Suggesting that the defense can decide this Super Bowl may seem like heresy.
With Patrick Mahomes and the explosive Kansas City crime on the one hand, Tom Brady and Tampa Bay’s resourceful attack on the other, expects either D to be dominant or dangerous or definitely acts like folly.
WHEN THE CHIEF HAS THE BALL
Having clearly established himself as a force if Mahomes throws to the All-Pros Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, an impressive group of other goals, or hand out to Clyde Edwards-Helaire – not to mention, the quarterback takes care of himself – Kansas City excels at scoring goals quickly. And often.
So where would Tampa Bay have any chance of defending the speed demons and shifting goals?
First, Buc’s league has the best linebacker corps: sackmaster Shaq Barrett, runs stuffer Lavonte David, all-out standout Devin White. They can at least give Kelce, the sport’s best tight end, some trouble.
The Bucs showed how strong their pass-rush can be in last week’s NFC championship victory over Green Bay. They kicked Aaron Rodgers five times, disturbed him a lot more, and it worked against a solid offensive line.
Mahomes has a similar volatility as Rodgers, and is much more of a threat to pick out the ball himself. Keeping him in his pocket and being pressured is a key, and the Chiefs will be without starting left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles’ late). Barrett, kantrusher Jason Pierre-Paul and inside presence Ndamukong Suh must be controlled by Kansas City.
With a strong pass-rush, the Bucs can protect a secondary who makes great games, but can also give them up. About security Antoine Winfield Jr., a rookie, and Jordan Whitehead can not walk or be limited by injuries, which can spell trouble, and Chiefs touchdowns.
WHEN BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
If Tampa Bay are on the offensive in the final minutes of a close game, it’s probably time for the Chiefs to worry.
There are only two ways to beat a Brady team in a Super Bowl. One is to surpass it in a shootout, as the Eagles did three years ago. The second is to mount constant pressure upwards in the middle and from the outside to make him throw before he wants or can be set. Remember that Brady was tapped in three series in a row in the NFC Championship.
The obligation to protect him falls on a solid O-line with left guard Ali Marpet and rookie on the right tackles Tristan Wirfs. They have to deal with Kansas City DT Chris Jones and DE Frank Clark, plus an assortment of linebackers and defensive backs who come after their quarterback on blitzes.
Brady will not run around to extend games that Mahomes can, but he will also get the ball out of his hand quickly and sometimes read the Chiefs’ coverage before they even show it.
In Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller, plus tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate, Brady has receivers that he is comfortable with. While Chiefs are exceptional in safety with All-Pro Tyrant Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen, cornerbacks Charvarius Ward, L’Jarius Sneed, Bashaud Breeland and Rashad Fenton are not at that level.
Bucs settled on Jaydon Mickens as a point shooter after several substitutions, mainly due to injuries. Signing Ryan Succop has been their best off-season decision and he has been reliable on field goals, even though he missed five extra points. Punter Bradley Pinion has a strong leg, but point coverage has been problematic during the post season.
Point units have been a bit of a problem for KC. Hardman’s muff against Buffalo was the latest in a series of dubious decisions. But he also had a recurring touchdown this season.
Harrison Butker, like Succop, is dynamic in field goals, less reliable on extra points. Rookie punter Tommy Townsend has done a solid job.
Two 60s speakers who have defied the trend of hiring young coaches, many of whom are in their first walk-around as a top guy. Andy Reid and Bruce Arians, both offensive masterminds who have made a profound contribution to professional photography in the 21st century, are play-to-win types rather than the play-not-to-lose coaches who inevitably stop losing.
Reid’s Chiefs have the most innovative attack the NFL has seen since perhaps the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf. Credit OC Eric Bieniemy for any of that, but Reid has always tested the limits. DC Steve Spagnuolo is just as aggressive, and his best team always gives a strong pass-rush. Ask Brady about how his undefeated 2007 Patriots were handled by Spags’ D in the Super Bowl.
Arians leaves the defense to coordinator Todd Bowles, and that arrangement has been particularly effective over the past two months. Brady has become more comfortable with the offensive systems and OC Byron Leftwich, with many of QB’s favorite games integrated into game plans.
Kansas City is trying to become the first repeat champion since New England (led by Brady) in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Reid would strengthen his already likely Hall of Fame credentials with a victory. Bieniemy would further show why he deserves a head coach job.
Brady, of course, goes after a seventh ring in his 10th Super Bowl. He has already proven how overwhelmingly responsible he was for the dominance of the patriots, but it actually makes it even harder for him to compare such achievements with his new team.
Oh yes, there it is: The Super Bowl is played at Buccaneer’s home court, a first in this 55th edition of the game. The stadium will not be filled to near capacity, but familiar surroundings can certainly not hurt.
AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall and Dave Skretta contributed.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
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