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Know Your Enemy: Nothing personal as Tyrann Mathieu faces off against Bruce Arians and the Buccaneers

No love will be lost, but it also won’t be leveraged as Mathieu and Arians meet up again.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you know the history of Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians then you know the role Tyrann Mathieu has played in it.

Labeled as a high-risk prospect coming out of the LSU Tiger’s football program in the 2013 NFL Draft, there weren’t a lot of people rallying for Mathieu to get his NFL opportunity. As they say: It only takes one.

The one for Mathieu was Arians and the Arizona Cardinals who spent a third-round draft pick on the first-round talent with what many considered un-draftable off-field issues.

Todd Bowles then became his first NFL defensive coordinator, and the trio went on to become critical members of the Cardinals’ rebirth of sorts.

Eventually, Bowles moved on to become the head coach of the New York Jets. Arians retired, and then unretired to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mathieu would move on to the Houston Texans before landing with the Kansas City Chiefs just in time to make a 2019-20 Super Bowl run with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes II.

Which brings us to today. Well, Sunday actually, when Mathieu, Arians, and Bowles will all share a football field once again.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs smile while talking about his relationship with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles.
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The memories live on, and the smile on Mathieu’s face along with his own words make the connection between the three undeniable.

“Bruce Arians is a straight shooter,” Mathieu said of Arians. “I love him. He was actually the guy that took a chance on me and drafted me...Really believed in me from day one, he’ll always be one of my favorite coaches. I think Todd Bowles helped me out so much, he’s so smart, and I think me coming into the NFL being able to play multiple positions...I really feel like he helped me out a lot early on in my career. Just looking forward to seeing those guys this weekend, hopefully play my best game, and get a win.”

If you think back to 2013 you’ll probably find it hard to believe it’s been so long since everything went down leading to the connection the three men share. For Arians however, time may have passed, but the young man he met through the draft process is still the same man he sees today.

Speaking about Mathieu, Arians said,

“He’s still the same guy – I love the kid. We interviewed him in Arizona for the draft and he did not point fingers at anyone but himself. He did not blame anybody for what happened to him – he blamed himself. I knew he would be fine. He went through those injuries and just watching him come back every single time – I’m really, really proud of him, more so probably the man that he is now than the player. He’s one heck of a guy.”

There are some key elements in there from what we’ve come to learn about Arians since he became the Buccaneers’ head coach. From accountability to persevering over adversity, it’s really not difficult to understand what attracted the coach to the player, and the people to each other.

While it all makes for great reading and it’s a great story to hear told again and again, it won’t make a difference this Sunday as each side will look to keep the other down.

Mathieu said it in his own quote. He loves Arians, appreciates Bowles, is looking forward to seeing them, and wants to win. Period.

On the other side, Arians is looking to get what he saw in Mathieu from his own squad this weekend. Accountability and growth through adversity will be the minimum needed to prevent their second-straight loss and fifth of 2020 against potential playoff teams.

Of course, Mathieu is going to have something to do with that as well. Something quarterback Tom Brady is well aware of.

AFC Championship - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

“They have a really good scheme,” Brady said of the Chiefs defense. “...they challenge you in a lot of different ways. They have a lot of veteran, core players that know how to play in that scheme and play well. [Daniel] Sorensen is really good, [Tyrann] Mathieu is a hell of a player, [Bashaud] Breeland is a hell of a player. They’ve just got a lot of good guys in the secondary, some really good, athletic linebackers...”

Brady’s recent deep ball struggles have become famous over the past week, and Kansas City currently sits tenth in Pass DVOA according to Football Outsiders.

In the Chiefs secondary this season Mathieu is the fourth-most targeted defensive back on the team behind Juan Thornhill, Antonio Hamilton, and Tedric Thompson, and is being targeted once every 8-9 coverage snaps.

Having been targeted 41 times this season, Mathieu has allowed 28 receptions for 369-yards, two touchdowns, and has two interceptions.

The best place for the Buccaneers offense to attack the Chiefs defense according to conventional thought, would be in the ground game.

As good as the Chiefs have been against the pass, they’re the worst rushing defense according again to DVOA.

Up to now, Kansas City is surrendering 4.6 yards per carry, tied for sixth-most in the NFL. Where they’ve been good is in containing running backs having surrendered just five runs of 20-yards or more and only two of 40-yards or more.

So the key it would seem, is to commit to the running game, and use it to move the ball while setting up the passing game. Exactly what the Buccaneers have seemed less than willing to do.

Those of us outside of Tampa Bay’s meeting rooms have commented regularly about the lack of creativity and inability of the team to take advantage of what their opponents do the worst. Instead, the Bucs have seemed to be content all but abandoning the run when it doesn’t break early and often, and try to force the issue with opposing quarterbacks in coverage.

On offense anyway, relying on the pass - especially deep- while refusing to establish the run only plays into the apparent strength of the Chiefs defense.

If Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come out with the same game plans we’ve seen recently, it’s not likely to work, again. Which would mean of course, Mathieu may just get his wish of having a really good game, and a Kansas City Chiefs win.