Super Bowl LV X factors: Tampa Bay's title hopes hinge on Fournette
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will attempt to deny the Kansas City Chiefs their second straight Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, when the teams tangle in Super Bowl LV.
Let's take a look at the three biggest "X factors" that could determine the outcome of the NFL’s title game.
Sun, February 7 2021, 11:30 PM
Kansas City’s offensive line vs. Tampa Bay’s pass rush
Led by Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ offensive prowess is unquestionable. With two dynamic weapons, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, that keep defensive coordinators up at night, it is very difficult to slow down, much less stop, their passing attack.
But Kansas City will face challenges on the offensive line, which is the foundation of the passing game.
When left tackle Eric Fisher tore his Achilles tendon against the Bills, people immediately began to wonder how the offensive line would hold up against a Buccaneers defensive front that knocked Mahomes down seven times in their regular-season meeting earlier.
Mike Remmers will replace Fisher. Remmers' last Super Bowl appearance, for the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, was one to forget, as he gave up three sacks.
The Chiefs also do not expect to have right tackle Mitchell Schwartz back in time, as he continues to deal with a back injury.
Shaq Barrett had three sacks for the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game, as he got to Aaron Rodgers repeatedly. He and Jason Pierre-Paul give Tampa Bay a pair of edge rushers who could cause serious problems for Mahomes and limit his time to find those weapons.
Can Leonard Fournette keep the Chiefs’ defense honest?
For much of the season, Tampa Bay ranked last in rushing and near the top of the NFL in passing. However, that has shifted during the playoffs, as Leonard Fournette has provided a much-needed boost in the backfield.
The Buccaneers' rushing average in the playoffs is 20 yards better than in the regular season, and Fournette has averaged 4.4 yards per carry through three games.
Tampa head coach Bruce Arians is notorious for rushing on first down, and Fournette’s success has taken some pressure off Tom Brady during the postseason. A solid running game will also open up the play-action attack.
If Fournette can do enough to keep Kansas City’s linebackers and safeties honest, it could make things much easier for Brady. If he can’t, things could get very dicey for the Buccaneers.
Steve Spagnuolo vs. Tom Brady
When the Chiefs and Buccaneers faced off in Week 12, Kansas City won, in part, because its defense was able to put pressure on Brady.
Brady threw two interceptions in the second half, and while the Chiefs sacked Brady just once, they hit him eight times.
That was thanks, in large part, to Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — the same man behind the Giants defense that thwarted Brady’s attempt to go 19-0 in Super Bowl XLII.
Brady’s velocity has dipped this season, and during the playoffs, he has made some terrible throws. That includes three interceptions against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, and he is lucky it wasn’t more.
Brady’s completion percentage in the playoffs is 55%, a drop of more than 10% from his regular-season number.
Brady has thrown 36 touchdown passes in the red zone this season (regular season and postseason), with zero interceptions. On snaps outside the 20-yard line, Brady has 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, including the three last week.
Teams have figured out that the aging quarterback struggles with deep throws outside the numbers and have compressed their defenses in the middle. The Chiefs have multiple playmakers in their secondary who can capitalize on errant throws.