Picking a winner in Super Bowl LV is tricky business because the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers match up so well. There’s a reason their game in Week 12 was decided by only three points, with the Chiefs surviving a late rally and hanging on for a 27-24 win.
Brady’s enshrinement in history is secure thanks to six Super Bowl rings. That record tally was accrued with the New England Patriots, but Brady is back looking for a seventh with his new team because the Bucs have surrounded him with weapons.
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, and Ronald Jones II are the headline acts in an enviable supporting cast. Mahomes is perhaps the only quarterback in the NFL who doesn’t envy the array of talent around Brady. Why would he when Mahomes has Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Mecole Hardman for support?
You can’t separate these offenses and nor can you find daylight between the two defenses. The Bucs have the beef up front thanks to Ndamukong Suh, Shaquil Barrett, and Jason Pierre-Paul. Running the football against this group is out of the question.
Kansas City is far from short of playmakers on this side of the ball. Tyrann Mathieu is the master of all trades as the leader of a useful secondary. Pass-rushers Chris Jones and Frank Clark will have appeared in a few of Brady’s nightmares this week.
This Super Bowl will be decided by who makes the most intelligent use of the few matchups they can win. Here are the three most important duels to look for…
Injury-depleted Chiefs O-line vs Bucs’ pass rush
The Chiefs couldn’t have picked a worse time to be depleted along the offensive line. Yet that’s the challenge facing head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. They will be without bookend tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher.
As #Chiefs coach Andy Reid insinuated, LT Eric Fisher tore his Achilles last night and faces a long road of recovery, source said. KC heads to another Super Bowl, but it will do so without its standout O-lineman.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 25, 2021
Fisher’s the key loss because the Pro-Bowler’s injury will mean Mike Remmers moving over to left tackle. Remmers has replaced Schwartz on the right this season, but he’s playing on his ninth different team in 11 seasons.
One of his former haunts was the Carolina Panthers in 2015. Remmers started at left tackle in Super Bowl 50 when Von Miller ran riot and was named MVP after helping the Denver Broncos take home the Lombardi Trophy.
Remmers’ assignment in this Super Bowl will be no less tough. He’ll be squaring off against Barrett, the understudy to Miller and DeMarcus Ware in Denver, who has since become a star in his own right.
Barrett led the NFL in sacks with 19.5 in 2019. He only managed eight this season, but Barrett’s still let quarterbacks know he’s around.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 27, 2021
The Bucs won the NFC Championship Game because Barrett and fellow edge-rusher Pierre-Paul were all over Aaron Rodgers. They combined for five sacks. Pierre-Paul had two, and he should expect another big day with the Chiefs being forced to move guard Andrew Wylie over to right tackle.
Ironically, Pierre-Paul has provided the man on the other side with extra motivation after a slightly disparaging remark about Remmers.
"I didn't even know who that was. Man, I'm not going to lie to you. Is this a tackle that you're talking about?"
– Jason Pierre Paul when asked for thoughts about Chiefs starting lineman Mike Remmers
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) February 1, 2021
Chiefs tackle Mike Remmers, another former Giant, is aware of Jason Pierre-Paul’s dismissal of his presence yesterday.
“I don’t really care what his opinion is on anything.” pic.twitter.com/rtza2VrPit
— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) February 2, 2021
It’ll take more than motivation for the Chiefs’ replacements to win their matchups on the edges. In a battle of talent vs talent, Pierre-Paul and Barrett win.
If the Bucs can pressure Mahomes with a four-man rush and drop seven into coverage, Tampa Bay will have the edge.
Spagnuolo vs Brady
You should all know the story by now. Brady and the Pats were 18-0 in 2007 and headed to Super Bowl XLII armed with what was then the highest-scoring offense in NFL history.
The New York Giants were a 10-6 wildcard team propped up by a relentless pass rush. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo crafted a gameplan loaded with fire-zone pressure that battered and flummoxed Brady. TB12 was sacked five times, hit many more, and the Giants won 17-14 to ruin New England’s would-be perfect season.
Spags hasn’t changed much during the intervening 13 years. He still believes in sending the blitz from all angles and disguising zone coverages behind the pressure.
It’s something that worked for the most part against Brady during the regular season. Spagnuolo sent athletes like Mathieu to wreck the Bucs’ protection schemes.
One matchup to watch when KC brings pressure — Tyrann Mathieu vs. the RBs in protection (Fournette/Jones).
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 27, 2021
Brady finished with 345 yards and three touchdowns, but he had to put the ball in the air 41 times. He was also sacked and threw a pair of interceptions.
Dealing with Spagnuolo’s defense isn’t easy because of a near-perfect match of scheme and personnel. Clark and Jones are enough to occupy most offensive lines by themselves, while players like Mathieu and fellow defensive back L’Jarius Sneed have superb timing and speed on the blitz.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 25, 2021
Brady and OC Byron Leftwich will need to work out the keys to diagnosing pressure and where it’s coming from. It won’t be easy. If Brady slides his line to pick up free rushers off the edges, Spagnuolo will send safety Daniel Sorensen through the middle.
Not many coordinators fool Brady for long, but Spagnuolo has come the closest to having his number.
Bucs’ secondary vs Hill and Kelce
How do you shut down the two most prolific weapons in football? That’s the question facing Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The answer might be to back away from his preferred blitzing.
Bowles is never afraid to send as many seven after the quarterback, but Mahomes and Hill burned the blitz back in Week 12. Hill caught touchdowns covering 75 and 44 yards during the first half, then added another score from 20 in the third quarter for good measure.
The Buccaneers can’t let Hill run deep against single coverage. They need some bump-and-run starting with a strong press underneath and safety help over the top.
Pressing receivers is what’s got the Bucs to the Super Bowl.
Buccaneers cornerbacks have lined up in press coverage at the two highest rates in the Todd Bowles era in consecutive weeks (44% at NO, 47% at GB).
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 25, 2021
It’ll be important to be aggressive with Hill, something cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting can manage. They’ll need help though, so Bowles must put a bracket around Hill and do the same with Kelce.
The best tight end in the game is Mahomes’ go-to target in pressure situations. Kelce needs to be hit early and often at the line then draw a crowd in space. Otherwise, he’ll dominate the way he did against the Bills.
Travis Kelce has set the record for most receptions (13) in a Conference Championship game in the Super Bowl era
Kelce surpasses Michael Irvin (1994 vs SF)
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 25, 2021
Bowles had success late in the regular-season meeting by doubling up on both Kelce and Hill. It was a Bill Belichick tactic, but one that succeeded in slowing the Chiefs down.
Mahomes might still ad-lib a big play or two to one of his other weapons, but even he’ll be rattled if his main targets are blanketed.