Hill finished with 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns, and he was feeling it to such a degree that after one of his scores, he hearkened back to the famous Shannon Sharpe “help is on the way” taunt to Bucs fans.
Slowing down Hill when these two teams rematch for Super Bowl LV will likely be the Bucs’ primary task against the league’s second-ranked offense in terms of DVOA.
If Tampa Bay wants to win, it also can’t forget about Patrick Mahomes’ other elite weapon — star tight end Travis Kelce, who has been unbelievable this season.
Kelce finished the regular season with an absurd 105 catches, making him the first tight end in NFL history to record at least 100 catches in multiple seasons, and a record 1,416 receiving yards. He also did much of his damage in the red zone, where he’s third in the league in targets (20), sixth in catches (13) and third in touchdowns (nine).
As a follow-up to the NFC breakdown of this original Yahoo Sports web series “Check the Tape,” Kelce joined me to break down his 5-yard touchdown catch in the Chiefs’ 38-24 win over Buffalo in last week’s AFC championship game, which essentially iced it for the Chiefs and perfectly illustrated many of the factors that have allowed Kelce to flourish in the red area this season.
So again, please watch the video atop the page, which was expertly stitched together by my producer Ron Schiltz and the Yahoo Sports video team. If Kansas City keeps up this type of execution on traditional concepts in addition to its unbelievable assortment of red-zone tricks — including this ridiculous underhand touchdown to Kelce from earlier in the game — then the Chiefs’ 12th-ranked red zone offense has a shot to hit paydirt in the Super Bowl vs. Tampa Bay’s 19th-ranked red zone defense.
And in a game that some expect to be a shootout, I could see that mattering. A lot.
Shout-out to the Chiefs’ ‘sticky’ coverage, which must continue vs. Bucs
CBS announcer Tony Romo couldn’t stop using the word “sticky” in reference to the Chiefs’ coverage against Buffalo’s receivers, and while that term seemed to wear on some fans, he wasn’t wrong. The Chiefs’ secondary did an excellent job against the Bills, with multiple unheralded contributors (at least before the season) leading the way.
Nowhere was this more obvious than Sunday. In the montage below, you’ll see safety Juan Thornhill, a 2019 second-round draft pick, do an unbelievable job of diagnosing a play, flipping his hips and almost nabbing a pick.
You’ll see L’Jarius Sneed, a fourth-rounder who has emerged as one of the league’s best rookie cornerbacks, sack Josh Allen.
You’ll also see safety Daniel Sorensen, an undrafted free agent in 2014, play with great physicality, and Rashad Fenton, a sixth-round pick in 2019, pick off a pass — thanks to a hell of a play on the ball by Bashaud Breeland. You’ll also see Breeland’s interception on a two-point conversion late, in which he played with great eyes and anticipation.
What’s wild is that Kansas City has only a handful of holdovers from their 2018 defense, which was one of the worst in the NFL under Bob Sutton. In under two years, general manager Brett Veach managed revamped the group while using only two premium assets to do so (signing Tyrann Mathieu to a three-year, $42 million deal and drafting Thornhill).
The rest of these guys were acquired using low-to-mid-round picks (Sneed and Fenton), trade heists (Charvarius Ward was acquired from Dallas for guard Parker Ehinger, who was waived a year after the trade) and value free agent deals (starting corner Breeland).
The Chiefs’ defense is frequently overshadowed by their high-powered offense, but what can’t be ignored is that their pass defense (16th in DVOA) can ratchet up pressure due to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s ability to utilize blitzes while disguising coverages with pre-snap movement.
The Chiefs had four sacks and 10 — 10! — quarterback hits against Buffalo, and against a Tom Brady-led passing attack that ranks fifth in DVOA and is the primary reason for Tampa Bay’s dynamic offense, the Chiefs will need to again have sticky coverage with a strong pass rush.
The Gale Sayers Memorial Juke of the Week
It’s basically a lock that for a category like this, a man nicknamed “Cheetah” would win. And that’s exactly what unfolded last week, when Hill — the fastest man in football, despite some assertions to the contrary — embarrassed six Bills on this dashing, darting 71-yard run on the way to a nine-catch, 172-yard day:
Please note that this huge gain came on one of the few times the Bills dared try to play a variation of press man coverage. But look at what happened when they played off-coverage:
Tyreek Hill & Travis Kelce took advantage of the Bills in off-coverage (i.e. cushion > 5 yards):
Travis Kelce (14 routes)
🔹 8 targets, 8 rec, 90 yards (4.3 avg separation)
Tyreek Hill (15 routes)
🔹 7 targets, 6 rec, 84 yards (4.6 avg separation)#BUFvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/qMEIcbJ1Vb
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 25, 2021
This, my friends, is a football catch-22. As a defense, I would prefer the death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts method of off coverage.
Because as Hill showed on this Sayers Award-winning play from the Chiefs’ Week 12 win, that’s better than giving up a massive play that swings momentum and gives the Chiefs’ Golden State Warriors-like offense more juice.
“I’m not really excited to play Tyreek Hill, Kelce and Mahomes,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said this week. “That’s a formidable challenge, but our guys will be up for it.”
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