Among all the interesting things there are to know about Super Bowl LV, the one I find myself drawn to most often is that for just the 14th time in Super Bowl history, the game will be a rematch of a game played during the regular season. As our John Breech explored last week, the victorious team in the regular-season matchup is just 6-7 in the rematch, with AFC teams going 0-4 in their attempts to secure a two-game sweep.
As you likely know by now, the Chiefs have the opportunity to break that streak. Kansas City defeated the Buccaneers, 27-24, back in Week 12, behind an explosive performance from Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. Mahomes completed 37 of 49 passes for 462 yards and three touchdowns. Hill hauled in 13 of 15 targets for 269 yards and was on the receiving end of all three of Mahomes' scores.
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Put simply, the Bucs had absolutely no answer for either of them, and because they didn't, they lost the game. If they're to reverse the result this time around, they'll have to figure something out. So, it's worth looking at exactly what happened in that first game, how it happened, and what -- if anything -- the Bucs may be able to do about it on Sunday night.
Before we get into the details, let's just note what exactly happened on Hill's 15 targets. It's pretty incredible:
- 1st and 10, KC 25: Jet motion wheel route with RPO vs. Cover-2, complete for 34 yards
- 2nd and 9, TB 30: Isolation fade route vs. Cover-1, complete for 23 yards
- 2nd and 2, KC 30: Jet motion touch pass, complete for 1 yard
- 1st and 10, KC 25: Out-and-up vs. Cover-3, complete for 75-yard TD
- 2nd and 2, KC 18: RPO pop pass vs. Cover-3, complete for 19 yards
- 2nd and 10, TB 46: Sprint rollout quick-out vs. Cover-4, complete for 7 yards
- 3rd and 8, TB 44: Deep over vs. Cover-1, complete for 44-yard TD
- 1st and 10, TB 34: Play-action corner route vs. Cover-3, incomplete (under-thrown by Mahomes)
- 1st and 15, KC 31: Sprint rollout hitch vs. Cover-3, complete for 7 yards
- 2nd and 8, KC 27: Fade vs. Cover-2, complete for 21 yards
- 1st and 15, KC 43: Hitch vs. Cover-4, complete for 4 yards
- 1st and 10, TB 26: RPO quick-out vs. Cover-4, complete for 6 yards
- 2nd and 4, TB 20: Fade vs. Cover-1, complete for 20-yard TD
- 1st and 20, TB 43: Jet motion wheel route with RPO, incomplete (over-thrown by Mahomes)
- 3rd and 7, TB 49: Sprint rollout fade-switch stop route vs. 2-Man, complete for 8 yards
It's pretty breathtaking to watch all the completions in a row.
The most noticeable thing about the video -- apart from the relative ease with which Mahomes and Hill tore through the Buccaneers' pass defense -- is the wide variety of formations, routes, and coverages that get used. Early in the game, the Bucs tried to use a bunch of single-high safety looks (Cover-1 and Cover-3), and the Chiefs beat them. Later in the game, they went to more Cover-2 and Cover-4, and the Chiefs beat them. Poor Carlton Davis got tasked with following Hill wherever he went on the field for most of the game, and got absolutely roasted the entire afternoon. No matter what changes Tampa made, Mahomes and Hill had an answer.
The answers were there for Mahomes all game, and not just when targeting Hill. Take a look at Tampa's coverage breakdown, and how Mahomes performed against each of them, courtesy of Pro Football Focus and Tru Media.
The single-high safety looks got torched by Hill early in the game, so the Bucs changed things up a bit in the second half, which you can see by taking a look at the coverage breakdowns before and after halftime.
|Coverage||1st Half||% Dropbacks||2nd Half||% Dropbacks||Difference|
The more passive strategy the Bucs used in the second half wasn't limited to their coverages. They also blitzed far less often after the break. Mahomes lit up their blitzes by going 5 of 8 for 86 yards and a touchdown in the first half, so Todd Bowles only sent one blitz in the second half. It didn't much matter. When Tampa sat back in soft zones, he just continually found Travis Kelce on underneath routes. The Chiefs repeatedly took advantage of Kelce being matched up on a linebacker or safety in space, where the Bucs just had no hope of containing him.
So, what are the Bucs to do? Playing man is ill-advised because the Chiefs have the matchup advantages with Hill and Kelce. Hill is far too fast for any Bucs defensive back, and Kelce's combination of size, quickness, and creativity is unmatchable by any linebacker or safety. Even putting a corner on him doesn't really work. Just ask Denzel Ward. Playing zone doesn't exactly result in their being shut down, because the Chiefs just attack the holes with either Hill (down the sidelines against Cover-3) or Kelce (underneath and over the middle against Cover-2 and Cover-4).
There are, of course, no easy answers. There is no one coverage where you can just say "that's how to beat the Chiefs." It doesn't exist. You have to mix and match, try to confuse them, no matter how difficult that may be to actually pull off.
The key -- not that it's breaking any news to say this -- doesn't have to do with coverage at all. It's about pressure, and specifically pressure that keeps Mahomes boxed into the pocket. The kind of pressure the Bucs got against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC title game. In other words, slowing down Hill and Kelce is likely to be far more about Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett than it is about Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jordan Whitehead, Antoine Winfield Jr., Lavonte David, or Devin White. We'll dig into that and more in the matchups preview on Friday.