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Super Bowl 2021 Matchup Analysis: Chiefs Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense

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Super Bowl 2021 Matchup Analysis: Chiefs Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
Head coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs speaks with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy . Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP

The Kansas City Chiefs (16-2) are looking for one more great offensive performance this season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5). The Chiefs already had a season-high 543 yards of offense in Tampa Bay in Week 12’s 27-24 win, but it was far from their most efficient scoring output this year. Now without left tackle Eric Fisher, can the Chiefs repeat their passing success, or will the Tampa Bay defense slow down a third straight legendary quarterback this postseason? The Chiefs are a 3-point favorite at most NFL sportsbooks.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sunday, February 07, 2021 – 06:30 PM EST at Raymond James Stadium

Chiefs Offense Is Its Own Worst Enemy

Let’s go back to opening night of the 2020 season. The Chiefs were five plays into an opening drive against Houston when Patrick Mahomes seemingly hit a 36-yard touchdown to Demarcus Robinson in the end zone. It was like last season had never ended for the defending champions. On replay, Robinson lost control of the ball at the end of the play, making it an incomplete pass. The Chiefs ended up punting.

That was one of the best “stops” the Houston defense got all night as the Chiefs scored four touchdowns and a field goal on their next six possessions to start the year with a 34-20 win.

Flash forward to the postseason. Mahomes has had 13 complete drives in the two playoff games and he has led the Chiefs to a touchdown on seven of them. Six of those drives were 75 yards or longer. He has also helped the Chiefs to three field goals, not including the field goal drive he did not finish against Cleveland after getting injured. That means the “three stops” of Mahomes this postseason involve a missed field goal after starting in the red zone against Cleveland, a dropped pass on third down by Tyreek Hill that would have gained 30-plus yards against Buffalo, and the final drive that ran out the clock on the Bills in the 38-24 win.

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That is a sampling of what it is like to play this Kansas City offense. Success is often just hoping the Chiefs screw up, whether by a dropped pass, a huge penalty, or they give the ball to a running back or let Sammy Watkins throw on a trick play instead of Mahomes.

By the numbers, the Chiefs are more likely to score than be stopped with Mahomes this season. In 160 drives with him including the playoffs, the Chiefs have scored 85 times (56 touchdowns and 29 field goals) and did not score 75 times. Even the 75 non-scoring drives include positive offensive results such as three missed field goals and running out the clock on three opponents, including the Buccaneers in Week 12.

The Chiefs just may be their own worst enemy. It's no surprise betting sites have favored them consistently since they won it all last year. They missed out on seven extra touchdowns this season just because of dropped passes (four) or penalties that wiped out scores (three). Mahomes has turned the ball over eight times this season via interceptions (six) or lost fumbles (two), but he is more likely to see a drive end because of a dropped pass that would have extended the drive, which happened 11 times to the Chiefs this year. The skill players have also lost six fumbles and the short-yardage offense has been stopped nine times when trying to move the ball without Mahomes.

You can credit the defense for 50 legitimate stops of the Chiefs on third down on non-touchdown drives, including eight sacks, 15 inaccurate throws from Mahomes, 10 passes compromised by pressure or defensed, four throwaway passes, and 13 failed completions or scrambles that came up short of the sticks. But it is rather close with the mistakes the Chiefs make themselves to end drives short of their ultimate goal of a touchdown.

Chiefs at Buccaneers: Week 12 Recap

In Week 12, Tyreek Hill stole the show with 203 receiving yards in the first quarter alone as the Chiefs built a 17-0 lead. The Chiefs and Hill really picked on corner Carlton Davis, who allowed 11 catches on 14 targets for 222 yards and three touchdowns. Davis leads the team with four interceptions this season, but he will need more help this time, especially if Sammy Watkins returns to give the Chiefs another weapon.

Most of the help is going to have to come from the pass rush as the Buccaneers have multiple problems in the secondary in matching up with this offense. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting has an interception in three straight playoff games, but his coverage has still been spotty despite getting really physical with receivers and not drawing penalties for it. He allowed 77% of his targets to be completed and a 121.3 passer rating in the regular season. Rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. missed the NFC Championship Game but could be back for this one. He allowed four catches for 122 yards to the Chiefs last time. Even linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White were picked on in coverage, allowing Mahomes to go 17-of-17 for 143 yards.

With the 543 yards of offense, you would expect more than 27 points from the Chiefs, but this goes back to what is a legit stop and what is a case of the Chiefs being their own worst enemy.

On the opening drive, the Chiefs had a second down at the Tampa Bay 1. They tried an extra cutesy trick play that gave Travis Kelce an opportunity to throw a touchdown to Mahomes, but he was slow to pull the trigger and the pass was incomplete. Then the Chiefs were stopped on third down and surprised everyone by kicking a 19-yard field goal. You have to think Andy Reid will have some wrinkles for this matchup, but you also would expect he’d go for the touchdown in the Super Bowl instead of a field goal.

Tampa Bay has a stout run defense and should be trouble again for the Chiefs in that area. On the second drive of the game, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was stuffed on a third-and-1 run to force a three-and-out. In the third quarter, Le’Veon Bell was also stuffed on a third-and-2 to force another three-and-out, so the Chiefs are not likely to have a big rushing night in this one.

In the second quarter, Mahomes was driving to take a 24-0 lead with the ball in the red zone on first down. However, Shaq Barrett beat left tackle Eric Fisher and forced a fumble that the Buccaneers recovered. This is the area of concern for the Chiefs on Sunday with Fisher (Achilles) out and right tackle Mike Remmers taking his place. It gives Tampa Bay backers hope for their NFL picks. If Barrett can do that to Fisher, he can do it to Remmers, and they also have Jason Pierre-Paul on the other side against Andrew Wylie, who is moving over from the right guard.

Mahomes was not pressured a ton in this game in Week 12, but the second quarter saw him turn it over and another drive stalled in the red zone after Mahomes had to throw the ball away on three straight passes because of the pressure. That is the key to Tampa Bay winning this game.

The Chiefs can overcome a turnover and a few sacks, but they cannot continuously allow pressure in this game. The Packers lost left tackle David Bakhtiari for the playoffs and had a rough time with the Buccaneers, allowing five sacks on non-blitzes to Barrett and Pierre-Paul. If defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can maximize the help to his guys in coverage while the front four, which has defensive tackle Vita Vea back, pressures this weakened offensive line, then that is a big advantage to the Buccaneers.

Still, the Chiefs are going to have opportunities for big plays against this secondary. In the third quarter after a Tom Brady interception, Mahomes had Mecole Hardman wide open over the middle of the field with room ahead of him. That would have been an 89-yard touchdown pass, but the two were just off on the connection and Hardman did not make the catch. That would have put the game at 34-10 and out of reach. Tampa Bay dodged another bullet.

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In the fourth quarter, the Chiefs again had a chance to put the Buccaneers away, but they were flagged three times for offensive holding on one drive. That led to a third-and-27, which Mahomes almost completed in field goal range to Robinson, but the pass was not hauled in and the Chiefs punted. Finally, the Chiefs put the game away by running out the last 4:10 on the clock. Mahomes used his legs to run for two first downs and iced it with a completion to Hill, who had a more reasonable 66 yards over the final three quarters.

The results were good in this game for the Kansas City offense, but they could have been incredible if the execution were better in the red zone, short yardage, and cleaning up a couple bad drops and penalties. Again, those situational areas are where Tampa Bay must continue to excel, and the Buccaneers must catch a few of those breaks to slow this offense down and hold them under 30 points again.

Devin White
Devin White #45 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recovers a fumble. Dylan Buell/Getty Images/AFP

How Will the Super Bowl Look Different?

You think Tampa Bay might be on the lookout for Hill this time? In Week 12, the Chiefs had eight plays gain at least 19 yards and Hill had seven of them. I like to believe he cannot be such a focal point this time around for Kansas City and the Buccaneers will be more focused on taking the big plays away. That means Kelce has to step up as he has all year. He caught all eight of his targets for 82 yards in Week 12. Watkins would be a big boost but is no guarantee to play. Hardman is mistake prone, but his speed is incredible. Robinson could miss the game for COVID reasons. The Chiefs have the weapons to attack this defense again and sportsbooks know it, but it likely cannot be a game where Hill goes for over 200 yards again.

This postseason, the Chiefs have allowed the two lowest pressure rates of the season for Mahomes. He has barely been touched, and he has not completed a pass thrown 20 or more yards in the air. It has worked great, but it is a huge style change from the bombs away approach the Chiefs took in Tampa Bay.

The Chiefs had only two games this season with multiple turnovers, but it is crucial to avoid doing that in bad field position in this game. That is how Tampa Bay has been feasting on opponents in recent weeks. The Buccaneers do not have a 75-yard touchdown drive this postseason despite having 10 offensive touchdowns in three games. The Chiefs have to protect the ball no matter what strategy they ultimately decide on using for this defense.

I would expect Bowles to limit the blitzing this time and usually rush four. The Chiefs must show early they can hold up in protection and that will not be an issue. They have been dealing simply fine all season without right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who hasn’t played since Week 6. The Fisher injury is terrible timing, but if any offense can make that a footnote instead of the headline to this game, it is the Chiefs.

This offense is versatile enough to win in a variety of ways, but how the offensive line responds early to that Tampa Bay pass rush will likely dictate how the game goes and what type of approach we see from Reid. One thing is for sure, no matter how the first three quarters go, you still must stop Mahomes in the fourth quarter to beat him.

Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs. Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP

Closing Time: The Four-Minute Offense

Sixteen of the last 17 Super Bowls have been within one score in the fourth quarter, and we are still waiting to see the first true fourth quarter lead change this postseason. There is a good chance it comes in this game as all 10 Super Bowls with Brady or Mahomes has seen the winning team score the winning points in the fourth quarter or overtime. Mahomes has never lost a game by more than eight points in the NFL. The Chiefs are used to narrowly escaping the NFL odds after setting another record by winning seven straight games by fewer than seven points each.

The Chiefs are one of three teams this season to not blow any fourth-quarter leads, but while that is usually more dependent on the defense, it has been the offense’s ability to close games that has helped keep that streak intact the most. Kansas City has 12 drives this season that started in the fourth quarter with a one-score lead. Mahomes has led the offense to a two-score lead six times and ran out the remainder of the clock two more times. Only three of the 12 drives ended in a punt.

It can be that kind of drive again that keeps the ball out of Brady’s hands for one last game-winning drive attempt, which is what the Chiefs did to the Buccaneers in Week 12. That kind of denial is usually what teams do to Mahomes late in the game, but this year it has been all about the Kansas City offense delivering in that four-minute offense situation.

Do it one more time and they just might remain Super Bowl champions. But the Chiefs cannot be their own worst enemy on Sunday.