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Chasing History: The Matchups the Chiefs Need to Win to Go Back-to-Back

By: Andrew Fenichel

Back-to-back.

Yeah, it’s the title of a Drake diss track, but more importantly, it’s something that only seven teams have ever done in NFL history.

The Kansas City Chiefs have the opportunity to become just the eighth franchise ever to win back-to-back Super Bowls this weekend when they face off against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55.

Of course, Brady is one of the QBs on the back-to-back champs list, winning the Super Bowl twice in a row with the Patriots in 2004 and 2005.

So, what matchups do Chiefs head coach Andy Reid need to win to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second consecutive year? Let’s break it down.

Travis Kelce vs. Devin White/Lavonte David

Kelce is the Chiefs’ version of Captain America’s shield – an unstoppable force and a matchup nightmare as a gadget/weapon.

Kelce’s ability to run an entire wide receiver route tree at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds is practically unfair, especially in Reid/Eric Bieniemy’s system. Just check out this ridiculous clip of Kelce breaking the ankles of Browns Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward.

The Chiefs and Buccaneers have already faced off once in the regular season. Back in Week 12, the Chiefs jumped out to a huge lead on the back of a monster first quarter by Tyreek Hill (203 yards, two TDs) and ended up holding off a late Buccaneers push to win 27-24.

While Kelce had a modest game by his standards (eight catches for 82 yards, no TDs), he had an all-time great TE season in 2020 and was a key cog for the No. 1 passing offense in the NFL.

 

With three starting offensive linemen out due to injuries, Patrick Mahomes might not have as much time as usual to let deep routes develop and to run play-action. Finding Kelce over the middle on underneath routes before the Bucs’ vaunted pass rush can hit home will be a key for the Chiefs.

It won’t be easy. Tampa Bay linebackers White and David are both above average in burn yards-allowed per target (BY-A/T) and run disruption percentage (RD %), while also being solid (but not elite) tacklers with 87.4 and 90.7 tackle percentages (TKL %), respectively.

Chris Jones vs. the Bucs interior O-line

One of the recurring storylines of this Buccaneers season is that as good as Tom Brady has been at age 43, he hasn’t been good under pressure.

Among all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts under pressure, Brady has the fifth-worst well thrown percentage (WT%) at just 66.2. Diving deeper into these pressure situations explains a lot – against four pass rushers, Brady has a below-average 67.4 WT%. However, against blitz packages with five pass rushers, not only does his WT% drop from 67.4 to 60.0, but his pickable pass percentage jumps from a league-best 1.16% to a bottom-five rate of 7.5.

Jones, the Chiefs Pro Bowl defensive tackle, had a monster season in 2020. He was second in the NFL in pressure percentage (PR %) at 24.5 – behind only Aaron Donald – and had a higher knockdown rate (8.0 vs. 5.1) and run disruption rate (24.9 vs. 23.1) than Donald.

The Packers were able to pressure Brady on only seven of his 46 attempts in the NFC championship and sacked him only once. Buccaneers guards Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa both have above-average pressure-allowed rates, so winning that matchup and generating pressure up the middle, which would force Brady to make plays outside of the pocket (definitely not his strength) is going to be a major key for the Chiefs.

And it all starts with their stud Jones.

Gronkowski finished 2020 with an NFL-best 41.5 big play percentage. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Daniel Sorensen vs. Rob Gronkowski 

Gronkowski had a huge game in that Week 12 matchup with the Chiefs. He finished with six catches for a season-high 106 yards, including a 48-yard reception in the third quarter.

Not only is stopping the Buccaneers’ three-headed monster of wide receivers in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown difficult, but Gronkowski’s ability to eat up yardage over the middle of the field makes this Tampa Bay passing attack even more prolific. It allows Brady and Co. to be less reliant on winning one-on-one battles out wide and more unpredictable in their play calling.

Gronkowski isn’t prime 2011 17-TD Gronk anymore, but he isn’t exactly washed up either. Brady’s longtime TE finished 2020 with an above average 66.3 burn % and an NFL-best 41.5 big play percentage (BP%). That league-best BP% represents what Gronkowski is for this Bucs offense – a big-play machine that forces defenses to engage all 11 members.

Among those defensive players that will be key in guarding Gronk will be KC safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen. Back in Week 12, Gronkowski beat Sorensen on a post route, but Brady overthrows his tight end (see below).

Chalk this up more to luck than bad Brady/good Chiefs. If you notice, Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed actually trips while covering Godwin on a shallow dig route, so that should’ve been a walk-in TD as well.

If the Chiefs are going to limit the Buccaneers’ red zone efficiency in the Super Bowl, the secondary, especially Sorensen, can’t give Gronkowski openings like this one.

 

Data analysis by Greg Gifford and Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads.

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