The Kansas City Chiefs did not do themselves any favors in Super Bowl LV when it came to penalties — those sometimes being questionable calls and other times being flat-out deserved as a result of undisciplined football. The Chiefs also had several drops on offense and the punting unit was unacceptably atrocious.
None of those were the No. 1 reason the Chiefs lost the championship game.
In Week 12, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles watched his defense give up 543 net yards to the Chiefs, including 238 in the first quarter. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns to Tyreek Hill, who had 269 alone.
On Sunday night, the Chiefs were held to 193 less yards, and Mahomes finished under 300, not scoring a touchdown for the first time in his playoff career. Mahomes discussed how the Bucs completely changed their plan from Week 12 after the game.
“They had a good game plan,” admitted the quarterback. “They kind of took away our deep stuff, they took away the sideline and they did a good job of rallying to the football and making tackles. We weren’t executing early, I had a few miscues. Guys weren’t on the same page, but credit to them. They played a heck of a game defensively and offensively and beat us.”
According to the league’s Next Gen Stats (full thread here), the Bucs lined up in a two-high safety shell 87% of the time, which eliminated the deep ball altogether. They blitzed less than 10% of the time, managing 16 quarterback pressures (34%) when they rushed four. Plus, a key note on the sideline passes Mahomes referenced:
(III) Take Away the Sidelines— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) February 8, 2021
Mahomes finished 10/22, 50 yards & 2 INT on passes targeting receivers outside the numbers in tonight's big game.
In Week 12, Mahomes was 18/22, 308 yards & 3 TD outside the numbers against this same Buccaneers defense.#SBLV | #GoBucs pic.twitter.com/OIrm5Q5IsW
“They played a lot of zone tonight, primarily Cover 2, Cover 4,” Hill said after the game. “We’d rather see man and that’s what we game planned for — a lot of 2-man, a lot of man. Obviously, zone here and there, but Todd Bowles, he did his thing tonight... He came out and they just had a better game plan.”
As the Chiefs offense struggled, the Bucs were efficient in that area, building a 21-6 halftime lead thanks to a good rushing attack and a familiar Chiefs foe — the tandem of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Big deficits help the pass rush of the team in the lead, and the Bucs’ defensive front seemed to get better as the game carried on.
The highlighted matchup all week was the Chiefs’ offensive line — with backups at the tackle positions — against a talented front seven.
KC used 5 man protection on 92% of dropbacks (48 of 52). They left those two backup OT's w/o help & it was a big mistake. h/t @NextGenStats— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 8, 2021
The Buccaneers set a record for quarterback pressures — including eight quarterback hits. Tampa Bay had 3.0 sacks on the night.
Patrick Mahomes was pressured more in this game than any QB in Super Bowl history (29), passing the record of 25 by Jim Kelly in SB XXVI.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 8, 2021
Tom Brady faced his fewest pressures (4) in any Super Bowl of his career pic.twitter.com/CnRaG7gR5s
“Todd had a good plan,” head coach Andy Reid said. “I could have done a whole lot better of putting these guys in a better position to make plays. My guys busted their tail. It just didn’t work. But give credit to Todd for the job that he did. He got us... I didn’t see it coming, at all. I thought we were going to come in, we were going to play these guys just like we’ve been playing teams, and it didn’t happen that way. They did a nice job — I give them credit on it.
“But I didn’t anticipate this happening, no. I can’t tell you that.”