Breakdowns

The Most Important Matchup of Super Bowl LV

This week’s 33rd Team call featured an in-depth discussion about some of the key matchups that will decide Super Bowl LV. Much of the conversation centered on the loss of Kansas City left tackle Eric Fisher and what that will mean for the Chiefs offensive line against a dangerous Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass rush.

After Fisher went down with an Achilles injury in the AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs offensive ran 15 plays with the offensive line that we’ll see on Sunday. Veteran right tackle Mike Remmers takes Fisher’s spot at left tackle. Right guard Andrew Wylie slides over to right tackle. Veteran Stefan Wisniewski will start at right guard.

Long-time offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, a member of the Giants staff in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, shared his thoughts on what we can expect.

“The versatility of the Kansas City offensive line is really intriguing,” said Flaherty. “Those three guys (Remmers, Wylie, Wisniewski) did a nice job against Buffalo in the fourth quarter. And it looks like they practiced that. They went in there and they settled down very quickly, especially with Remmers going over to left tackle.

“Wylie moving out to right tackle, that’s going to be a challenge,” Flaherty said. “But the positive is that these guys have played in the same offense and they’ve shuffled around.”

Flaherty and others on the call agreed that it’s a plus for Kansas City that these players have the experience of having played in multiple Super Bowls. They will, however, face a tremendous challenge in the Tampa Bay defensive line.

“They are going to play against a defense that’s as good as there is, in my opinion,” said Flaherty. “They have two inside guys that are big and powerful and experienced. They have two edge rushers. They have people that can get around the edge and they have people that can push the pocket.”

With Buccaneers defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett both playing very well this postseason, keeping them off Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is critical.

“The matchups certainly favor Tampa,” said Wade Phillips, who recalled the last time he coached a team going against Remmers on the main stage. Phillips was the defensive coordinator for the Broncos when they won Super Bowl 50.

“We played against Remmers, and Von Miller was the MVP, so you can rush on him,” Phillips said, recalling that Miller had 2.5 sacks on Cam Newton in that game and forced two fumbles. “I would be worried if I were Kansas City.”

So what can Kansas City do to slow down Pierre-Paul and Barrett?

“Andy Reid’s not going to change the offense,” said Flaherty. “But one thing you might see him do early is let these guys get their feet underneath them and run the ball a little bit more. And when they get into passing situations, have (Travis) Kelce chip on one side and a running back chip on the other side. Just to give a little bit of firmness to the pocket.”

Flaherty reminded that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is a former offensive line coach, so he can bring that experience into how he might call Sunday’s game.

“He’ll keep in mind what he’s working with,” said Flaherty. “He’ll see during the course of the game how these guys are executing. And he’ll mix it up enough with the run, the pass, different RPOs. He’ll mix things up a bit.”

To blitz or not to blitz

While Phillips recalled what Miller and his Denver defense was able to do against Carolina five years ago, he acknowledged that this Chiefs offense is a whole different ball of wax.

“Mahomes is such a good player and they’ve got Tyreek Hill and Kelce and other weapons,” said Phillips. “We didn’t face that. We had a better matchup in the secondary with (Carolina’s) receivers. I think Mahomes is going to be hard to beat. If you rush him, he’s gonna make some big plays. And if you don’t, then he’s got all day. Your four-man rush is gonna be key. And the Buccaneers have a big advantage there.”

Phillips said he doesn’t think Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles should blitz Mahomes.

“He’s just too good,” Phillips said. “And those receivers… If Hill gets the ball one-on-one, even on a quick pass, he’s liable to go all the way. You have to see what your rush can do against him, how much pressure you can put on him with a four-man rush. Isolate the two tackles and try to beat them. That’s what it’s gonna come down to.”

The chess game

Former Eagles team president Joe Banner said the matchup he’ll be watching is Bowles against his former boss, Reid. Bowles was Reid’s secondary coach and interim defensive coordinator with the Eagles in 2012.

“So they have a pretty good insight into what each other likes to do. It’ll be interesting to watch,” said Banner.

“Andy will know, for example, that Todd’s philosophy is to do everything he can to stop the run on first down and then play the pass on second and third down. Now, I don’t know whether Todd will actually do that in this game, but it will be interesting to see if Andy, knowing that, creates a game plan thinking that’s true — or thinking that Todd will try to cross him up.”

Blue Sunday

We’ve talked in the past about Mike Giddings and the player evaluations he does for Pro Scout Inc. Giddings has a color code for NFL players, with the highest-graded players in blue.

Giddings said the Super Bowl LV matchups are fairly even in terms of talent-on-talent. But like most observers, he couldn’t look away from the potential mismatch of the Buccaneers pass rush against the depleted Chiefs offensive line.

“With Fisher out, there’s not a blue offensive lineman on Kansas City,” said Giddings. “And you’ve got two blue edge guys in JPP and Barrett. That would be my concern. Can you win a Super Bowl with backup tackles?”

Giddings has tracked the Pro Scout grades for the starting lineups of every Super Bowl team going back at least the last 20 years. He’s never seen a Super Bowl champion with no blue starters on the offensive line. “There’s always been at least two.”

“But the quarterback and receivers are a mismatch for Kansas City,” he said. “So if they can protect, they’ll be okay. I see a lot of screens, boots and counters. Try to pick ‘em and pick ‘em and pick ‘em, then try to hit them deep.”

Giddings added this: “The one curveball would be special teams, and I think Kansas City has a better return game and specialists.”

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