Tom Brady was the MVP, but Super Bowl LV was won before anyone touched the football at Raymond James Stadium. It was won when Andy Reid and his staff lost the coaching battle to Bruce Arians and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Mike Remmers, a backup starting in place of injured right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, moved over to the left. Andrew Wylie shifted from guard to tackle on the other side, while Stefan Wisniewski made his first start of the season.
This weakened front was always going to be vulnerable against the Bucs’ cadre of elite pass-rushers. Reid needed a plan to hide an obvious weakness. He could have gone with two-tight end sets or stacked receivers close to the line of scrimmage as part of tight formations. Reid could even have overloaded his line with a sixth blocker.
Any one of those things would have allowed the Chiefs to double at least one of Tampa’s dangerous edge-rushers, Shaquil Barrett or Jason Pierre-Paul. Tight ends helping out would have left interior blockers to gang up on Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston, anything to give Mahomes more time in the pocket.
Instead, the Chiefs tried to play their normal game. Release multiple receivers deep and trust five down linemen to keep Mahomes clean.
KC used 5 man protection on 92% of dropbacks (48 of 52). They left those two backup OT's w/o help & it was a big mistake. h/t @NextGenStats
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 8, 2021
Mahomes suffered three sacks and a Super Bowl-record 29 pressures thanks to this fatal mistake. The most dynamic quarterback in the NFL rarely had time to draw breath before the pass rush engulfed him, let alone wait for Tyreek Hill to uncover deep.
Reid didn’t have the personnel in the trenches to indulge this kind of risk, but he didn’t adapt his gameplan. That was obvious from how little the Chiefs ran the ball.
Tampa defensive coordinator Todd Bowles knew his pass-rushers would run riot against a depleted O-line, so he relied on four-man pressure. Bowles played a two-deep shell behind the rush, with a pair of safeties deep and five defenders underneath.
Keeping both safeties deep left the Buccaneers vulnerable to the run. Clyde Edwards-Helaire looked more than capable of exploiting this weakness, averaging 7.1 yards per attempt, but the rookie carried the ball only nine times.
Mahomes handed the ball off a mere 12 times in total. Most of the Chiefs’ success on the ground came from the quarterback desperately scrambling away from pressure.
Bieniemy, a former running back, should have called enough runs to drive the Bucs out of their two-deep looks. But he let Mahomes target the deep strikes Bowles’ scheme was designed to take away.
Tampa played more 2-Man vs. Mahomes than I anticipated (17.9% of coverage snaps).
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 8, 2021
There’s been a lot of justifiable rancour about Bieniemy’s inability to land a head-coaching gig. Failing to adjust on the big stage may provide an answer about why teams remain lukewarm on Bieniemy. Especially when his opposite number, Bucs’ OC Byron Leftwich, called a terrific game.
Leftwich knew Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wanted to blitz Brady, so the Buccaneers shortened the game. They created manageable down-and-distance situations by leaning on a ground attack. Spagnuolo couldn’t call blitzes on 3rd downs short enough to make the run a still realistic option.
(II) Play Action Success
All three of Brady's touchdown passes came off of play-action. Brady used a play-fake on 43% of dropbacks, his highest rate in a game in the NGS era (since 2016).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) February 8, 2021
Not only did Brady punish the Chiefs off of play-action he also made intelligent use of the screen game. Brady completed four passes to Fournette. Most of them were on middle screens into space behind blitzing defenders and in front of those bailing into zone coverage.
Spagnuolo loves fire-zone blitzes that fall into some kind of Cover 3, three defenders deep and three underneath. Rather than trying to diagnose who would rush and who would drop, Brady made quick, short throws into the obvious voids in the zones. Simple, yet highly effective stuff that rendered one of the Chiefs’ primary tactics moot.
This was a far cry from the vertical passing game Arians loves. Unlike Reid, Arians let his assistants tweak his familiar formula. Leftwich used power running and short passing, while the usually blitz-happy Bowles called safe coverages.
The Chiefs’ coaches didn’t just botch the X’s and O’s. Reid’s team wasn’t ready to play, evidenced by frequent lapses in discipline and failure to execute simple procedures. Chris Jones‘ needless personal foul prolonged a Bucs’ scoring drive. Kansas City lined up in the neutral zone on a field-goal attempt and gave Brady a fresh set of downs he turned into another touchdown.
90 penalty yards are the most by any team in a quarter of ANY game since Week 1 of 2018, when the Raiders had 110 penalty yards in the 2nd quarter. pic.twitter.com/gqTJUl52EL
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 8, 2021
For a team that won last season’s Super Bowl, the Chiefs were oddly unfocused on the big stage this time. Discipline and preparation are a coach’s bread and butter.
There were plenty of surprises in Super Bowl LV. The Bucs won in a blowout, Mahomes looked ordinary, and Fournette ended a season that began with him being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars putting up MVP-worthy numbers.
Reid being caught cold in the battle of wits was the biggest surprise of all. He’s one of the coaching greats and has assembled a brilliant staff, but Reid wasn’t as creative as Arians and Co.
They came up with answers to problems that were unique to this matchup. The Chiefs simply tried to punch through with what they’ve always done, even though injuries and the pattern of the game wouldn’t allow it.