For the second straight year the Chiefs have the best offense in the NFL courtesy of the outstanding play of Patrick Mahomes, and the offensive genius of Andy Reid and Eric Bienamy. Kansas City boasts an offense that’s effectively unstoppable for most teams in the league. If the Buccaneers stand any chance of winning the Super Bowl they’ll need to find a way to slow this relentless attack.
As prolific and terrifying as the Chiefs were in 2019, they’re even better now. In the passing game Mahomes slightly went down in per-pass efficiency, dropping from 8.1 yards per attempt to 7.9, but has been better at moving the chains. A staggering 40.5 percent of Mahomes’ passes resulted in a first down in 2020 (up from 36.6), while moving the ball more effectively.
The difference in the passing game is that the Chiefs moved from being big-play focused to running more intermediary routes that found soft spots in secondaries. The perception may be that the Chiefs are less exciting, and while that’s true to a degree — they’re far more threatening as a result. A year ago the Chiefs completed a league-high 18 passes for 40+ yards, with another 59 passes for 20+ yards. This year Kansas City flipped the script a little, moving to just 8 passes for 40+, and a league-high 69 passes for 20+ yards.
This resulted in an offense becoming more sustainable. Mahomes’ passer rating and completion percentage went up, the team picked up more first downs, and gave up less sacks because they didn’t need to wait for longer routes to develop.
The real evolution of the offense came in the run game. Last year the team was No. 23 in the league in rushing yards, and No. 20 in yards per attempt. Drafting Clyde-Edwards Helaire was a master stroke for the offense, and the dual-threat back revamped the run game. This year Kansas City finished No. 16 in total rushing yards, and No. 11 in yards per attempt. Small gains for sure, but dramatic considering the Chiefs kept the league’s most potent passing offense.
How do you stop all this?
That is going to be the primary task of the Buccaneers prior to the Super Bowl, and the team has undoubtedly spent almost all their time investigating this. The two sides of the game working in concert has become a monster. If you commit to the pass, Edwards-Helaire and tight end Travis Kelce will chew up yards. If you try to stop either of them, Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman can go deep.
The trick here is thinking outside the box. A deep dive into the offense by The Athletic showed that controlling the clock could be the key to slowing down Kansas City’s rhythm. This is a team that loves to needle for several downs on short routes to tire out a defense, then strikes deep to take advantage of weary legs.
Controlling the tempo would not only allow for the Tampa defense to recover, but break up the playbook to prepare better for each down. It’s far from a perfect scenario, and easier said than done on paper — but the Buccaneers have the tools to be able to do it.
The Tampa defense was No. 4 in the league in sacks during the regular season, and is first in the playoffs. Harassing Mahomes in the backfield and taking him down is a way that could provide the tempo needed, and considering the Chiefs just lost starting left tackle Eric Fisher to injury, it really could work.
Make no mistake: This is a mountain to climb. Getting to Mahomes is one thing, bringing him down without him finding an open receiver is another. Either way this is not dissimilar to the Bucs’ last Super Bowl win in 2003, when they had the league’s best defense facing an offensive juggernaut in the Raiders.
Watch to see how much pressure Tampa gets on Super Bowl Sunday, because it could be the key.