It's no secret the Kansas City offense is… potent. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the number one offense in the league that is averaging 415.1 total net yards per game. They have the league's leading passing offense, with Mahomes throwing for an average of 312.8 yards per game and they're scoring at the sixth-highest clip of any team.
The Buccaneers are actually the third-ranked scoring offense in the league, averaging 30.8 points per game and if you want to see how they match up against Kansas City's defense, Scott Smith will help you out.
But though the Chiefs' offense looks nearly unstoppable, if you look a little bit closer, you can identify some potential holes to exploit. To give you an idea how good their passing offense is, just look at their run game. Kansas City manages to net the most overall yards per game despite having the 16th-ranked rushing attack. They average just 112.4 yards per game on the ground despite having multiple productive running backs at their disposal. Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire finished the 2020 regular season with the fourth-most rushing yards, amassing 803 on 181 attempts. That gives a 4.4 yard per attempt average in just his first pro season. But the Chiefs' ground game is complementary to their passing game at best. Consider that Edwards-Helaire had just four rushing touchdowns in the regular season and Kansas City scored just 13 touchdowns on the ground in that time. Forty of their 53 total scores came via the pass.
Now, that might make you think that maybe the fact that the Bucs strength in stopping the run doesn't matter. Think again. A good chunk of the passes Mahomes throws (22.0%) come off play action. Like we saw last week with the Green Bay Packers, who utilize play action on 25.5% of throws by Aaron Rodgers, if you shut down the run, you also hinder their ability to utilize play action, thereby limiting their offense. Like they did with Rodgers, the Bucs will have to focus on taking things away from Mahomes and by stopping the run, they not only stifle the ground productivity, but also affect the Chiefs' top-ranked passing game. It's a good thing the Bucs are allowing just 85.7 rushing yards per game this postseason. Guys like run stuffer Will Gholston or linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White help tremendously with that. White had 11 tackles against the Saints in the Divisional Round, which were the most ever in a Bucs' playoff game. White has yet to have a postseason sack, though. He had nine in the regular season.
That brings me to the fact that Tampa Bay is also going to have to get to Mahomes – which is no easy feat.
However, if Tampa Bay has proven anything this year, they have proven that they can get to even then most elusive of quarterbacks. Take Aaron Rodgers, for example, who took 25 sacks between the regular and postseason this past year. The Bucs accounted for nine of them. Mahomes has only been sacked 24.0 times, making him the fifth-least sacked quarterback in the league. In their last meeting, the Bucs did manage two on the spry 25-year-old and they'll need to do that again to disrupt him in the Super Bowl. It's tricky, given how easily Mahomes can make things happen while tooling around in the backfield playing what looks like backyard football. He's one of the best at that. But if Tampa Bay can contain him on the outer edges (looking at you Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul) while bringing pressure from the interior to collapse the pocket, they might just have a shot. The Buccaneers are coming into the matchup having finished the regular season tied for the fourth-most sacks in the league with 48.0. They pressured the quarterback an average of 10.9 times per game, good for the second-best mark. The Bucs' defense also tied for second in both quarterback hits (116) and tackles for loss (91) in the regular season.
What helps Mahomes in addition to his ability to throw in every which way, off either one of his feet, on the run or not, is that his receivers are often on the same page with him while he buys time. As a defensive back, it is very hard to cover your man for north of four or five seconds. That may seem like the blink of an eye but it's all any quarterback needs to make a play. The most important thing for the Bucs' secondary, who has been playing at a phenomenal level this postseason so far, will be to never give up on your man. Ever. Bucs coaches used the term 'plaster' to describe how they wanted their players to play Kansas City's offensive weapons last time around. What they learned in their Week 12 matchup, is that also means the quarterback. Also, hey, yeah, wide receiver Tyreek Hill is exactly as advertised and then some. Hill had second-most receiving touchdowns in the league in 2020, catching 15 passes he would eventually take into the end zone. He also had a career game against the Buccaneers, though a vast majority of his yards came in the first quarter while the Buccaneers figured out how to play him.
And then you have to worry about the tight end. Travis Kelce, despite not even being a wideout, had the second-most receiving yards in the league in the regular season, amassing 1,416 on a whopping 105 receptions. Those are insane numbers for a guy who is also expected to block every once in a while. That's the tricky part with him being a tight end. He presents matchup issues. Think because the Chiefs come out in a run-heavy look of 12-personnel with two tight ends that you should expect them to keep it on the ground? Therefore, you go with your base look of three down lineman, two outside linebackers and four defensive backs? Well, think again. Kelce can just as easily act like a receiver, which really means you need to play them as if they're in 11 personnel, which could benefit from having an extra defensive back on the field rather than a lineman. And to their credit, the Bucs actually did a good job with Kelce the last time around. They kept him out of the end zone and held him to 82 yards. Kelce averaged a career-high 94.4 yards per game in the regular season, for some context.
If the Bucs can manage some takeaways, that will give the offense even more chances to score points, which they will likely need. The good news is that the Bucs have continued their takeaway success into the postseason. Since the start of 2019, Tampa Bay has the fourth-most takeaways with 53 and the Bucs have scored the second-most points off takeaways with 231. This postseason out of every team that made the playoffs, the Bucs have the most interceptions (five, tied with the Browns) and have forced the most fumbles (three, tied with the Bills) and subsequently recovered the most fumbles (two). Their seven total takeaways rank first.
To further demonstrate how far this defense has come against the pass, the Bucs also lead all postseason teams with 20 passes defensed. The next closest team was the Buffalo Bills with 15, in case you wanted to attribute that solely to number of games played.
There aren't a lot of things the Chiefs do wrong on offense. The Buccaneer defense will have to be at their absolute best, while the offense will have to give them some support in the form of points on the board if they want to hoist the Lombardi this year.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Super Bowl practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.