How Tampa Bay shut down Mahomes in Super Bowl LV

Tom Brady, likely pumped full of osteoarthritis medicine, led the 3-point underdog Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl Victory yesterday. However, the game was won by the absolute clinic put on by Todd Bowles and the Buccaneers defense put on last night. Holding Mahomes to single digit points for the first time since…ever? Seriously, we checked

Image result for dropped a pat mahomes pass

So how did the juggernaut Chiefs lose Super Bowl large venti (as no one calls it)? Many are pointing a finger at Mahomes, but from my viewpoint, he’s not the reason they lost. What I saw was a star QB running for his life, then launching madden-like dimes to WRs dropping passes that hit them on their helmet.

First take, let’s start by looking at the chart below from PFF breaking down Mahome’s performance by pressure/non pressure:

When there wasn’t pressure Mahomes graded out well. And the worst part, it wasn’t even manufactured pressure (i.e. blitzing/bringing 5 or more pass rushers). Notice there was almost no difference between his PFF Grade when blitzed/not blitzed, yet the massive drop-off with pressure/non-pressure. Remember, all QBs fair worse when pressured (see the 7th of the Fantasy Football 10 Commandments), but when there is such a discrepancy between blitz/no blitz performance and pressure/no pressure performance, its a fair assume the CAUSAL variable there is the OL, and their lack of pass protection performance.

Let’s rewind a for a minute. Coming into the game, the biggest worry for the Chiefs was the instability/injuries at the Offensive Tackle positions. See how they fared below, based on PFF Pass Pro ratings during Super Bowl LV relative to their season-long grades.

PASS PRO GRADEMike RemmersNick AllegrettiAustin ReiterStefen WisniewskiAndrew Wylie
PositionLTLGCRGRT
Super Bowl4147727333
Season7053786553
NET-29-6-68-20
How bad the Chiefs OL protected Mahomes compared to how they performed in the regular season

What this shows us is, not only was the worry about the OTs pass protection a realized fear, but the OL played even below what was reasonably expected (i.e. their season long grades). How did this happen? Friend of FPS, Sharp Football Analysis’ Dan Pizzuta wrote a great article “The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Won The Super Bowl By Changing Everything” today that we will summarize below:

  1. Tampa Bay learned from the Raiders (and likely read the Football Outsiders article: QR Bonus: Keys to Beating Kansas City) that you DON’T BLITZ Mahomes. Dan wrote “After those few early blitzes, the Buccaneers barely sent more than four for the remainder of the game. Tampa Bay blitzed Mahomes on just 9.6% of his dropbacks, which was the lowest blitz rate for a Bowles-led defense over at least the past five seasons“.
  2. They learned the “newest” (somehow we’re calling it a trend) technique to limit the big play: DON’T USE SINGLE HIGH defenses (Cover 1/3). As Dan pointed out earlier in the season, when the Seahawks were “letting Russ cook”, that there is a significant differentiater using the simplest tactics versus really good vertical offenses in his piece from December “Have Russell Wilson & The Seahawks Been Figured Out“. During the Super Bowl the Buccaneers used a two-high look on 87% of their defensive plays, the highest-rate for a Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles defense in the Next Gen Stats era.
  3. Since the Buccaneers didn’t blitz, they had 7-8 defenders covering 3-5 pass catchers. This led to a lot of tight window throws by Mahomes. According to Next Gen Stats, Mahomes threw into tight coverage on 20.4% of his pass attempts against the Buccaneers. It was just the seventh time in his career that he eclipsed the 20% mark and the first time this season.

Clearly, Bowles took a analytical approach in defending Kansas City, and used clear, empirical lessons learned by other teams (even themselves) in understanding what the “script” was to shut down Mahomes in Super Bowl LV. Don’t blitz, use what coaches call: MFO (middle field open) or double high defense and leverage the extra defenders to create tight(er) windows for Mahomes.

When figuring out how Tampa Bay upset the Chiefs we should probably consider elephant in the room: Tom Brady. Just kidding. We’re talking about dumb penalties. As Football Outsiders noted, penalties also played a clear role in the upset. Since this post is focusing on how Tampa Bay shut down Mahomes, we’ll steer clear of the fact Brady the GOAT when it comes to drawing penalties on the other side of the ball.

So how did the Tampa Bay shut down Mahomes in Super Bowl LV? Sound, modern strategy coupled with Kansas City’s OL being hurt/under-performing compared to season long norms, propped up being major beneficiaries of early Chief’s penalties.

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