Amidst the outside noise of the Super Bowl, at the end of the day, this is still another game. I look forward to the chess match being played on both sides and looking at how the teams are going to attempt to attack one another. Listed below are the five things I think fans should be keeping an eye on during the game.
Spagnuolo pressure packages
If there’s anything that Spagnuolo is going to do, he’s going to find a way to send pressure to the opposing team’s quarterback. Early in the season, the Chiefs defense relied more on the front four to get the job done and that didn’t always go as planned, add injury and some would question how they were going to get to the quarterback.
Well, Spagnuolo wasn’t going to sit back and wait to find out, especially with an offense that allows and probably encourages you to be aggressive on defense. Since the second half of the season, we’ve seen a wide array of blitz packages being drawn up on a weekly basis and turned up a notch in the final quarter of the season leading into the playoffs.
Tom Brady, 43 years old and not the most mobile on the Buccaneers, has always struggled with interior pressure specifically. I expect Spags to send some A and B gap pressures, or possibly interior stunts and blitzing defensive backs such as Sorensen, Mathieu, or Sneed of the edge on most passing downs.
I fully expect a couple of non-defensive linemen to either come up with sacks or big-time pressures in the game. Spagnuolo’s familiarity with Tom Brady, including ending his hopes of a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII with the New York Giants should definitely be a plus.
Eric Bieniemy and Andy Reid helping out the O-line
If you’re reading this, I’m sure that you’ve heard that the Chiefs are down to all backups on the offensive line, excluding C Austin Reiter, who also was replaced for a couple of games midseason. With a defensive front with the potential of the Buccaneers including Shaq Barrett, JPP, Suh, and Vita Vea I fully expect EB and Big Red to do what they’ve been doing most of the year, finding ways to help protect Mahomes and move that pocket around a little bit.
This could be done in multiple ways, and the first 15 plays on offense will be interesting. I expect variations of misdirection, sprint outs, boot actions, screens, and RPO’s to help the offensive line out and keeping that defensive line from peeling their ears back and getting after Mahomes. Another factor in this could be Mahomes hard count, he’s so good at this and allows for a free play if the opposing team jumps offsides, if the zebra’s actually allow the play to be completed of course.
How do the Bucs defend the Chiefs offense?
In week 12, Todd Bowles took the approach in the first half of the game to play a man-heavy scheme which led to the sweet tune of Tyreek Hill going for 200 yards in the first quarter and 9 receptions on 9 targets for 211 yards and 3 TD’s when matched up on Tampa Bay’s top cornerback Carlton Davis. I think it’s safe to say, we probably will not be seeing that plan too often.
I think something we might see is a lot of two-high coverage shells in an attempt to prevent big plays over the top. This would mean the Chiefs would have to take advantage of the intermediate game, which allows that Kelce guy to attack the intermediate zones because he’s pretty good at this football thing. This strategy has been implemented by a few teams against the Chiefs this season and due to Mahomes maturation process and not feeling inclined to push the ball down the field, has had little success.
Aaron Stinnie vs. Chris Jones
The Chiefs offensive front isn’t alone in having to replace a starter upfront on the OL. Aaron Stinnie is making his 2nd start in his NFL career at right guard for the Bucs. On the other hand, the CEO of sack nation, Chris Jones is coming off of his second All-Pro season as a defensive lineman, and I fully expect him to line up at three-technique, on the outside shoulder of Stinnie, for the majority of the game.
Surprisingly, Jones has not recorded a sack in his playoff career, although I can point to a few games in which he was a game wrecker and destroyed the pocket, things that don’t show up in box score analysis, AFC championship vs. Buffalo being the most recent.
Jones is double-teamed often in passing situations and I’m sure Spags will attempt to counteract that by sending pressure packages from the opposite side in an attempt to exploit this 1v1 matchup that favors the Chiefs. If Jones can consistently create interior pressure on Tom Brady, that could play a large part in the Chiefs in their attempt to repeat.
Which role players step up on offense and defense?
Last year’s Super Bowl we saw a couple of role players step up in big parts of the game to help contribute to the Chiefs win. Offensively Damien Williams, whom many proclaimed should have won MVP, rushed for over 100 yards on 17 carries and had the game-sealing TD run, along with another receiving TD.
Sammy Watkins, who all signs point to being active for Sunday, had 5 receptions for 98 yards and the 38-yard catch vs. all-pro CB Richard Sherman in coverage. Defensively, CB Bashaud Breeland had 2 TfL’s, an INT and 1 pbu. Kendall Fuller, playing a hybrid nickel/safety role had the game-ending INT and 2 pbu’s.
In order for the Chiefs to leave Tampa Bay victorious, more guys are going to have to step up outside of the usual suspects. A couple of players to keep an eye on offensively are both tackles, Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie. Not the sexiest pick, but keeping the pressure at a minimum for Mahomes will need to be imperative, as we saw what a lot of pressure could do in last year’s Super Bowl game.
I also think another receiver is going to have to step up with all the attention presumably being leaned towards Hill, one of Watkins, Pringle, Hardman or Robinson will need to make a big play or more. Defensively, my eyes are on Juan Thornhill. Coming off his best game of the season by far and looking like his 2019 pre-injury self, Thornhill could play a major role vs. Arians vertical passing offense.
One thing Tampa is going to do is take shots down the field and this will give Thornhill a chance to make a couple of plays at his FS position. Another player to keep an eye on is DE Alex Okafor. He’s been injured often this season but has been trending in the right direction with his play as of late and that’s great timing for the Chiefs defensive unit. Defensively, the key is going to be pressure and it can’t always come from Jones or Clark.
These are just a few things I’m going to be watching out for and I think you should as well. Happy Super Bowl Eve Chiefs Kingdom, stay classy Kansas City.