What a wild ride it’s been and my goodness has it been fun. Never in a million years would I have believed you had you told me that the Bucs would make it to the Super Bowl in their first season with Tom Brady.
I bought into the notion that it would take a season for Brady and the rest of this offense to click. Sure, it looked that way at the beginning of the season, but now? It’s almost night and day.
On the defensive side, I didn’t think this unit was ready to hold up against the best that the NFL had to offer. While I was able to recognize their talent, I thought that they were too young and needed some more time to develop.
Well, they sure proved me wrong and I couldn’t be happier. Not just for myself, but for all of the fans and players who’ve suffered through losing season after losing season.
However, while it’s nice that they’ve come this far, there’s still one to go. With all of the success that we’ve seen this season, it just wouldn’t feel complete without a Lombardi Trophy to put an exclamation point on what feels like a magical year.
In order to get there though, they need to get through one of the best teams in the NFL who just happen to have the new face of the league as their quarterback. Not only that, but they are still the defending Super Bowl Champions and they sure look eager to “run it back.”
As far as the national media is concerned, it seems as if the Chiefs have already done just that since many are viewing the Buccaneers as huge underdogs who will require some sort of miracle to pull off a win.
In some ways, they have a point. The Chiefs on paper look like the better team, especially with how easily they took apart the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship. Despite this, if Kansas City thinks they have it in the bag, they better think again.
Tom Brady hasn’t been to 10 Super Bowls for nothing and this Bucs team isn’t here for no reason. They’ve fought and clawed their way in and they aren’t going down without a fight.
So what will they need to do to pull off this momentous feat? Let’s dive right in.
Call and execute a complete game
This is quite a broad key to winning this game but trust me, I have a little more nuance for it. What I mean by this, is that the Bucs will need to be firing on all cylinders from start to finish. To go even further, the Bucs have been bad on certain downs consistently in games and they need to fix these issues if they want to win.
Against the Chiefs in Week 12, third down did not go well for them at all, especially early in the game, and they ended up down 17-0 in the first quarter as a result. This was primarily an issue of execution, rather than play-calling.
As for the Packers in the NFC Championship, they were abhorrent on first down, whether it was a run or a pass, and this was more of a play-calling issue. In fact, against Green Bay two weeks ago, the Bucs ended up picking up three or less yards on 15 of their 23 first down attempts. If they want to win this week, they have to ensure that both their play-calling, and execution are near perfect.
Looking at Week 12, we can see that there were times when this offense looked out of sync and that led to the poor execution.
The problem with this, is that it can be a real drive-killer if this occurs on any down, but especially on third down which we saw multiple times in their last meeting.
Here’s an example of that here:
So this play was a third and six at a point where the Bucs were only down three points and it just doesn’t go well. The Chiefs are sending pressure here, and Brady recognizes it right away. He knows that he’s going to have to get the ball out quickly, so he goes with his first read which is Mike Evans on the outside.
From the way the throw looked, it seems like Brady was expecting Evans to continue his route upfield, but Evans ended up curling back a few yards past the sticks.
While there is no guarantee that Evans makes the catch if they are on the same page, it’s still a much higher chance than this disjointed look here which had no hope of converting on an early third down.
Here’s another look, this time it’s Antonio Brown coming out of the backfield on a wheel route:
On this particular play, Brady again reads blitz and knows that he has to get the ball out quickly, so he looks to Brown who should be wide open underneath for a first down. Unfortunately, Brown stems this route very narrowly and it allows his cover man to make up space and be in position to break up the pass.
This third and three play should’ve been easily picked up, but the lack of execution is what ended up stalling this drive and forcing the Bucs to give the ball back to Mahomes.
While both of these plays weren’t the primary reason that the Bucs lost the game in Week 12, these are potential points being left off the board simply because of miscommunication.
Give Brady some short options in the deep passing game
So this may more so be a hope than a key, especially since scheme is pretty much set in stone by this point in the year, but I think this could be incredibly beneficial to this offense.
The reason that this would be so helpful, is because Brady has thrown a good number of interceptions when a blitz almost hits home when he has no quick options. In fact, this happened in Week 12 against the Chiefs after Ronald Jones II missed a key blitz pickup:
The issue on this play isn’t necessarily the missed block, despite the fact that it probably forced Brady to throw even faster than he originally intended. The actual issue is that everyone went deep, and there’s no one to throw to underneath.
Against a team like the Chiefs, who send a lot of unique blitz packages from all over the field, plays like this will end up costing the Buccaneers points, if not the game. I’m not saying that there should be no deep routes or anything like that, but one check-down option is often necessary against a team that blitzes as much as the Chiefs do.
Here’s the same exact thing, on what looks to be the same play from the NFC Championship:
Not much else to add, other than the fact that this throw could’ve cost them the game, just as it has the potential to in the Super Bowl. It’s not like RoJo and Leonard Fournette are going to suddenly become elite in pass protection, why not toss some hot calls in there?
Pressure Mahomes with four
Many people are saying that if the Buccaneers want to win, they have to be able to take advantage of the Chiefs injury issues at offensive line and pressure the heck out of Mahomes. Well, they’re right.
If the Bucs want any hope of slowing down Mahomes, they’re going to need to get there with four, especially because he is so good at reading and reacting to the blitz. On top of that, he is also really good at getting the ball out quickly enough that a blitz won’t make much of a difference.
When looking at Todd Bowles blitz packages, there are a lot that use safeties and corners to rush from the outside. My personal issue with that (against the Chiefs specifically), is that DB’s are being taken out of coverage and being replaced with a lineman or a linebacker, and they take too long to make much of a difference anyway.
If the Bucs do send blitzes at Mahomes, I’d want to see them come straight up the middle with a guy like Devin White, rather than someone like Sean Murphy-Bunting from the slot.
Blitzing aside, we can all see why getting there with four is important. One thing that makes me feel hopeful about them being successful with this, is that they were able to get there with four quite often in Week 12. This forced Mahomes to throw some incomplete passes and even an interception (that got called back due to roughing the passer).
Let’s take a look at that here:
Jason Pierre-Paul comes through the middle on a stunt here, and gets right into Mahomes’ face. While JPP does end up hitting him in the head inadvertently, it’s clear to see that Mahomes is capable of making mistakes, especially when he isn’t able to run around and find space.
While edge pressure is where the highlight sacks come from, the up the middle pressure is what forces a lot of quarterbacks into mistakes. Once Mahomes sees JPP coming, he realizes that he has no time to scramble out of this and most definitely can’t step up, so he just tosses it up for grabs.
If the Bucs can get even one turnover against the Chiefs, they’ll be in much better position to come out of the Super Bowl with a win.
Here’s Ndamukong Suh getting some pressure up the middle as well:
On this play, Mahomes’ ability to scramble is completely negated by the pressure coming from all directions. The Bucs get through so quickly that he doesn’t have the time to show off his patented “take 10 steps back and huck a perfect dart” technique.
With a guy like Vita Vea back in the lineup, I think we can all expect to see some pressure coming up the middle quite often. Unfortunately, even with that pressure, Mahomes has the ability to pick apart anyone. However without it, I don’t think the Bucs have a chance.
Double Tyreek Hill
This has got to be a no-brainer, right? After this man went for the 14th most yards in a game in NFL history against you? It’s not even like Carlton Davis III played poorly, he was just not fast enough to keep up with one of the fastest guys in the NFL.
Even when Davis III was in position, the throw was often placed in a spot that he couldn’t get to even if he were the reincarnation of Darrelle Revis.
I mean just look at this throw:
Davis III is in great position here, but this throw is simply outrageous. It ends up going to the backfield shoulder of Hill, which makes it difficult to break up when you’re on the inside even with your head turned around.
One way that Hill could be mitigated though, is by putting someone on him underneath, with a safety over the top. If Antoine Winfield Jr. was playing this over the top, Davis III would be able to get away with outside leverage, meaning that the back shoulder throw wouldn’t be open.
Another positive aspect of tossing a safety over the top of Hill is that it can help to eliminate the deep throw. Let’s take a look at another Tyreek Hill touchdown from Week 12:
Even with Davis III playing about 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, Hill is able to get right past him.
I mean the guy is just ridiculously fast, I don’t know what else to say. There’s not much you can do about it, except to put a safety over the top of him. While this should obviously not be an every down thing, using it in key situations could be helpful in slowing plays like this down.
No matter what the Bucs do, they have to do it better than they did in Week 12. While they showed a lot of heart in the comeback effort, they weren’t able to get the job done and that obviously can’t happen this week.
While the Chiefs are a very good team with one of the best young quarterbacks ever, they aren’t invincible. If the Bucs want to slow them down, they’re going to have to not only get to Mahomes, but they’re going to have to do a better job of taking his favorite targets away.
Offensively, they just have to limit mistakes through perfect execution and better play-calling in certain situations. All the pieces have been there, but now they need to put them together and make this the best game they’ve ever played.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 60 minutes away from glory. After being written off time and time again, they’ve proved everyone wrong. Time for them to do it one last time.