Tyreek Hill is an end-all.
He was in Week 12. Kansas City’s 27-24 win over Tampa Bay was a game where the score didn’t tell the story at all. The Chiefs’ blazing-fast wide receiver cooked Carlton Davis and the Buccaneers’ secondary. Kansas City led 17-0 after the first quarter, and Hill had 200 yards by that point. Despite Tampa Bay’s late rally, the Chiefs and Hill gave the Bucs no chance from the very beginning. Hill started and ended the game in an instant.
Tampa Bay gets a second crack at containing Hill on Sunday in Super Bowl 55. Stopping him is not a possibility. It just doesn’t happen. You can only hope to contain him, make him work and make things harder on him. Once you do that, you just say your prayers from that point on.
The biggest reason for Hill’s show-stopping performance in Week 12 was his ability to score, not necessarily his ability to get open and run. As mentioned, you’re just not stopping that aspect of his game.
What Tampa Bay can stop though is Hill’s ability to break free and score. Keeping a safety high and their fastest cornerback on Hill is the best allocation of resources that Bucs’ defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can deploy against him. As silly as it sounds, letting Patrick Mahomes or literally anyone else on Kansas City’s offense beat them is the best way to go about business for Tampa Bay on Sunday. A re-creation of Week 12 puts the game away almost immediately.
The thought of letting someone like Travis Kelce not be a priority is scary, but Devin White and the Bucs’ linebacker bunch is extremely skilled in coverage. White should be matched up man-to-man with Kelce, and that battle is going to be more contested than we may think. White is elite and can have help from a second safety or linebacker if needed.
Negating the presence of Kelce puts a lot of pressure on Hill to perform like he did in Week 12. Of course, that is entirely possible – Hill’s inevitability and pure dominance are capable of taking over any defense in any game. But it’d be quite embarrassing for Tampa Bay to go out like that, and essentially get shredded by the same player twice on the premise of them just not being able to stop him.
Letting Mahomes and others beat you sounds like a recipe for disaster. But the Bucs have ways of controlling what he and the Chiefs do. Kansas City is down both starting tackles for this Super Bowl after Eric Fisher tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship Game. Being weak on the ends is not ideal against Tampa Bay’s pass rush, which is ferocious inside and out. Pressuring and getting to Mahomes – who has no shortage of in-game ding-ups and trips to the medical tent in his career – is key for the Bucs, not only in hopes of potentially knicking Mahomes up (who was bothered by a toe injury in addition to the head/neck injury suffered against the Browns) but in order to force the quickest throws possible.
Those balls might be going to the likes of Mecole Hardman if the Bucs execute defensively, who is still ridiculously fast like Hill. But the former Georgia wide receiver has been best used in gimmick, one-trick pony type plays rather than in a featured role throughout his short career thus far. If the Bucs clamp Hill and Kelce and get pressure on Mahomes, it’s on Hardman to step up and have a Hill-like game off of dump-offs and quick throws. That seems like a big ask.
Pressure is key for Tampa Bay on Sunday. The same argument can be made for the Chiefs.
Kansas City has some balancing to do on the defensive end in this game. On one hand, the age-old philosophy that beats Tom Brady is getting pressure on him, specifically with four or fewer defensive linemen. The Chiefs can bring more, but they then risk Brady picking them apart effortlessly. It’s an older Brady though, who may not pick apart a defense like he used to. Bringing five might not be the death sentence it has been in the past.
The more concerning aspect of bringing pressure is that it opens up the run for the Bucs. Tampa Bay’s rushing attack isn’t something to necessarily be afraid of, but it can be potent when firing on all cylinders.
The best way – conventionally – to beat the Chiefs is to play defense with your offense. That doesn’t mean scoring as much as they do, but running the ball and eating as much clock as possible to limit their scoring chances. Even with their matchup advantages, the Chiefs are still a handful for Tampa Bay’s defense. The Bucs’ offense has to do its part in helping out the other side. Running the ball does that most effectively.
But all of this strategy is complacent with the Bucs’ offense actually showing up. That’s been a bit of a struggle for them throughout the season. Blame it on the installation of a new quarterback and new system all you want, but these things should have been figured out by the time Tampa Bay’s first playoff game against Washington took place. In that contest, the Bucs’ offense stalled, and Washington legitimately had a chance to win at the end. The next week, Tampa Bay redeemed itself – and did so again against Green Bay. But the inconsistency is concerning, and an offense can’t just not show up against Kansas City.
Hill’s Week 12 performance still looms extremely large. What is so different this time around for the Bucs? Why would Hill not go off again? Is Davis just permanently moved off of him?
A lockdown of Kelce does not win this game for Tampa Bay. Hill needs to kept in check, and the pressure has to be on Mahomes. Both things on top of the objective of Kelce has to happen for the Bucs Sunday.
In addition, their offense has to show up. That could be the toughest bet of them all.
Hill is inevitable. Tampa Bay’s scheming on Hill Week 12 wasn’t the outcome of bad coaching or stupidity. They were simply out-executed and outran.
It’s hard to expect things to be much different Sunday, even with a safety looming over the top. Hill and the Chiefs might just have Tampa Bay’s number. If that holds true, Brady has a lot of work to do. It might be the Super Bowl – where the GOAT typically shows up – but there’s a chance we leave Sunday realizing it just wasn’t the Bucs’ year – yet.
Prediction: Chiefs-34 Bucanneers-23