Super Bowl LV Preview: What Will Be the Deciding Factors In This Season's Grand Finale?

Since their meeting in the regular season, where the Chiefs walked away victors by three points, the Buccaneers haven’t lost a game. The Chiefs lost just one – Week 17, when they were resting their starters. With both QBs playing well over the past few months, and plenty of weapons at their disposal on both sides of the ball, Super Bowl LV looks fairly evenly balanced. Owen Ravenna identifies where this epic battle will be won and lost:

How Will The Buccaneers Stop The Chiefs?

Super Bowl LV Preview
Credit: Kim Klement (USA Today Sports)

Tampa Bay should credit much of their success to their defense, especially against the run. With DL Vita Vea returning to full strength, they are once again at their best along the trenches. While the Chiefs aren’t a run-heavy offense, they were 12th in the league in total rushing yards, but 19th in yards per carry. Against the Buccaneers, who allowed the fewest total rushing yards and fewest YPC, the Chiefs won’t be able to run the ball without highly creative schemes and play designs. Their WRs will see action on end arounds and reverses, trying to use their speed to get to the outside. Additionally, with TE screens and dumpoffs underneath, the Chiefs might be able to supplement their run game with short passes around the line of scrimmage. If these plays net a few yards, Kansas City might be able to not only alleviate the pass rush, but also use double handoffs and fakes to set up a few play action or draw plays.

The Chiefs won’t aim to run often, but with Tampa Bay able to unleash pressure off both sides and up the middle, they also won’t have a lot of time for passing plays to set up. With multiple starters along the OL also injured, Patrick Mahomes will have even less time to get the ball out. TE Travis Kelce will operate mostly as a receiver on short routes over the middle and on out routes and screens. With him providing the main target, the Buccaneers will use their Safeties against him, potentially using a 3rd Safety as their nickel DB for the size matchup. Jordan Whitehead, if he is healthy enough to play, should be closer to the line of scrimmage, acting at times as a blitzer or in coverage against Kelce. Fellow Safety Antoine Winfield Jr will patrol the backend, trying to limit the space the WRs have to work.

While CBs Sean Murphy-Bunting and Carlton Davis have made some big plays in the postseason, they will face a different type of WR duo in Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, who both possess vertical speed, rather than the route-running skills of Davante Adams and Michael Thomas. Both will be used on a combination of screens, slants and go routes, which will pose bigger problems for the Bucs’ CBs, as they will need to anticipate these routes if they are to avoid being outpaced, and will be reliant on the pass rush getting home quickly.

To complete their defensive gameplan, Tampa Bay will deploy LB Lavonte David to cover passes to the flat and partially as a spy against Mahomes, with LB Devin White staying in the middle of the field to provide extra protection against short underneath throws, and at times, Kelce on curl routes. Mahomes’ skills will be put to the test, and his abilities to find an open receiver and extend plays will be the only thing that keeps the Chiefs moving the ball.

How Will The Chiefs Stop The Buccaneers?

Super Bowl LV Preview
Credit: Credit: Kim Klement (USA Today Sports)

The Chiefs’ defense may lack the overall talent that the Buccaneers have, but has enough pieces to force some three-and-outs. Tampa Bay’s offense is slightly less potent than the Chiefs, but is plenty capable of scoring points. While they too aren’t a strong running offense (fifth fewest total yards and sixth fewest YPC), they will use some running plays against the Chiefs’ mediocre rushing defense. RB Leonard Fournette will be given handoffs up the middle, but mostly to try and force the Chiefs’ defense to remain honest and avoid bringing extra pass rushers.

The Bucs’ offense will centre around their deep passes and receivers over the middle. With use of 3 and 4 WR and 1 and 2 TE sets, Tampa Bay will try and get their depth at receiver against the lack of depth in the Chiefs’ secondary. Slot CB Rashad Fenton will go up against a rotation of Chris Godwin, Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller and Cameron Brate, and will need to play to the inside slightly when on the left side of the defense, forcing Tom Brady to throw to the outside instead, and show neither side on the right in case of in-breaking routes.

Safety Juan Thornhill will help defend against TE Rob Gronkowski and at times Brate as well, with Tyrann Mathieu also playing snaps in coverage. Thornhill will rotate over the top, alternating with Daniel Sorenson, so that the Chiefs can disguise their coverages. The Buccaneers will also send WR Mike Evans on vertical routes and some comebacks along the left sideline, where he should get behind CB Charvarius Ward a few times, giving Brady chances over the top. If WR Antonio Brown is healthy enough, he will provide a complement, but might have less success against Bashaud Breeland. The single-high Safety should slide towards Evans more, but not too much as the TEs and slot receiver(s) will be used up the seam often.

The Chiefs’ LBs won’t provide much overall, but can cover the RBs out of the backfield, and help clog up passing lanes over the middle. With both teams fairly evenly poised, this game could finish close, as did their previous meeting this season. The Buccaneers’ defense is more reliable and should get more stops, but their offense has let them down at times and could allow the Chiefs’ offense a chance to pull away. If Kansas City can find a way to keep moving the ball, they can score so quickly it will put pressure on Tampa Bay, but the latter will continue to rely on their defense, as they have all season long.

Owen Ravenna

NFL Analyst