One way the Bucs defense could defense could slow down the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV
When the great Timo Riske of Pro Football Focus said that the Buccaneers defense should “incentivize [Chiefs QB Patrick]Mahomes to throw it deep to [Chiefs WR] Tyreek Hill” in Super Bowl 55, it didn’t make any sense to me.
But, I think he is right.
The Bucs defense’s most significant advantage on KC is its pass rushers going up against a below-average offensive line that will feature LT Nick Allegretti and RT Mike Remmers. Bucs’ edge defenders Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul terrorized Aaron Rodgers in the NFC championship game, combined for five sacks and 12 total pressures.¹
But that is not all. I think the Bucs should rush four because, as Timo Riske points out in his Super Bowl 55 article, it’s all about creating “a numbers advantage on the shallow and intermediate routes and try to cover Hill” when he goes deep.²
To understand what the Mathematician meant, I dove into NFL Next Gen Stats and looked at 2020 Chiefs’ opponents that gave them trouble: New England Patriots (Week 4), Las Vegas Raiders (Wks 5 and 11), Atlanta Falcons (Wk 12), and Los Angeles Chargers (Wk 2).
From Next Gen Stats, I looked at Mahomes’ completion probability, actual completion percentage above or below expectation, average receiver separation by Chiefs’ receivers spider charts, and the Chiefs’ pass protection judging from the survival curves Timo created in his article.⁵
Note what the chart above says about Weeks 4, 5, 11, and 16: At a fixed time after the snap — say 2.5 seconds — the Chiefs offensive just as, if not, more likely to sustain a clean pocket compared to the league average. Thus, the offensive line wasn’t the problem in those games.
However, in weeks 4, 5, and 16 the Chiefs’ offense struggled to complete passes and settled for shorter completions despite trying to push the ball down the field.
And a major reason for this was the Chiefs’ receivers averaged close to or below the league-average separation (2.87 yards) in those games.⁶
Week 4 v. NE
Week 5 v. LV
Week 11 v. LV
This game is really the only exception where despite a below league-average separation from Kelce, Mahomes was Stellar.
Week 16 v. ATL
However, in all of the above games Mahomes played well enough to win except in week five against Las Vegas. Another interesting game is Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers: Below average pass protection combined with only 2.58 yards of separation from TE Travis Kelce meant that the Chiefs only scored 9 in the first three quarters.⁷ However, they scored 11 in the Q4 and still won the game.
At best, the Bucs can do what the Chargers did in Week 2; create pressure and don’t allow Kelce to get wide open throughout the game (good luck with that). Pressure will be vital for the Bucs. But the most valuable thing the Bucs can do is cover, which means creating a numbers advantage on the shallow and intermediate routes and trying to cover Hill” when he goes deep. To do this, the Bucs would have to dial down on DB blitzes and rush only four to pressure Mahomes: Suh, Vea, Pierre-Paul, and Barrett.
In other words, good underneath coverage will make the most positive impact on the Bucs’ defense. Don’t believe me? Then go back and watch the AFC Championship game against the Buffalo Bills. Mahomes finished the game with just 5.8 air yards per attempt because the Bills tried to limit the explosive plays. That strategy resulted in this nightmare for the Bills:
And plays like these:
It is impossible to stop this offense.
The best think the Bucs’ defense can do is is slow down KC by forcing punts, field goals, or turnovers. But the best way to beat the Chiefs is more offense. Score touchdowns, get the lead in Q4, pray that the KC turns the ball over with less than 3 minutes, and pray Tom Brady runs out the clock.
Fun fact, Chiefs RT Mike Remmers gave up multiple pressures and sacks in Super Bowl 50 to the game’s MVP Von Miller when he played for the Panthers.
: Next Gen Stats’ completion probability model is the probability of a pass completion, based on numerous factors such as receiver separation from the nearest defender, where the receiver is on the field, the separation the passer had at time of throw from the nearest pass rusher, and more.
: Separation a receiver is getting from the nearest defender (in yards) at the time of catch/incompletion. The below chart only includes WR’s and TE’s.
 If you want to understand survival curves and how they can be used to understand the quality of a team’s pass protection when a QB is determined to hold the ball, check this out: https://www.pff.com/news/nfl-pff-quantitative-insights-investigating-pass-protection-with-survival-analysis