with safe throws, though. They were also able to use it to generate some big plays at the intermediate level. Below is a great example.

First, notice that 6 offensive-linemen look we mentioned earlier.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Next, watch right guard Aaron Stinnie (#64) pull across the formation, forcing defensive end Alex Okafor to hesitate before rushing Brady.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The rest of the Chiefs’ pass rush also hesitated in response to the run action, leaving Brady with a ton of time and space to hit a wide-open Mike Evans.

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From the sideline angle, focus on the matchup of Evans vs. Bashaud Breeland. Breeland was beaten badly on this play, losing his feet after Evans’ initial move to the outside.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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Breeland had a rough night all the way around. That said, this is a great example of what play-action can do. It gives the quarterback time and a nice clean pocket because of the impact on the defensive line. It also allows receivers the time to be patient with their routes and create separation downfield against man coverage.

Brady’s second touchdown pass of the night was another great example of this. The Buccaneers again used play-action, freezing the defensive line and thwarting K.C.’s pass rush. Brady had so much time that he was able to sit in the pocket and scan sideline-to-sideline, as illustrated below.

Off of the play-action, Brady initially looked to Gronk on his right.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass
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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Gronk’s route was disrupted, so Brady turned to the opposite side of the field.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Both of his receivers were covered, so Brady moved back to Chris Godwin in the middle.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

With Godwin taken away, Brady came all the way back to Gronk on the right, who was able to slip away from his man.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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It’s tough for any defender to have to cover for that long, and L’Jarius Sneed eventually lost track of Gronkowski because of how late in the play it was.

I’m not sure there is a better play to illustrate just how devastating it was for the Chiefs to not get a pass rush on Brady. You can get a better feel for the time Brady had and the way he calmly worked through his reads from the end zone angle below.

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Fun historical side note: This play was interestingly reminiscent of another great quarterback scanning the entire field and throwing a touchdown in a previous Super Bowl (Joe Montana – Super Bowl XXIV).

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What’s the lesson here? It’s pretty straight forward. The #1 way to lose to a great quarterback is to not get a pass rush. The Chiefs were barely even able to breathe on Tom Brady all night. The results, on their end, were disastrous.

As mentioned earlier, the Buccaneers were able to get great balance on offense, continuing a trend that started in the Wild Card Round. The rushing attack helped settle the Buccaneers down after two quick drives that ended in punts to start the game.

Taking away Brady’s kneels and that aborted snap, the Bucs finished with 147 yards on 29 carries (5.07 yards per carry). Their success came largely on the strength of gap scheme runs, including Leonard Fournette’s 27-yard touchdown. Again, notice the bigger personnel they used on this play – 2 tight ends and an extra offensive lineman.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Chiefs were clearly caught off guard by the formation here. They were late to align and ended up at a complete numbers-disadvantage. As you can see below, the Buccaneers had 5 blockers to the play-side for 5 defenders pre-snap.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Throw in the pulling guard and the business decision made by Charvarius Ward, and this run was destined to finish in the end zone.

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That touchdown gave the Buccaneers a 28-9 lead and put them in total control of the game. Tampa continued punishing the Chiefs with their rushing attack for the remainder of the night as they counted down the minutes to a Super Bowl title.

After running the ball on just 36.3% of their snaps during the regular season (3rd lowest rate in the NFL), the Buccaneers ran the ball on 45.7% of their snaps in the playoffs (equivalent to the 7th most in the NFL during the regular season). The increased commitment to the run certainly helped their play-action game. In fact, Brady’s numbers on play-action in the playoffs were simply staggering (26-41, 408 yards, 7 TD, 0 INT, 136.0 QB rating).

From the Chiefs’ standpoint, it’s only fair to bring up some of the penalties called against them in the 2nd quarter and wonder “what if?” The Charvarius Ward holding penalty on the Tyrann Mathieu interception was a bad call, plain and simple. Whatever holding he did on that play was minimal compared to Mike Evans doing his best Clubber-Lang-Rocky-III impersonation and trying to launch Ward across the ring. That flag should not have been thrown, and it unfortunately had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

I also would have liked to see the refs pick up the flag on the PI call against Mathieu in the end zone at the end of the first half. Not only was that ball uncatchable, but Brady was basically throwing it away in response to pressure. By the letter of the law it was a penalty. In a championship game, though, it should not have drawn a flag. Don’t reward the offense when they lose the down.

That said, some of Kansas City’s other penalties were just self-inflicted. Chris Jones’ personal foul penalty might have been a reaction to Ryan Jensen, but he should have known better. The second guy always gets caught. Was it really worth it to risk a penalty just to get an extra push in on a guy you’re going to hit on the very next play anyway? Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they missed out on an opportunity for a 3rd-and-long, a situation that was rare on Super Sunday and one where Kansas City is generally able to do most of their damage with intricate blitz schemes.

On the 34-yard pass interference that was called against Bashaud Breeland, replay showed that his feet got tangled up with Evans and that forced Breeland to fall. Whether he was reaching out to brace his fall or to intentionally trip Evans, it looked like he tripped him on purpose in real time. Without the benefit of replay, I can see why the ref made that call. The bigger issue was that Breeland even let Evans by him in the first place. You can see the play below from the All-22. Focus on Breeland and Evans at the top of the screen.

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It seems kind of ridiculous we have to say this for the second game in a row, but in that situation you absolutely cannot allow your receiver to get on top of you. There were 24 seconds left in the half. Tampa had just done the same exact thing in their previous game against Green Bay in the NFC Championship. The lack of situational awareness here is mind-boggling.

It’s also probably fair to criticize Andy Reid for calling timeouts on Tampa’s final drive to try and get the ball back one final time. It made sense that they wanted to get as many opportunities to score as possible given how the first half had gone. I didn’t have a problem with the first timeout Reid called. Once the Buccaneers got to 3rd-and-2 and increased the likelihood of a conversion in their favor, it probably would have been a good idea to just hold off and go to the locker room at that point. That said, none of this would have been an issue had Breeland kept Mike Evans in front of him.

I do think the officiating crew’s presence was felt way too much for a Super Bowl. Still, it’s unfair to say a couple of questionable calls determined the outcome of this game. The Buccaneers out-coached, out-played, out-smarted, and out-willed the Chiefs in just about every phase of the game. Their ability to keep the Chiefs Offense dormant allowed them to play the way they did on offense – simple and controlled.

We often only give credit to coaches for intricate design and never-before-seen schemes. In Super Bowl LV, the Buccaneers didn’t do anything earth-shattering. Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich each utilized an approach that took away Kansas City’s most dangerous game-wrecking elements (Tyreek Hill on offense and Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz schemes on defense). Tampa’s tremendous talent was put in position to dominate the game. That is just as good a job of coaching as any unconventional scheme or gameplan that completely fools an opponent. The Buccaneers are Super Bowl champs as a result.

One comment

  1. With Tampa Bays defense starting strong and Brady being on his game, they certainly set the tone. Once ahead, they stayed ahead and Kansas never got fully on track. They both learned.

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