Like both conference championship games, the Super Bowl will feature a regular season rematch. In Week 12, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-24 in a wild matchup that featured 203 receiving yards from Tyreek Hill in the first quarter. Even with that game relatively late in the season, these two teams have showed some evolution on what they did at that time in the year. But with that, we can take a look at five plays that could give a glimpse into what these teams could do and avoid in the rematch.
Play 1 – Tyreek Hill’s 34-yard reception
This was the opening play of the game and it had a little bit of everything. It’s a variation off an RPO the Chiefs have used before with a quick curl from Demarcus Robinson and Travis Kelce in motion across the formation after the snap.
Only Aaron Rodgers had more RPO attempts than Patrick Mahomes during the regular season, but those were completely different approaches. Many of the throw options for Rodgers and the Packers came behind the line of scrimmage — 48.4%, per Sports Info Solutions. Rodgers totaled -37 air yards on his RPO attempts. Mahomes, on the other hand, only had 15% of his RPO attempts go behind the line. He finished with a league-high 179 air yards on such throws.
On this play, Hill’s jet motion is the top read. When no defender runs with Hill across the formation, Mahomes knows it would be hard for a zone defender to stay with Hill as his motion goes straight into the wheel down the sideline. And even if it was man, that defender would have a hard time keeping pace. Knowing that potential leverage before the snap lets Mahomes know Hill is likely to be open on the play without needing a traditional read on the RPO.
Play 2 – Tyreek Hill’s 75-yard touchdown
The problem with the Buccaneers early in the game wasn’t so much that they played man coverage, but how often they used a singe-high safety. Tampa Bay still played zone 77% of the time in the game and 74% of the time in the first half. Though, that was just 57% in the first quarter. But whether it was man or zone, Kansas City exploited the single-high and created stress that forced the defense to play like man with no help over the top.
Everything about the play was set up by the pre-snap motion from Kelce. The Chiefs used motion on 71% of their plays against the Buccaneers in Week 12. Some of it was more involved jet motion, like the first Hill play. But mostly, it was simply moving a player from one side of the formation to the other to get a pre-snap read on the defense or potentially gain an advantage somewhere on the field.
Kelce started on the outside right and the deep safety, Antoine Winfield Jr., lined up on that hash. When Kelce motioned all the way across the formation to the outside left to set up a 3×1 look, Winfield moved over to the opposite hash. That left Hill and Carlton Davis alone with the only help now too far to reasonably be a factor.
Hill released to the inside of Davis and started a break to the outside. That caused Davis to break horizontally just enough that Hill was easily able to run past the corner.
Play 3 – Tyreek Hill’s 44-yard touchdown
Later in the first quarter, the Buccaneers tried to use some pre-snap disguise to mess with the Chiefs. All Kansas City did was prove how difficult it can be to play those games against them. The Chiefs came out in a 3×1 set with Kelce as the isolated receiver. Kansas City has killed with those alignments, but this play wasn’t about getting Kelce in a mismatch.
Tampa Bay came out in a 2-high look but rotated to a single-high safety behind a five-man blitz. Teams blitzed Mahomes on 18% of his dropbacks during the regular season. Opposing defenses were hesitant to blitz Mahomes. Tom Brady was blitzed on 22% of his dropbacks and Aaron Rodgers was blizted on 26% of his, per SIS. Mahomes’s ability to extend plays and perform under pressure makes blitzing a significant gamble for defenses. Most of them waited until they were desperate. Mahomes was blizted on 15% of his first half dropbacks but 23% of his second half dropbacks in 2020. Either way, Mahomes was able to make the defense pay, especially when there was enough time for a received to break free.
The Buccaneers’ defensive rotation was meant to confuse Mahomes, but it played perfectly into the Chiefs’ play. Hill was the inside man on the trips side and he ran an over route from the slot. The opposite side safety was the one who dropped down to cover Le’Veon Bell’s route. That left Hill with an open path to the sideline by beating Davis inside and Mahomes had a deep enough drop and enough time to float a pass for Hill to run under.
Play 4 – Rob Gronkowski’s 29-yard reception
Tampa Bay wasn’t the only team in this matchup that wanted to bring the blitz. Kansas City ranked eighth in blitz rate during the regular season and finished fifth in pressure rate. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been able to design blitzes that can confuse the quarterback and offensive line with the coverage stays sound on the back end.
Bur Spagnuolo got caught taking a hard swing here. The Chiefs came out in dime personnel, which they used 27% of the time during the regular season and 52% of the time in this game. Kansas City stacked the line against Brady in empty and showed a possible six-man pressure. Only five rushed, but that included off-ball linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
To replace Hitchens in coverage, edge rusher Alex Okafor had to drop into coverage. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, that put him against Rob Gronkowski off the line. Okafor was beat instantly and Gronkowski threw his arm up for the ball before pressure was able to get to Brady.
The next play saw the Buccaneers clear out the left flat off play-action, which created running room for Ronald Jones to go 37 yards for a touchdown.
On the next drive, the Buccaneers got the Chiefs in nickel and unleash Gronk on Y-Cross, which got open through the zone on the second level when no defender followed Gronkowski. The play went for 48 yards and set up a field goal. During the regular season, Gronkowski had the third-most targets on deep crosses, which turned into six receptions and 158 yards.
Play 5 – Chris Godwin’s 44-yard reception
Tampa Bay also wasn’t the only team to get burned by a post-snap rotation in this game. The Chiefs brought heavy pressure against the Buccaneers on a third-and-15 by showing seven and bringing five. But the defensive back rotation on the trips side left an opening for Brady to get the ball off before pressure took him down.
The Chiefs came out in a two-high look and at the snap, slot corner Rashad Fenton and safety Juan Thornhill swapped responsibilities. Fenton dropped back to play the deep safety role and Thornhill took on Chris Godwin in coverage. But with Thornhill already so deep and needing to change direction, Godwin was able to run right past him. With pressure in his face, Brady was able to loft a pass down the field for Godwin, which went for 44 yards.
That didn’t keep the Chiefs from bringing the pressure. On the next play, the Chiefs again showed a stacked line and brought five. With pressure in his face, Brady tried to loft another pass down the field, but this one was underthrown down the sideline to Scotty Miller and intercepted by Bashaud Breeland.
This might have been the first game of the regular season when the Chiefs really looked like The Chiefs. But Tampa Bay isn’t likely to fall into the same coverage mistakes they used early in the game and each team will have to balance how aggressive they want to be against the opposing quarterbacks who have consistently beaten the blitz throughout their careers. The Super Bowl won’t turn out like the original Week 12 matchup. but there is just enough to learn from it for these teams to tinker with the game plan for Sunday.