The pass pressure ... with only four rushers
Todd Bowles has a well-earned reputation as one of the league's most creative and aggressive blitzers. His defenses with the Cardinals, Jets and Buccaneers routinely have ranked among the league leaders in blitz rate. In the right moment, Bowles has no qualms about sending six or seven rushers after the opposing quarterback, daring them to find the right receiver before the pressure gets home.

On Sunday, Bowles basically took the big blitzes out of his playbook. He sent no more than five men at Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and most frequently didn't blitz at all. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Bowles blitzed on just 9.6% of Mahomes' dropbacks, which was the lowest rate recorded for any single game by a Bowles-led defense over the past five seasons.

The simple reality is that he didn't have to blitz or send extra rushers to get pressure on Mahomes. The game's biggest mismatch on paper was Tampa's front four against a Chiefs offensive line decimated by injuries and opt-outs. Other teams have had advantages against the Chiefs in the past, but Kansas City has been able to use play designs and Mahomes' ability to extend plays to either mitigate those concerns or tire out the pass rush as the game goes along.

Instead, the Bucs whipped the Chiefs up front on virtually every single significant passing down of the game. I'm not sure I've seen a more dominant performance along the line of scrimmage since the Broncos blew up the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Carolina's starting right tackle in that game was Mike Remmers, who helped edge rusher Von Miller win Super Bowl MVP that day. Remmers, now the fill-in left tackle for Kansas City, started again Sunday and did not get any revenge.

With backups at both tackle spots in Remmers and Andrew Wylie, Kansas City coach Andy Reid chose to spread out the Bucs and attempt to give Mahomes receiving options as opposed to offering any blocking help. The Chiefs kept only five men into protect on 92.3% of their dropbacks, leaving their linemen with one-on-one matchups against the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett.

The Bucs won those matchups over and over and over again. Bowles had his defensive linemen run a ton of twists and T-E games, which dared the Chiefs to communicate after the snap, pass along blocking responsibilities and deal with physical mismatches. Here's a third-and-9 late in the game where the Bucs win on both sides. Pierre-Paul (90) beats Remmers (75) at the snap, and when Mahomes runs to escape that pressure, he heads directly into the twist from Suh (93). This is just four versus five, and a good offensive line should be able to handle this. The Chiefs were not a good offensive line on Sunday:

The Chiefs did not have answers for the twists or the pressure. One offensive lineman would lose almost immediately on seemingly every single play, and while Mahomes would almost always make that guy miss, he rarely had the time to reset and look upfield to try to identify an open receiver. By the fourth quarter, the names on paper didn't matter. The Bucs subbed in and those guys were getting immediate pressure on Mahomes. William Gholston had the initial pressure on a fourth-and-9. Steve McLendon, who was traded from the Jets to Tampa in midseason, created the first pressure on the next fourth down.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Mahomes was pressured on 51.8% of his dropbacks, the third-highest rate he has seen in any game as a pro. The only quarterback pressured more frequently in a playoff game over the past three years was Lamar Jackson against the Bills in the divisional round. A quarterback extending plays forever can create and invite pressures, but that really wasn't the case here. The Chiefs could not block up Tampa Bay.

Mahomes was sacked only three times, which is a testament to how incredible he was in this game. He was able to repeatedly escape what would have been play-destroying pressures for other quarterbacks. What looked to be frantic, desperate passes often hit his receivers in the helmet or hands, and I might remember one of his incompletions from this game more than any other play. If someone tells you Mahomes choked or was the problem in this loss, they weren't paying attention.

There are ways to try to slow down a dominant pass rush, but none of them really worked for the Chiefs. They had some limited success running the football, mostly on draws with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but only handed him the ball nine times before the game got out of hand. Reid is the best screen guy in the business, but his team was so out of sync on offense that its screens looked sloppy, with linemen failing to get to the correct marks.

Kansas City picked on Devin White with run-pass options when these two teams played in November, but Reid & Co. seemed to get away from the RPOs after the first quarter. White, who was a liability in the first game, was one of the best players on the field in the rematch. We also didn't see much of the jet sweep/tap pass action I expected to try to slow down the defensive ends. Given how frequently the Bucs were crowding the line of scrimmage and showing mug looks (double A-gap pressure), I'm surprised the Chiefs didn't try to use Hardman or Tyreek Hill moving across the formation more frequently.

Bill Barnwell,, published 8 February 2021