Begin Scouting Report: The Kansas City Chiefs have the best and most exciting player in the league playing quarterback, and that man is closing in on his second MVP award in three seasons as a starter. End Scouting Report.
You really could go just that deep into the next opponent the Buccaneers face and know enough to get a feel for the scope of their Week 12 challenge. Patrick Mahomes brings his 27-2 touchdown-interception ratio and his seemingly inevitable ability to make the winning plays in the fourth quarter to Tampa on Sunday for a long-awaited matchup with the long-term G.O.A.T., Tom Brady. Mahomes collected a league MVP award in his first season as a starter (2018) and a Super Bowl MVP trophy last year in his second. Brady has three of the former and four of the latter, not to mention six Super Bowl rings. Might Mahomes somebody close in on those marks? He's off to an incredible start.
Having quickly discovered how dynamic a talent Mahomes was, the Chiefs have surrounded him with one of the deepest groups of skill-position talents the league has seen in some time. Travis Kelce is the league's most productive tight end, Tyreek Hill is one of the league's fastest players and scariest route-runners and rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a tough runner with pass-catching ability. The Chiefs can also flood the field with wideouts Demarcus Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle and recently added former Steelers star running back Le'Veon Bell to the mix.
Meanwhile, the offensive line is anchored by the excellent tackle duo of Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, though the Chiefs are currently without Schwartz due to a back injury. Even with some shuffling on that line in recent weeks, Mahomes and all of those weapons adds up to 414.2 yards per game (second in the NFL) and a league-best 32.1 points per outing. Andy Reid is an endlessly creative play architect and the Chiefs seem to roll out a new wrinkle for Mahomes on a weekly basis. In addition, Mahomes often becomes more dangerous when he's pressured because he's so good on the run. Last week in a comeback win over Las Vegas, he threw 15 passes while on the run, and those resulted in 105 of his 348 yards. According to Next Gen Stats, that's the highest single-game total of on-the-run passing yards by a quarterback this season.
Kansas City's defense hasn't hit the same heights as Mahomes and company, but it's been good enough to help the team to a 9-1 record, with just one shootout loss to the Raiders in Week Five. That's the only game the Chiefs have lost, including the playoffs, in the last 381 calendar days. Kansas City's defense wasn't its strength last year either, but it didn't stop them from winning it all, and the Chiefs are getting eerily similar results on that side of the ball in 2020. Last year, Kansas City ranked 17th in yards allowed, seventh in points allowed, 26th against the run and eighth against the pass. This year, their rankings in those same categories, incredibly, are 15th, seventh, 26th and eighth.
The Chiefs did take a very big step forward on defense in 2019 after struggling mightily in 2018, and team officials attributed a lot of that to the arrival of defensive jack-of-all-trades Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu quickly became a team leader for the K.C. defense while being utilized as a safety, a slot corner and a linebacker. At the end of the season, he was named an all-pro at two positions, first team at defensive back and second-team at safety. More on Mathieu below as well as the team's best pass rusher, defensive tackle Chris Jones.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 11 matchup against Los Angeles.
The Chiefs have won five straight since their lone loss, including the rematch with Las Vegas, and they haven't scored fewer than 33 points in each of their last four outings. Kansas City has been in a series of nail-biters this year, including games against sub-.500 teams like the Chargers and Panthers, not to mention both meetings with the Raiders. Again, however, it has generally been Mahomes who has had the last laugh. That, in fact, was the defining factor of Kansas City's playoff run to the title last year; in all three games, the Chiefs fell into a double-digit hole on the scoreboard. Not only did Mahomes lead his team back to victory in all of those games, but they ended up winning all three by double-digit margins.
So Patrick Mahomes is coming to town. We know that and the challenge should be thrilling. But here's a closer look at some of the other challenges and opportunities the Bucs will encounter when they take on the champs at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday:
Patrick Mahomes is the answer, of course. Mahomes may be the number-one difference-maker in the NFL and he looks like he's well on his way to a second league MVP award. That one is so obvious that we're going to skip it in this section. The Chiefs offense also features a rookie running back who has shown stretches of being a dynamic playmaker and left tackle Eric Fisher is having one of his best seasons. Kansas City's defense features quick edge rusher Frank Clark up front and safety Daniel Sorenson, with his team-leading 61 tackles and three interceptions, at the back. In addition to those players, here are four Chiefs who could make things difficult for the Buccaneers on Sunday:
1. TE Travis Kelce. Any Tampa Bay players or coaches who watched Sunday Night Football in Week 11 while waiting for their own Monday night game could easily see how much of a difference-maker Kelce is in the Chiefs' offense. Mahomes targeted him a whopping 10 times, resulting in eight catches for 127 yards, the last one the game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds to play. It was no surprise when Mahomes looked for Kelce at that critical moment as he was scrambling to his right. Kelce runs superb routes and does so to all levels of the field, and also knows how to find the open spots when Mahomes inevitably goes on the run. In 2018, Kelce broke Rob Gronkowski's single-season receiving yards record by a tight end (a title he held for a couple of hours before San Francisco's George Kittle topped it, too). This year, Kelce not only leads all NFL tight ends with 896 receiving yards (nearly 90 per game) but has nearly 400 more than the next player on the list, the Raiders' Darren Waller. Only two wide receivers – DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs – have produced more yards than Kelce and the Chiefs tight end is only 16 yards behind Hopkins for the lead. The Chiefs like to line Kelce up as the isolated "Y" receiver on one side of the formation with a bunch on the other; no other NFL tight end has done that even half as many times as Kelce. So far, he has taken 58% of his snaps either in the slot or lined up wide.
2. DT Chris Jones. The Buccaneers' offensive line was tested in Week 11 by perhaps the NFL's best pass-rushing interior lineman, but it's not going to get much easier in Week 12. Jones' average pass-rush get-off since the start of last season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, is 0.91 seconds, third-best in the league in that span and just a bit behind Aaron Donald's top mark of 0.86 seconds. Jones recorded 15.5 sacks in 2018, his third season and, after getting another 9.0 last year in 13 games, has 5.5 in nine games played this year. He also has 18 quarterback hits, double that of the next Chief on the list and tied for the third-most in the NFL. (One more than Donald, in fact.) Jones has incredible power and length in his 6-6, 310-pound frame and can blow up a pocket from the inside simply by bull-rushing and overpowering his man. With that quick first step he can engage a guard or center before the blocker has a chance to get set and anchor against Jones' power. Opposing offenses frequently choose to double-team Jones, of course, but he has great hands and a well-developed set of moves to beat that sort of treatment and still get to the quarterback.
3. WR Tyreek Hill. Hill's calling card, of course, is his blazing speed, as he ran a sub-4.3 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in 2016, and Andy Reid knows how to use it. If the 10 targets to Kelce in Kansas City's last game seems like a lot, well, Mahomes threw the ball in Hill's direction 14 times. Nearly all of them worked, as Hill caught 11 of those targets for 102 yards and a touchdown. Hill's peak season so far was 2018, when he won All-Pro honors after catching 87 passes for 1,479 yards and 12 touchdowns while also running 22 times for 151 yards and another score. His per-game yardage average is down a bit from that season, from 92.4 to 75.2, and he's averaging 13.7 yards per catch as opposed to the 17.0 from that All-Pro season, but he's still finding the end zone on a regular basis. His 10 touchdown catches are just one behind Minnesota's Adam Thielen for the league lead, and Hill does have an 11th score on a running play. Hill can get cornerbacks on their heels right after the snap, as he reaches his average top speed of 10.09 MPH just one second into his routes, the fastest of any player in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats. Because defenders are concerned about getting beat deep off the line, Hill is frequently able to get open on crossing routes; he's caught eight touchdown passes off such routes since 2018. It's reasonable for corners to fear the quick break deep, though, as Hill has run a "go" on almost 20% of his routes this year.
4. S Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu, who achieved stardom under Bruce Arians in Arizona, was a huge addition to the Chiefs' defense in 2019. He won All-Pro honors for the second time in his career and combined 75 tackles with four interceptions, 12 passes defensed, 2.0 sacks and two QB hits. Mathieu hasn't had quite as successful season in 2020, particularly in terms of going after the quarterback, as his blitzes have consistently failed to generate pressure. Still, that part of his game helps illustrate why defensive coaches love having the "Honey Badger" in their system – he can play multiple positions and be moved all over the formation, creating different looks and sowing confusion on the offense. His All-Pro honors last year were specifically a first-team selection as a defensive back and a second-team selection as a safety. Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo referred to Mathieu as the "glue" of the Chiefs' defense as Kansas City was beginning its playoff run last year, and Mathieu then had 18 tackles, a tackle for loss and three pass break-ups in three postseason games. Kansas City uses Mathieu as a slot corner, a safety and a linebacker and he sees a significant amount of action in all three spots. After leading the Chiefs with four interceptions last year, he has two more in 2020 and 19 in his career.
There's little about the Chiefs' offense that isn't a strength. Kansas City has the league's top-ranked passing attack and the best interception rate, with Mahomes operating at an overall passer rating of 114.3. He has been difficult to sack, going down just 13 times in 10 games, which is a testament both to his line and his own ability to move around and make things happen on the fly. Bad things, generally, if you're the opposing defense. The Chiefs have converted more than half of their third-down tries on offense. Kansas City's defense has more middle-of-the-pack numbers but has produced 10 interceptions by six different players, with the sixth-best pick rate in the NFL. As noted above, the Chiefs' are seventh in scoring defense, allowing 21.4 points per game. Here are some more specific areas in which the Chiefs have excelled in 2020:
· As noted, and unsurprisingly, the Chiefs' offense has been very good on third downs, converting 50.4% of their tries to rank second in the NFL in that category. What makes Kansas City's offense so difficult to stop is that it isn't daunted by longer third downs. On third downs requiring seven to 10 yards to be converted, the Chiefs have been successful 48.1% of the time, which is the best mark in the league. The NFL average in that situation is only 34.1%. Even when the needed yardage is 11 or more yards, the Chiefs are still converting 26.9% of the time, which is also best in the NFL.
· Kansas City's defense does not allow a lot of downfield completions, either along the sidelines or down the middle. The Chiefs are allowing a 30% completion rate on "deep passes" (20+ air yards) down the left side (seventh-best in the league), 44.4% down the middle (sixth) and 34.8% down the right side (fourth).
· NFL Next Gen Stats produce a "Hurry Probability" chart that "calculates the probability that the team's passer will be hurried (defined as a when a pass rusher comes within 1.5 yards at any moment) before attempting a pass. Because Mahomes moves around so well behind the line of scrimmage, Kansas City has the second best result on this chart so far, with Mahomes expected to be hurried on just 7.3% of his dropbacks. Only Arizona, with the speedy and elusive Kyler Murray, is better with a figure of 6.3%.
· Buccaneers punter Bradley Pinion is one of the league's best at producing kickoffs on touchbacks, but if the Rams do manage to bring a kick or two out the Bucs' cover team should be on its toes. The Chiefs have averaged 27.8 yards per kickoff return, the second-best mark in the league. Wideout Byron Pringle provided the biggest highlight with a 102-yard return for a touchdown against Denver.
Kansas City's defense is giving up 4.64 yards per carry to rank 25th in the NFL and their kick-coverage teams rank in the bottom eight against both punts and kickoffs. Again, there's little to complain about when it comes to the Chiefs' offense, though they are only 16th in the league in rushing yards per game. In addition:
· Kansas City has drawn a high number of penalties in 2020. The 66 flags accepted against them are tied with the Jets for the fourth-most in the NFL and they have lost 97 more yards on those flags than their opponents have on 61 penalties. The league average is 57.7 penalties per team. As good as Kansas City's offense is, it has been responsible for a lot of those penalties at the line of scrimmage. Kansas City has been flagged 15 times each for false starts and offensive holding, ranking 29th and 27th in those categories, respectively.
· The Kansas City pass rush is in the lower half of the league, statistically, with a sacks-per-pass-attempt rate of 5.60% that ranks 21st. When the Chiefs have tried to blitz, it hasn't always been effective. According to Next Gen Stats, they have brought five or more pass rushers at the quarterback 144 times this year but generated only five sacks on those plays.
· The Chiefs' defense has not had good results in the red zone. In fact, their percentage of allowing touchdowns on 75.9% of opposing red zone incursions is dead last in the NFL. In addition, Kansas City has allowed touchdowns on 88.9% of opposing goal-to-go situations, which is fifth-worst in the league.
· Though it might just be a temporary glitch for a talented kicker like Harrison Butker, extra point attempts have been anything but routine for the Chiefs this year. Butker, who is 15 of 17 on field goal tries but gets to kick a lot more extra points in Mahomes Land, has missed six times on 38 point-after tries this season. That's only one fewer than he missed during the 2018-19 seasons combined, on a total of 117 tries. As such, Kansas City's 84.2% mark on PATs is third worst in the NFL.
NEW FACES IN 2020
The Chiefs weren't really in need of a roster overhaul after winning Super Bowl LIV last February, but there have been a few tweaks to the depth chart, including a new lead runner in the backfield. The Chiefs also found what has proved to be a valuable reserve depth piece for their offensive line and replaced their long-time punter with an undrafted rookie.
1. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Defensive coordinators around the NFL were less than thrilled when the Chiefs were able to add another dynamic weapon to their offense, using the last pick of the first round to land the former LSU star. Edwards-Helaire made an eye-opening debut in the first football game of the entire 2020 season when he ran for 138 yards in a Kickoff Game win over Houston. Though he has cooled off some since, he did put up 161 yards in a win over Buffalo and scored two touchdowns last Sunday in the victory over Las Vegas.
2. T/G Mike Remmers. Remmers spent some time on the Bucs' practice squad nearly a decade ago but has since proved a capable and versatile starter for the Panthers, Vikings and Giants. This season, he signed with the Chiefs, and while he wasn't an opening day starter he has since filled in at left guard, right guard and right tackle. The Chiefs need Remmers to hold strong at right tackle at the moment because their stalwart at that position, Mitchell Schwartz, is currently on injured reserve.
3. P Tommy Townsend. Dustin Colquitt was a fixture in Kansas City as the Chiefs punter from 2005-19, but he was released in April two days before the team signed the University of Florida punter as an undrafted rookie. Townsend currently has a gross punting average of 47.6 yards to rank 10th in the NFL, while his net average of 40.5 yards is 19th in the league.
1. T Mitchell Schwartz. As noted above, Schwartz is currently sidelined by an ailing back and he was officially placed on injured reserve last Saturday after missing three games. Schwartz must be on injured reserve for at least three weeks, so he will definitely not be available on Sunday when the Chiefs take on the Buccaneers.
2. RB Damien Williams. Williams was the Chiefs' leading rusher in 2019 and he famously scored six touchdowns in three postseason games as Kansas City fought its way to the Lombardi Trophy stage. Williams likely would have been the primary complement to Edwards-Helaire in 2020 but he chose to opt out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. The Chiefs recently found another option to share carries with Edwards-Helaire after Le'Veon Bell was let go by the Jets.
3. WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins hasn't played since Week Five due to a hamstring injury, though he has not been placed on injured reserve. The Chiefs had been targeting the game in Tampa as Watkins' likely date to return, but he was slowed in practice last week after adding a calf strain. There is still optimism that Watkins will be able to go on Sunday.