Two-deep coverages to limit big plays
Anyone who watched the tape of the first game in Week 12 knew that the Bucs couldn't line up with a single-high safety for most of the game. In my preview, I wrote about how the Chiefs had used those single-high looks to produce a career game for Hill, who repeatedly ended up alone against Carlton Davis.

Going with split-safety coverages as part of Cover 2, Cover 4 or Cover 6 would give the Bucs more protection against the deep ball at the expense of adding more would-be rushers to Bowles' blitz packages.

Well, as you know, Bowles didn't have to blitz, which left plenty of defenders to stack up in coverage. The Bucs generally played fire zones (three defenders at each level) when they rushed five, but they played almost entirely split-safety coverages because of how often they only rushed four.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Bucs were in two-safety shells on 87% of plays, the highest rate for a Bowles defense over the past five seasons. He would spin his coverage, showing a single-high safety or a three-deep look before the snap before moving into a split-safety look at the snap, but again, he didn't need to disguise things all that much given how successful the Bucs were up front.

Tampa didn't assign the job of stopping Hill to any one cornerback. When Hill was in the slot, he went up against Sean Murphy-Bunting. On the outside, the Bucs played sides, which meant that Hill would see Davis when he lined up on the right of the offense and Jamel Dean on the left. Those corners almost always had help over the top with Hill to try to take away the vertical shots, and while Hill can wriggle his way out of almost any coverage if given enough time, Mahomes rarely had the time to wait for Hill to run to open space. Hill had three catches for 34 yards before some garbage-time grabs in the fourth quarter.

In the first matchup between these two teams, Mahomes went 4-of-8 for 163 yards with two touchdowns on throws traveling 20 yards or more in the air. In the rematch, the reigning Super Bowl MVP finished 0-for-5 with an interception on those same passes. Mahomes rarely had time to even look deep, let alone attempt a viable deep pass.

Other teams have had the idea of playing two-deep against the Chiefs and avoiding the big play at all costs. The Texans and Bills did it during the regular season. The Chiefs crushed them by running the football, hitting Travis Kelce over the middle of the field, completing RPOs, getting Mahomes scrambling for first downs and then picking them apart when they came out of the safe looks. This time, Kansas City fell too far behind to run the ball. Mahomes scrambled some early but spent too much time running backward under pressure to move the chains. All that was really left were the completions to Kelce, who had 10 catches for 133 yards over the middle of the field.

Bill Barnwell,, published 8 February 2021