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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders

Conquering Kansas City: What the Bucs need to do in order to beat the Chiefs in Week 12

After a deflating loss in yet another primetime game, can this team pull together a winning game plan on a short week?

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass in the second half against the Las Vegas Raiders
| Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, there are about two places I expect you to be right now. Either you’re thinking that the Bucs are completely fine and just lost a hard fought game to a good team, or you’re thinking that the ship is sinking.

The reason I don’t think many people are in-between is primarily because Bucs Twitter is very divided in these thoughts, or in other words, it’s imploding. I’m definitely aligned more so with the latter’s point of view, however my handle isn’t @CynicalBucsFan for nothing.

After weeks and weeks of shouting expletives at the TV, screaming that soft zones and deep passes aren’t working, we’ve seemingly all failed in our efforts as Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles continue to dial up these low-success play calls.

“This is the way it looked against the Packers in the first quarter!” can be heard all around as we wait not-so-patiently for adjustments that will never come.

Against the Rams, these adjustments didn’t come either. The Rams offense picked apart this Buccaneers defense with absolute ease, apart from the two interceptions that were hauled in by Jason Pierre-Paul and Jordan Whitehead in the second half.

On the other side of the ball, we placed our collective hopes on Tom Brady as he attempted to save this team by bailing them out time and time again on third-and-long. In the second half, these attempts were stifled as this offense couldn’t buy a yard.

Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II both dreamed of the Stickum days as they continued to drop pass after pass. Maybe JPP can give them some pointers, he’s dropped less passes than they have this year.

In any case, this upcoming week will tell us yet another thing about Tampa Bay, maybe allowing us to finally see what kind of team they really are. As of now, they have no identity on either side of the ball and it’s leading to a lack of consistency and cohesion.

One thing that does make me hopeful though (as hopeful as I can be) is that the Chiefs will be fielding one of, if not the best offenses in the league, and a very ok defense. If there’s any pattern to this Bucs team, it’s that they can beat teams that are built this way.

The Packers and the Raiders are both similar in this regard and the Bucs handled them with relative ease. While I don’t think this game will be anywhere close to easy, I’d pick them to beat the Chiefs before I would pick them to beat the Rams.

Let’s see if this team can make the adjustments that they so desperately need to in order to begin their journey to 12-4 (yes it’s still possible, especially if they win this Sunday).

What can the Bucs do to come out with a win against the reigning Super Bowl champions? Let’s just dive right in.

Offense

Give RoJo the ball (and be creative about it)

So I don’t think that anyone truly knows or understands the running-back rotation in Tampa Bay. It continues to baffle analysts, fans, and fantasy owners alike as we all wonder why Jones comes out of the game after showing early success.

While Bruce Arians has referred to Leonard Fournette as the third-down pass-catching back (despite his propensity for drops) he also becomes a three-down back on some drives despite Jones being the stronger runner.

Another issue with the run scheme (and overall offensive scheme) in Tampa Bay is that it is overly predictable and inefficient. Instead of drawing up outside zones, stretches, and crack tosses, or implementing motion in any sense, the Bucs choose to call inside run after inside run against the strength of many teams they’ve faced this season (Saints, Bears, Giants, Rams).

The lack of motion, or any semblance of creativity, is actually becoming something that most Bucs fans can agree on, and it’s because when used, it takes defenders out of position (for both the run and the pass). This is something that a lot of teams have been implementing as the NFL continues to evolve, however the Bucs seem to be stuck in the days of three yards and a cloud of dust.

Against the Chiefs, I could see pre-snap motion as being helpful to get guys out of position. Since this run defense is already weak, motion would only make it easier to take advantage of leverage.

On top of this, I think that running through the middle over and over again will be less productive, as Chris Jones is not someone you want to run at all day long. This is especially true now that Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith are both injured. While we all believe that Smith will be back, Marpet is still a question mark with potential lingering concussive symptoms.

Another reason I think that creative running will help against Kansas City, is because it’s worked for other teams. Here’s a simple inside zone that the Raiders use against them (with motion), and it had the potential to become a huge play:

If you’ll notice, right before the motion comes in, the linebackers are lined up offset from the lineman in from of them. When it does come, they all move directly behind them and this little shift helps to free up the cutback lane for Josh Jacobs here.

While it really is just a slight shift, it helps this play be successful. The entire line is zone blocking to the short side of the field, which pulls the linebackers even more, however the backside backer may have been in better position if he lined up just one gap to his right.

Despite this play only going for a gain of seven (which is respectable), it could’ve gone for much more. If Jacobs was able to make Bashaud Breeland miss on a hard cut, the entire left side of the field would’ve been open for business.

Speaking in a more general sense, rather than strictly looking at isolated plays, the Chiefs defense has not been very good against the run all season long.

According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistics, the Chiefs are 30th in the NFL in DVOA against the run, allowing their opponents to perform 2.3% better than the average NFL team in similar situations. (Learn more about DVOA here)

From the perspective of yards per carry, the Chiefs defense is seventh worst in the league, allowing 4.6 YPC through 10 games this season. Out of these 10 games, they’ve allowed at least 100 yards rushing (most allowed being 183 to the Chargers) in eight of them. The only two teams not to go over 100 yards were the Jets and the Bills, enough said.

Take what’s given in the passing game

So I think this goes without saying for every team in the NFL. However, apparently the Bucs haven’t gotten the memo yet as they insist on throwing deep when it isn’t working.

This was a definite issue against the Rams, and to a lesser degree the Panthers. While the Bucs put up A LOT of point on the Panthers, their defense allowed a lot underneath based on their soft coverage scheme. The Rams also allowed a lot underneath, but that well was infrequently visited.

Although Kansas City does not bring the most fear-inducing defense, their secondary is very respectable and one that the Bucs should not test out as often as they have been. If we look back at Football Outsiders’ DVOA statistics again, we’ll find that the Chiefs are actually 10th best in the NFL in DVOA against the pass, forcing their opponents to perform 1.3% worse than the average team in similar situations.

This spells trouble for a Bucs team that hasn’t been able to find consistency through the air against the better secondaries in the NFL. However, some other teams have left some hints here and there that have shown weaknesses against some specific coverages that the Chiefs like to run.

Here’s an example of that:

The Chiefs look to be in Cover 4 here (or Cover 3, I can’t really tell where the bottom corner is going, but it looks like he’s going deep) and the Panthers use a very similar play that the Chiefs ran against them earlier in the game.

The the play action holds the underneath coverage just enough to create separation for Curtis Samuel (10) to get open between them and the deep cover. Even if Teddy Bridgewater decided to throw it underneath to Christian McCaffrey, they would’ve had a good gain.

The Chiefs like to use these deeper coverage calls like Cover 3 or 4 quite often so this leaves a lot of opportunities like this. If the Bucs choose to dial up deep shots, these types of route combinations would work better than straight verts like they’ve shown us recently.

This is well-designed play and a great play call against the coverage. The two receivers to the left clear out the deep cover guys and it leaves just enough room for the deep cross to come open.

Now, the Chiefs may run a lot of these safer cover calls, however they still do like to blitz quite a bit. In fact, they blitz on 36.6% of dropbacks, which helps add to their 25.1% pressured dropback percentage per Pro Football Reference.

The Panthers came prepared for the blitz and here’s a look at a nice play design to get the ball out quick:

Due to the Chiefs bringing six, they obviously have less guys in coverage, so that leaves everyone in man with a deep safety to clean up anything on the back end.

The Panthers use a rub route out of bunch trips which sets up a natural pick for Samuel to get open on the outside since Robby Anderson’s (11) route shields Daniel Sorensen (49) from getting to Samuel.

If Bridgewater threw a better ball (he was under duress so it’s not his fault) then Samuel may have had a chance to pick up a lot of yards, instead he stumbles and only gets a few. It was still enough for the first down though.

No matter what the Chiefs use to try and cover the best receiving group in the league, the Bucs will need to be more creative in their designs instead of playing into the strengths of their defense.

Since the Chiefs utilize a lot of these deeper coverages, the deep ball won’t be there as much as it is against other defenses. The coaching staff needs to recognize this and adjust to what the defense gives them.

Let’s see if they can get it done.

Defense

Force Patrick Mahomes into mistakes/Contain him

So I know this is getting pretty long, and that’s mostly because I was more focused on offense this week as that’s been the most hot and cold aspect of this Bucs team. Despite this, the defense has had some duds, and last week was no exception.

They better figure it out fast, or the Chiefs are going to walk away with 60 points on the scoreboard.

The biggest concern for me is the speed that these receivers carry as the Bucs have struggled mightily against some of faster guys in the NFL. Outside of them, Travis Kelce is also a coverage nightmare, especially when considering that Devin White has been relatively lackluster (putting it mildly) in this area.

The speed that these receivers have means that the Bucs will most likely be playing some deep Cover 3 concepts again. This is not all bad though, especially because Patrick Mahomes likes to go off script and one of his biggest strengths, can become one of his greatest weaknesses.

While Mahomes makes absolutely ridiculous throws on a routine basis, he still has the potential to just sling up a pass when the rush gets to him. More often than not his guy is in position to make the play, but other times, he can misread the defense and throw an interception.

While his interception numbers are ridiculously low (2 through 10 games in 2020), he has had some defenders drop a couple.

Here’s one that the defender didn’t drop, and this gives me hope for the Bucs:

So I like this play for a few reasons. One is because a three man rush from a team with a subpar pass rush forced Mahomes into a bad throw. Another, is because this deep coverage isn’t being played with guys 10 yards off the line. Finally, it shows that Mahomes can still make mistakes, despite his reputation.

While the outside defender up top is lined up fairly deep, the underneath cover guys make contact with their receivers, slowing them up a bit and allowing the transition from the underneath to the deep coverage to go much more smoothly (which has been an issue for the Bucs).

The Raiders look to be running a Cover 6 concept here, this is because there are two safeties, and two underneath zones on the three-receiver side of the field, and one safety with two underneath zones on the other.

When Mahomes is pressured, he looks immediately to Kelce who looks to be open on the deep post to the center of the field after turning around Johnathan Abram (24). What he doesn’t see though, is the safety covering the deep half on the other side of the field.

When the ball comes out, the safety is still in his drop, but the pass is lofted just high enough to give him time get there and pick it off.

I don’t know if Mahomes thought it was a traditional Cover 3, because if it were, that throw to Kelce could be the right read as the middle safety who just got turned around would be tasked with the deep middle of the field on that call.

In any case, it shows that the Bucs can still play their head-scratching drop eight into coverage scheme and still make plays. Their secondary is much better than the Raiders’ secondary, so why couldn’t it work for them?

On top of the interception that we saw on the above play, we also see that Mahomes was kept in the pocket and not given an opportunity to escape.

When he does escape, he does so with the intent to throw it downfield and this backyard football can often lead to his biggest plays. What the Bucs need to do to slow this down, is to either get him on the ground, or keep him in the pocket.

While keeping him in the pocket isn’t going to slow him down completely, it will keep him from extending plays.

Let’s look at the Raiders failing to do this:

The biggest mistake the Raiders make here is that their outside rusher gets way too far upfield and it gives Mahomes a wide open lane to get out of the pocket and scramble away from the incoming rush.

When he escapes, Kelce just starts running around trying to lose his man, and eventually does. When someone is open, it doesn’t matter which direction Mahomes is facing, he will adjust his arm angle to zip the ball into an open space and that’s what he does here.

Preventing him from leaving the pocket, will help to prevent plays like this. While it won’t slow the Chiefs down completely, it’s definitely something to look out for as it can help limit Mahomes’ big play ability.

Conclusion

A lot of people have the Bucs completely written out of this game, especially because of their lack of consistency, and at times head-scratching play calls on both sides of the ball.

While I think this will be one of the tougher games that the Bucs will play all season, I do think that there is the potential for it to be winnable.

However, if they want any chance they’re going to need to have success in the ground game, especially because it’ll help them to keep the ball away from Mahomes. Against this defense, the opportunities are there, the Buccaneers will just need to take advantage of them, hopefully by using some more misdirection or overall creativity.

When they go through the air, they just need to take what’s there. I think we’re all tired of seeing something work, only for it to be abandoned for something that isn’t working at all.

On defense, they’ll just need to hang on for dear life. This Chiefs offense is scary good, and they can put up points at any time. This week, it will be more so about limiting the big play potential of Mahomes and even forcing him into mistakes.

Any possession that the Chiefs come away empty on will be considered a huge win for this defense, especially as they weren’t able to get off the field at all last week.

What do you think the Bucs can do to beat the Chiefs? Do you think it’s out of the realm of possibility? Let us know in the comments below!

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