Scully's Super Bowl LV preview: Ground game is key for Buccaneers
Sun, February 7 2021, 11:30 PM
Let’s preview three important factors for each team!
Three keys for Kansas City
1. Protect Mahomes
Eric Fisher, the linchpin of the offensive line, tore his Achilles during the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game. Kansas City is 27-1 when Mahomes plays with Fisher but 3-3 when Mahomes plays without his premier left tackle.
The Chiefs were already banged up on the offensive line, as they lost starters Kelechi Osemele and Mitchell Schwartz to season-ending injuries.
Mahomes can overcome adversity. He got through the NFL's concussion protocol and a turf toe to shred a respected Buffalo defense and completed 29 of his 38 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions. His ability to buy time in the pocket is special, but losing Fisher puts extra pressure on Kansas City’s offense.
2. Slow down Brady
Kansas City’s defense doesn’t receive enough credit. It forced Cleveland to punt, as the Chiefs were clinging to a five-point lead late in the fourth quarter of the Divisional Round, and the Browns never got the ball back.
The Chiefs kept Josh Allen off balance during the AFC Championship Game, blanketed Buffalo’s receivers, and recording four sacks. Their secondary creates opportunities for quality pass rushers Frank Clark and Chris Jones.
Kansas City frustrated Brady in Week 12 and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Tampa has no chance without a high-scoring output in the Super Bowl.
Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman bring a dynamic presence, and head coach Andy Reid can game plan with the best of them.
The Chiefs may simply overwhelm Tampa with their weapons. In Week 12, Hill caught seven passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter, and Kansas City outgained Tampa by a 377-131 yard margin in the first half.
Three keys for Tampa Bay
1. Pressure Mahomes/get stops
The Bucs defense has stepped up during Tampa’s playoff run. They got Vita Vea back from a knee injury in the Divisional Round, and his presence elevated pass rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Linebacker Devin White has emerged as a dominant presence in his second year, with 26 tackles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception over his last two games. Tampa’s ability to wreak havoc up front has been reminiscent of the New York Giants’ championship teams earlier this century.
The Bucs forced six turnovers against New Orleans and Green Bay, but their secondary has been vulnerable this season. The front seven must take Mahomes out of his comfort zone and force punts or takeaways from Kansas City to remain competitive.
2. Get the ground game going
Tampa has talented receivers, but it needs to be balanced to win. The Bucs discovered their best offensive groove late in the season, and running back Leonard Fournette has been a big part of the surge. In three playoff games, Fournette has compiled 313 yards (4.53 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
Ronald Jones, the team’s leading rusher, has complemented Fournette since his return from a quad injury in the Divisional Round.
Run defense is the weakness of the Kansas City stop unit, and a successful ground game will create opportunities for Brady to get the ball downfield.
3. Avoid a slow start
Tampa led Green Bay, 21-10, at halftime of the NFC Championship Game, but Kansas City and New Orleans blitzed them with fast starts in regular-season losses.
The Bucs must avoid falling behind early.
Super Bowl LV prediction
The final margin in Week 12 (27-24) was misleading. Tampa was embarrassed by Kansas City, and the setback should serve as motivation for the Super Bowl.
Kansas City is always a threat to blow games open with its offense, but Tampa’s aggressive defense enters on the upswing. The Buccaneers may force Kansas City to adjust schemes to provide extra blocking to cover Fisher’s absence, and that would limit Mahomes' options.
The majority of the betting public will be on Kansas City, but I expect a back-and-forth Super Bowl that is decided by less than a field goal.
I am taking Tampa Bay and the points.