At the end of Super Bowl week last year in Miami, our preview piece began with a not-so-subtle jab at the weekly slog, which, for the cynic, feels like surviving a hundred-hour commercial for not just football but also deodorant, insurance and neon-colored sports drinks.
How we miss all that now! Here in the Northeast, buried under two feet of snow as both teams finish their preparation, also from home, what we wouldn’t give for a circus. The smell of mass Old Spice body spray giveaways. The taste of some kind of miracle protein-laced beef jerky handed out as a promotion for some nebulous snack-subscription-box company looking to attract free publicity as thousands of tourists pass by. Ahh, memories.
As someone who covers football for a living though, what I miss most is the feel. My colleague, Jenny Vrentas, and I spoke about this on a recent Weak-Side podcast episode. Before the Broncos-Panthers Super Bowl, you could feel a palpable tightness with Carolina; a sense that the moment was too big. Jenny noted that, before San Francisco-Kansas City last year, there was a heightened paranoia among the 49ers. And looking at Jared Goff on the field before he faced the Patriots seemed to tell us something fortuitous was in store for New England.
All those opportunities for extra info have gone by the wayside for now as our country continues to grapple with a pandemic. So we’re forced to rely more heavily on what we’ve already seen, even though that can be a fool’s errand for someone like Andy Reid, Tom Brady or even Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, all of whom have revealed creative shapeshifts prior to some of their biggest games. As we settle in for a final preview, keep in mind the sheer level of play-calling talent and genius at work here. Two coaches with more than a century of institutional knowledge. The greatest preparation quarterback in NFL history against the greatest avatar for bending offensive norms in NFL history.
1. If the Chiefs’ pass protection breaks down
Mike Remmers has played starter snaps in 13 games this year, so when Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul says something like, “I don’t even know who that is,” it’s important to realize that he’s talking about his own mindset and not a lack of respect for his opponent. We know this because Pierre-Paul watches film and Remmers is going to be all over the tape Todd Bowles has been screening this week. He’s actually played quite well this season. Sometimes we get caught up in the difference between the beauty of a premiere left tackle pancaking his opponent against the subtle, but almost equally effective player who survives the play by being an adequate roadblock.
Rewatching Remmers on the right side against Buffalo two weeks ago, he was that roadblock. There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about his snaps but his ability to hang on and Patrick Mahomes’s deft pocket movement created a manageable situation. That said, Tampa Bay will undoubtedly create more pressure than Buffalo did.
So what does that mean?
The Chiefs use a lot of 11-personnel (three receivers, one tight end) and have only attempted 100 passes with a second tight end on the field this season (that was 16th in the league this year, according to Sports Info Solutions). A second tight end would be the most likely scenario for help buttressing Remmers or Andrew Wylie on the right side if one of them exhibits an inability to slow down either Pierre-Paul or Shaq Barrett charging off the edges. When Kansas City does throw out of a two tight-end set, the Chiefs are the fourth-most effective team in the league at doing so. They have a success rate above 60%. So they can still survive even if they have to clunk up the backfield a little bit to keep the pocket clean.
I think it’s important because Kansas City has to throw the ball. Often. According to Sharp Football Statistics, Kansas City threw the ball 80% on early downs through most of the game in its last meeting with the Buccaneers, due to a complete inability to run the ball, which left them in significant holes when they tried to establish the ground game on first down.
As it was, the Chiefs were leaning heavily on Eric Fisher to help them establish that small semblance of a running game. Before Fisher’s season-ending injury, the Chiefs were second among all playoff teams in runs off the left tackle’s hip. Most of the time, they were counting on Fisher to activate that part of their offense.