Andy Reid brought him to town to ensure the Chiefs could win the AFC. Now by some twist of faith, Steve Spagnuolo will coach his defense once again vs Tom Brady for the Lombardi Trophy.
The Kansas City Chiefs 2018 season will always be remembered as the rise of Patrick Mahomes, and what would be the high powered Chiefs offense that has now made consecutive trips to the Super Bowl. It will also be remembered for the AFC Championship game in which the Chiefs came up short against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
For as good as the Chiefs offense was that season, the defense was equally as bad, and the season ended with Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton getting fired. This opened the door for the Chiefs to hire former Andy Reid assistant, and former Super Bowl champion coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to take over.
The hire of Spag’s resulted in a defensive revolution for the Chiefs, one that resulted in a Super Bowl championship last season, as well as leading to them building a top-end defense in the NFL. It should not be forgotten that one of the reasons that lead to Andy Reid’s hiring was the past success that Spagnuolo has had head-to-head against Tom Brady, notably in the 2007 Super Bowl, where Spag’s New York Giants held the previously unbeaten Patriots to just 14 total points.
That game was one of the greatest upsets in sports history but the Giants defense applied solid pressure all game long. Since then Brady has gone on to win three more Super Bowls, and once again the two find themselves head to head in the big game.
The Chiefs are 2-0 vs Tom Brady in the last two seasons, one of which came earlier this season where the Chiefs won 27-24, even though the game was not as close as the score indicated. The Chiefs jumped out to a big lead and found a way to make Brady throw some inaccurate passes.
Brady has lost accuracy over time, but one consistent to forcing him into bad throws over the course of his career has been forcing pressure. To do this the Chiefs blitzed the interior of the Tampa Bay line early, but they used late inserts from their linebackers, who followed the initial rusher, who in most cases was Daniel Sorensen, which caused quicker throws from Brady, especially after Anthony Hitchens laid a big hit on him early.
Tampa Bay’s receiving core has caused mismatches all year long with their size and physicality. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Scotty Miller have been hot down the playoff stretch, but the Chiefs secondary matches up well, and early on in the November matchup the Chiefs came out in some tight man coverage and forced Brady to hit small windows.
The Chiefs blitzed Brady especially on third down and seemed to be finding a rhythm with bringing Sorensen early, and then Ben Niemann or Anthony Hitchens as the late insert. They aren’t necessarily rushing to get the sack, but their presence is there to force the ball out of Brady’s hand quicker, and creating a less accurate throw. The persistence paid off, the Chiefs held the Buc’s to just 33% on third-down conversions, which allowed the Chiefs to control the ball in the second half and explode on offense.
The pressure also forced Brady into throwing two interceptions on the day, which when looking at the three point margin of victory for the Chiefs made all the difference.
Bashaud Breeland started his streak of hot play this week, being assigned to guard Mike Evans one on one most of the game, and he held his own. He will likely be assigned the same task again this week, and for a second consecutive game be asked to shut down one of the game’s top targets.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have chemistry together from years of touchdowns in New England, so it only makes sense that the Bucs have tried to incorporate him in the red zone as much as possible. This is also where we see Spag’s and the whole defense buckle down. If the unit can force other teams into kicking field goals it increased the Chiefs’ chances of winning.
Brady has seen every possible look a team can throw at him to this point in his long illustrious career, but against Steve Spagnuolo that can play as a downfall. No other coordinator in the NFL is better at mixing coverages, designing different looks to bring pressure with, and adjusting to match the other team’s game plan.
The play above is one the Patriots had run dozens of times in Brady’s career, and it looks like the Chiefs are just playing man coverage. It’s when Brady has shown that he is throwing to the tight end that Breeland initiates the trap. The early bump on the tight end makes Brady think it’s man, but it is really a zone, and Breeland executes it perfectly with the interception. Even the greatest of players have tendencies, and no one is better at taking away a team’s strengths than Spagnuolo.
The Chiefs defense has hit its stride at the right time, taking out two high-powered offenses in the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills on their way to the Super Bowl. They have had answers every step of the way, taking away the Browns ground game, and taking away the Bills high powered passing offense. This unit should be confident heading into this game.
I would look for Spagnuolo to blitz Brady on second and third downs to help the Chiefs chances of getting more possessions. While the middle pressure was working well, now the Chiefs have the added advantage of being able to blitz the edge with L’Jarius Sneed, which adds another layer of things for the Buccaneers to have to look out for.
Brady also showed his age, throwing three interceptions against the Green Bay Packers in the NFCCG, and the Chiefs have been one of the best at taking the ball away from teams all season, forcing 22 takeaways on the season, and 16 interceptions.
It is the Super Bowl, and Tampa will make their fair share of throws and Brady will make some throws, but how many times can the Chiefs take the ball away? How many times can they force Brady’s throws off? This is what the game will come down to defensively for the Chiefs. Spagnuolo has used this formula to go 2-0 vs Brady in their last two meetings.
This one is the biggest matchup yet, but for the Chiefs defensive players who remain from that 2018 team, a chance at redemption. Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Anthony Hitchens, Charvarius Ward, and Daniel Sorensen were all apart of the unit that could not get it done in crunch time that year, but now with Steve Spagnuolo calling the shots, they will have a chance to bring a second straight Lombardi Trophy to Kansas City.