Tim Crone: Super Bowl may be decided on the front lines
Very few times do pro football fans have a chance to cheer for their favorite team in back-to-back Super Bowls.
As a teenager I watched the Chiefs play in the first and fourth Super Bowls and thought that was something that would happen every two or three years. Fifty years later I learned to relish every moment should the Chiefs get back to the big show.
Sunday’s game will be remembered for the rest of our lives. The matchup of Tom Brady against Patrick Mahomes will be a classic. Championship games usually come down to a player (other than big names) in a key situation who makes a big play. In this matchup on Sunday, the game will be decided at the line of scrimmage with both offensive and defensive lines.
The Chiefs in all probability will actually be starting three offensive lineman at positions they did not start during the AFC Championship game against the Bills. Due to the injury to left tackle Eric Fisher the Chiefs will probably move right tackle Mike Remmers to left tackle. Right guard Andrew Wylie will move to right tackle. The right guard will then be Stefen Wisniewski.
That is a lot of change on an offensive line for any game, let alone in the Super Bowl. The Bucs’ defensive line has played lights out for five straight weeks. Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett have stormed quarterbacks on nearly every play. The Tampa Bay defense has been stout since the Chiefs shredded them early the first time the two teams played.
Tampa Bay loves to blitz but Mahomes is the best in the league in carving up blitzes. But if the makeshift offensive line cannot hold up with just a four-man rush and are allowed to put more people in coverage, the home team could be in trouble.
The same can be said about the Chiefs’ defensive line versus a particularly good and improving Bucs offensive line. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did a good job of pressuring Brady with blitz packages early in the first game. The Chiefs are going to have to pressure Brady in the pocket and take away his mastery of quick timing routes. Someone has to be in Brady’s face on every throw or, as we all have witnessed before, he will pick any secondary apart.
The Bucs have outstanding receivers, but if Brady has to throw out of rhythm, the Chiefs have a real chance to control the Tampa offense. It will be remarkably interesting to see which team will be able to establish the running game.
Personally, I think this will be the factor that will win the game for either team.
Special teams will also play a big factor. We talk about this phase of the game all the time but have lost sight in most cases of just how important this will be in a game like the Super Bowl. The Bucs are ranked 26th for all special teams combined stats. The Chiefs are ranked No. 1 on all special teams stats. Most people do not think the Chiefs special teams have been that good with Harrison Butker’s extra point problems and muffed punt by Mecole Hardman in the AFC Championship, but the overall stats do not lie.
This could end up being the difference in the game. In the last four years the Chiefs have not beaten themselves when it comes to taking care of the little things. Of course every turnover in a game of this magnitude is worth its weight in gold. The Chiefs cannot lose offensive possessions because of turnovers.
Their offense is the straw that stirs the drink. If the defense or special teams create a turnover, the Chiefs must put points on the board every time. The one good thing is that even though the Bucs are playing this Super Bowl on their home field, the crowd will be limited and there will be several Chiefs fans in the stands as well.
Look for Andy Reid and his staff to come up with quick throws and screens to try to neutralize the pressure from the Bucs. The Bucs will have to double-team both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, which means Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle and Mecole Hardman can play a big part in the offense.
Just like last year, if Sammy Watkins can play, he can be a difference-maker in the Super Bowl. He is hurt all the time, but if he can rise to the occasion for this game, he could make the same difference he made in last year’s Super Bowl.
When all is said and done, I favor the Chiefs 31-28 over the Bucs in a classic Super Bowl. Go Chiefs!
• The quote of the week comes from Hall of Fame and winningest NFL coach in history Don Shula: “How can you prove you’re the best unless you have competition?”
Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 6 p.m. every Monday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.