Can the Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offensive machine be stopped enough for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to outscore them? That’s the basic question in Super Bowl 55, which puts the onus on Tampa Bay’s defense to give its team a chance for the upset. To that end, what helps the Bucs’ cause is the fact Kansas City has a weakness going into the game that plays into Tampa’s strengths.
Starting left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles), injured in the AFC championship win over Buffalo, will join starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (back) on the shelf. That’s a huge point of exposure for the Buccaneers’ star edge rushing linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, who rattled Aaron Rodgers in the NFC championship game by taking advantage of left tackle David Bakhtiari’s absence.
The Packers had allowed only 21 sacks in the regular season before Barrett and Pierre-Paul combined for five. The Chiefs allowed only 22 sacks of Mahomes in his 15 starts and he has faced little pressure in the playoffs, taking only one sack against the Bills.
The Bucs got to Mahomes twice in the Week 12 meeting, but that’s also when he threw for 462 yards and three TDs on 51 dropbacks, averaging 9.4 yards per attempt thanks to big deep balls to wide receiver Tyreek Hill vs. single coverage. The Bucs will need to buck a trend to make Mahomes uncomfortable.
The Chiefs are set to flip right tackle Mike Remmers to replace Fisher on the left side, with right guard Andrew Wylie moving to right tackle to replace Remmers. Stefen Wisniewski will be the new starter in Wylie’s former spot.
Based on their alignment in the 3-4, that means Pierre-Paul will work on Remmers most while Barrett will operate on Wylie. But to mix it up on Mahomes, as a defense must do, JPP and Barrett will get their shots at both tackles in key situations.
When Remmers last played tackle in a Super Bowl, it was a disaster. In Super Bowl 50, he was owned by the game’s MVP, Broncos star Von Miller. Barrett was on that Denver team and he and Pierre-Paul — who said he didn’t know who Remmers was earlier in the week — are revved up for the matchup.
“It’s crazy to see the position that I’m in right now, going against a guy Von went against. It’s not going to change my preparation much, but I’m sure he doesn’t do everything he did back then,” Barrett told Sporting News of Remmers. “I’ll just watch current film on him now to see how he’s setting up any pass rushers similar to me, so I can find out if there’s something I need that I don’t have in my toolbox already to get the job done.”
A big reason why the Buccaneers fazed Rodgers was the fact they didn’t need to resort to the usual high rate of blitzing (around 40 percent) of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. They got pressure from the edges with mostly four rushers and played a version of Cover 2 defense behind it, with safeties taking zones to help the cornerbacks prevent big plays.
Bowles decided to put top cornerback Carlton Davis one-on-one with Hill in Week 12 and that was a big mistake. Hill caught 13 of 15 targets for 269 yards and three TDs, with most of the big-play damage done in the first half to help put the Chiefs in control of the game. Blitzing and creating easy downfield matchups for Mahomes won’t work, so the Buccaneers need to re-create their game plan vs. the Packers to a tee.
The problem is, the Chiefs have adjusted since Week 12, too, as opponents have worked to take away the deep shots with Mahomes and forced the Chiefs to sustain longer drives to score. That’s backfired in a different way, as Mahomes proved to be comfortable and patient with the quick short-to-intermediate passing game through the red zone. He knows he can always get big plays after the catch thanks to the quickness and speed of Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and the rest of his receivers in open field.
That will be a stronger emphasis for Andy Reid to instill in Mahomes against the Buccaneers the second time and the play-calling will adjust to the potential shaky blocking at times. Mahomes excels at extending plays and making big ones when off script, so when things break down against Barrett and JPP, not all will be lost. But the Chiefs should be locked in to getting the ball out of Mahomes’ hands as quickly as possible, as that’s met great results in the playoffs so far.
The Buccaneers won’t suddenly have wider eyes looking at their great pass rushing opportunity in Super Bowl 55. Two edge rushers alone can’t stop Mahomes. It took a great effort by the Bucs’ other linebackers and defensive backs to contain Rodgers and the Packers.
“These guys have won a lot of ballgames regardless of who’s playing. We can’t worry about who’s playing — we just have to slow down the team as a whole,” Bowles told Sporting News. “We’re not worried about a tackle or a guard. We’ve got two safeties hurting, they’ve got two tackles hurting, so that evens it out a little more. We just have to do better in what we do than what they do.”
The Chiefs have been playing and handling business without Schwartz for a while. Although no Fisher adds more adversity, Kansas City is well positioned to overcome the biggest matchup concern vs. Tampa Bay because of the talent of Mahomes and a versatile, unpredictable passing attack.