Using the run game to control the game
In the first matchup between the Chiefs and Bucs, the Chiefs were able to get off to a fast start on offense, which made it harder for the Bucs to get their run game going. This lead to the Bucs dropping back a lot, allowing Spagnuolo to dial up lots of disguises and pressures, which essentially forced Brady to throw hot and underneath. This is not what Arians’ scheme is designed to do and not what their receivers are best at as they don’t have much YAC ability, which is key when getting the ball out quick as you need to be able to turn 4 yard throws into 10 yard gains.
After half time Arians realised that his team didn’t have the answers for the Chiefs’ pressure package, so he decided to start calling duo more (for more on how the Bucs run duo- https://alexbyrne.substack.com/p/duo). This is something that I think he should do again as duo is their base concept so he needs to trust his player’s ability to execute it.
The Bucs’ offense is built around creating and exploiting 1-on-1’s; the Chiefs’ defense is built around using speed, disguise, and pressure to create chaos and confusion.
Being able to avoid second and longs and third and mediums by running the ball well and often would help take Spagnuolo and the Chiefs’ pressure package out of the game, and thus make it more about who can win the 1-on-1’s. This would then give the Bucs the initiative, which is probably the most important factor in anything competitive, particularly when the two teams’ styles of play are very different.
In the first game the Chiefs were able to control when they blitzed and how they blitzed, and thus the Bucs never knew what was coming. If the Bucs can get their ground game going then they’ll be able to control when they call their downfield concepts and which ones they want to call.
So, even though Brady and the Bucs have spent the last two weeks spending a ton of time figuring out how to beat the Chiefs’ extensive pressure package (which is of course the right thing to do), their main focus on gameday shouldn’t be on beating their pressure package as doing so would be playing the Chiefs’ game. They would very likely be able to improve over their week 12 performance, but that likely won’t be enough to win them the game.
This strategy is closely aligned with the Raiders’ in week 5 vs the Chiefs, which is the only game the Chiefs have lost out of like their last 30, as they were able to keep the Chiefs out of their pressure package for most of the game and were able to reap the rewards.
Creating explosive play opportunities
As mentioned above, the Chiefs clearly had the initiative in the first matchup. This made it hard for the Bucs to call the right plays at the right time. For example, if they expected the Chiefs to blitz they could use a 7 man protection so they could pick up most blitzes, however, the Chiefs could have played coverage and their shot play would probably not work.
If the Bucs are able to stick to their under center offense, which would make it harder for the Chiefs to know whether they’re going to run or pass, then the Bucs would be able to call shot plays when the Chiefs give them the opportunity to do so (single high or no high look), while keeping 7 or more guys in to protect. If the Chiefs looked to adjust from their week 12 gameplan and play more 2 high zone, then the Bucs could continue running the ball.
The Bucs of course won’t be able to stay in under center all game, so they need to have a plan for creating downfield opportunities in passing situations. In the first matchup the Chiefs played cover 0 or doubled WR’s like Godwin and Brown for most of the game. This left Evans isolated outside for almost the entire game. He was able to make some plays later on but the Bucs weren’t able to punish the Chiefs for overplaying the underneath and intermediate middle of the field.
One way to get Evans more involved is to put him in the slot and have him run slot fades, which would give him more space to work with outside and also cleaner releases. Arians finally started doing this later on in the season-
Another key receiver when it comes to creating explosive plays for the Bucs is Scotty Miller, their only true deep threat. Miller has had tons of success this season against off CB’s, but has had almost none against press CB’s. Spagnuolo will obviously know this, so he will press Miller every opportunity he gets.
In order to get off coverage, Arians needs to align Miller in stacks or bunches. Doing this would give Miller a pathway to attack the deep middle of the field, which was open almost every play in the first matchup. Jon Gruden recognised this weakness in the Chiefs’ coverage in passing situations as he had Henry Ruggs run a post from a bunch formation, for a 72 yard TD on 3&2.
This play from the Raiders is another good encapsulation of how to best attack the Chiefs’ defense: create a 1-on-1 against an off DB and attack the open middle of the field.
The key point is that the Bucs’ WR’s are better against off, particularly Miller, while the Chiefs CB’s are better in press. The only time I would be looking to create a press 1-on-1 opportunity is for Gronk as he could dominate the Chiefs’ smaller safeties.