Super Bowl LV: Defensive Outlook

Super Bowl Sunday is almost upon us. In one of the most anticipated matchups ever, this game will be unlike any Super Bowl before. It's been a long two weeks and I’ve been wracking my brain thinking about every scenario and matchup possible. The good thing about this matchup is that these teams already played each other earlier in 2020, so there's a body of work to base my predictions off of. The tricky part is hypothesizing how each team's game-plan will change since Week 12. Now, I know the Burbs Football team on the RPO Podcast will highlight what each team needs to do to win this game in an exciting fashion. So, I decided to look at what each defense needs to do to stop the opposing offense.

The Buccaneers' defense

The Trenches:

To put this lightly, the Bucs' defensive line has the biggest mismatch in this game. Going up against a Chiefs' offensive line that's missing four out of their five starters. Regardless of that fact, this is not just any normal task when you're playing Mahomes. He's the highest-graded quarterback against the blitz according to PFF (91.1), and against Tampa in Week 12, he was blitzed nine times and threw for six completions, 106 yards, and two touchdowns. The Bucs aren't a team that's afraid to send pressure often, but I don't think that's how you beat the Chiefs. I think they should lean on their advantage and stick with a four-man rush.

Normally, you can hope for a four-man rush to get to the quarterback multiple times, and I can confidently say that Shaquille Barrett, JPP and Ndamukong Suh will be able to get past a replacement O-line. But the question then becomes: Will they catch Mahomes? Or will they end up paying for it? For Tampa, It's also important to note that Vita Vea is back from his Week 6 injury. Vita's play earlier this year was elevating in what felt like a breakout season. On limited snaps last week he showed that same form; registering two pressures against should've been Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley. Expect Vita to play a large role in attacking Pat from the middle of the pocket.

The Secondary:

Tampa gave up over 200 yards to Tyreek Hill in the first quarter alone during their initial matchup. Although they were playing without their starting corner Jamel Dean, the Bucs' potential advantage in this matchup is contingent on the fact that Todd Bowles learned enough to develop a confusing, yet sound scheme.

To stop the Chiefs you need to have confident, unwavering play calling that can change effectively during motion. The Chiefs ran pre-snap motion on 54% of their plays in 2020, ranking third in the league. This postseason Andy Reid has dialed that number to over 80% and has been running deceptive motion plays to perfection. Hopefully, Todd did his homework this past two weeks and figured out a way to negate these broken coverages and the quick passing game that the Chiefs thrive off. Bowles' impact on the outcome of this game cannot be understated. He's going to be the X-factor for the Tampa defense.

Another major factor that can't go without being mentioned is Travis Kelce. You might think that the Bucs have a good enough linebacker duo to stop him, but it’s simply not possible. Travis is transcending the tight end position this season, and he's a mismatch anywhere he's lined up. During Week 12, Lavonte David gave up four catches on five targets for 42 yards and two first downs when lined up on Travis. Devin White was only lined up over Kelce for one target that went for three yards, earning his third-highest coverage grade of the season. This is interesting because David is the better coverage linebacker, owning the fourth-highest grade in the league. To me, I wouldn't be confident lining up Devin White on Travis all game since his coverage grade this season is below 50. There's simply no containing Travis; your only hope is to slow him down.

The Chiefs' defense

The Trenches:

There aren’t many matchups I like for the Chiefs against the Bucs' offensive line. The weakest part of Kansas City's defensive line is actually the strongest part of Tampa Bay's offensive line. Frank Clark has not proven to be able to get to the quarterback consistently and heavily relies on getting clean-up sacks after another one of his teammates generates pressure. Frank Clark has a pass-rush grade of 56.1 and is 29th in total pressures despite having the 13th most pass-rushing snaps. Kansas City cannot rely on him to get to Brady. On the other side of the ball, Donovan Smith has been a solid tackle for years and Tristan Wirfs has only allowed one sack on 779 pass-block snaps in 2020. They’re guaranteed to give Brady enough time in the pocket. What's not a guarantee is if their teammates on the inside of the offensive line will be able to say the same thing.

Against Tampa in Week 12, Chris Jones posted an 89.6 defensive grade with two pressures and two quarterback hits, subsequently resulting in extremely low grades for the Bucs' offensive guards (Ali Marpet-34.2 & Ryan Jensen-55.1). It's going to be impossible for Tampa to completely stop Jones, which is already a check in the win column for the Chiefs. Knowing that Jones will get to Brady at least a couple of times, their defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, can focus his attention elsewhere.

The Secondary:

One of the best things that Spagnuolo does for KC is disguising coverages and blitzes. During their game earlier this year, they blitzed Tampa heavily. Both interceptions Brady threw in that game came on blitzes that resulted in pressure, and Spagnuolo will surely go back to that on Sunday with a different look.

Now, you're probably thinking that Tom's the best at reading blitzes pre-snap and attacking open space. However, the Chiefs can afford to blitz and play cover 1 for a majority of the game. Their secondary has allowed the second-least amount of yards from wide receivers next to the Rams this year, and they're very confident in leaving their corners on an island. Rookie star corner L'jarius Sneed has yet to allow a 20+ yard reception all year despite being the 15th corner off the board. Another underrated player on their defense is Juan Thornhill, who has great instincts and plays center field almost as good as anyone in the entire league. Here's a clip of one of his plays from championship weekend:

With Juan Thornhill's speed and instincts, expect him to be the one coming down with interceptions from any Tom Brady ducks like we saw against the Packers. I think the Chiefs' secondary is a unit that’s up to the task of shutting down the Bucs’ great receivers.

The biggest weapon for the Bucs in the Week 12 matchup was Rob Gronkowski; he had six catches for 106 yards and three first downs. Although it's important to note that none of those catches came against Tyrann Mathieu, who I believe is the biggest X-factor for the Chiefs' defense. If he can play well, the Chiefs should be able to stop Tampa enough times for their offense to put them ahead.

Final conclusion

In my opinion, this is going to be an upfield battle for Tampa Bay from the start of the kickoff. If they can control the clock while scoring on nearly almost every drive, they can win this game. However, if I was a betting man, I wouldn't bet against the reigning Super Bowl champs, especially because of the mastermind level that Andy Reid has exemplified this season. Regardless of the outcome, this should be a great game with tons of excitement and big plays. So, grab your popcorn and watch history be made.