NFL Stat Oddity: Super Bowl LV

Defense wins championships. Football games are decided in the trenches. Overhyped quarterback matchups tend to disappoint.

The first two were reinforced by Super Bowl LV, and while that last one isn’t part of NFL lore, it should be after a 13-game postseason peaked right at the beginning with Philip Rivers (Colts) and Josh Allen (Bills) providing us the best-played game at the quarterback position. When Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady turns out worse than Taylor Heinicke vs. Tom Brady, you know you are watching one defense rise to the occasion and do something special.

On Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated the lines of the Kansas City Chiefs in one of the most decisive Super Bowls in the salary cap era. The 31-9 final is easily the worst loss of Patrick Mahomes’ NFL career and the worst stat line and performance in 54 games. It is his only game without an offensive touchdown as the Chiefs could do no better than three field goals on 10 possessions.

Tom Brady threw for 201 yards, three touchdowns, and was named Super Bowl MVP, because of course he was. It would be too difficult to split it among the 11 defensive starters in a game where turnovers were not the decisive story for a change. This was a masterclass in coaching by Bruce Arians and his staff, an eyesore for Andy Reid and his, and the image that I think sums this game up best would be this one of Mahomes trying to make a throw on fourth down to no avail.

It was that kind of night. Maybe the most concerning part is that last year in the Super Bowl was almost the same night for the Chiefs, who will enter the 2021 season with a “prove it in the Super Bowl” demand from their harshest critics as the latest attempt at reaching a new dynasty hit a serious road bump in Tampa.

Story of the Game: Pressure vs. No Pressure

A year ago in Super Bowl LIV, it was looking like a great defense (49ers) was about to shut down another prolific offense. Patrick Mahomes was having the worst game of his NFL career halfway through the fourth quarter as the Chiefs trailed 20-10. Then “Wasp” happened on 3rd-and-15 and the rest is history.

There was no Wasp this time. Just the Chiefs repeatedly getting stung by the pass rush and coverage of the Tampa Bay defense, which was outstanding. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers found offense come easy after a slow start. Tampa Bay completely took the game over in a six-drive stretch where it scored four touchdowns, one field goal, and got stopped at the 1-yard line on fourth down on the only non-scoring drive.

It comes down to pressure. When Brady’s Patriots beat Mahomes’ Chiefs in the 2018 AFC Championship Game, I noted the large pressure difference in that game. Mahomes was pressured almost 45% of the time while Brady was just under 11% according to ESPN Stats & Info. I wish I had an awesome database of pressure differences for every game in recent years, but that doesn’t appear to be in my collection. I just know something in the neighborhood of 34% is huge.

Well, this time it was worse. According to ESPN Stats & Info again, Mahomes was pressured on 29-of-56 dropbacks (51.8%), the worst in Super Bowl history. Meanwhile, the Chiefs only got to Brady on 4-of-30 plays (13.3%), his lowest rate in 10 Super Bowls. We are talking a difference of 38.5% in pressure percentage points. That is massive.

We joke about Brady “willing his defense” to do this stuff, but look at these results. Mahomes has four games in his career where he was held to six or fewer points at halftime and two of them are his playoff losses to Brady. What a two-way legend.

Obviously, the Eric Fisher injury and offensive line issue was a major concern going into this game for the Chiefs. I called it the wild card to the matchup, but I thought if any offense was able to make it a footnote instead of the main story, it’s these Chiefs and Mahomes.

I was wrong, the line did become the main story, but it’s still only half of it. Eric Fisher himself isn’t going to cut off 20+ pressures. Maybe not even getting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz back could have prevented this. Sure, we probably need a new rule that Mike Remmers should never be allowed to start at tackle in the playoffs again, but the Chiefs’ other problem was the defense had no answers for making things hard on Tampa Bay.

The pressure disparity was mind blowing to watch. I said during the game that Brady was feasting on screens, play-action, and DPI, but little did I know how right I was until after the game.

Brady started 0-for-4 in success rate in this game. He then went on to have 15 successful dropbacks the rest of the game, including his first touchdown drive in the first quarter of a Super Bowl. Thirteen of those 15 plays involved play-action, screens/pick plays, or checkdowns over the middle to the running back. The only two plays that didn’t fit that was a quick out to Gronk on third down in the second quarter for 5 yards and the 1-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown on the same drive, a good throw into not the smallest window you’ll ever see.

There was no pressure on any of these plays as Brady had time and great windows to deliver easy throws for all of his yards. And yeah, this doesn’t even get into the penalties we’ll get into later. I’m not saying Blaine Gabbert wins this game 31-9 for the Buccaneers, but I don’t see a throw he couldn’t make here.

Throw in a more than solid rushing attack and the Buccaneers just got whatever they wanted for a six-drive stretch in this game. Meanwhile, the Chiefs were in trouble from the first series of the game. On their second snap, Mahomes narrowly avoided a sack by getting rid of the ball for an incompletion. On the first third down, he scrambled for a first down. Kansas City would only go 2-of-12 on third down the rest of the night.

It felt like the Chiefs were worried about the protection, wanted to use quick passes on early downs, but it just did not work and set the offense back in the down-and-distance.

  • Even the first pass of the game was a quick one to Byron Pringle, who was fortunate to get 3 yards on forward progress after the fast defense knocked him back.
  • Another quick first-quarter throw to Mecole Hardman, who did not look for the ball, was so off with the timing because of the edge pressure that it could have been a pick-six if the throw were worse.
  • After the first Gronkowski touchdown, Mahomes tried a quick throw to the back and Jason Pierre-Paul batted it down with ease.
  • Same drive, but the first play of the second quarter was a big 3rd-and-4. The Chiefs tried to set up a RB screen, but the pressure again got there too well and the pass was off for an incompletion.
  • After the Chiefs got a 14-yard gain to Hill from their own 1, Mahomes tried a slow-developing pass in the backfield to Hardman that he couldn’t handle, but it would have lost yards anyways.
  • At the two-minute warning, Mahomes checked down to Hill in the backfield for a loss of a yard as the receiver ran out of bounds and stopped the clock, another fatal mistake.
  • On the first drive of the third quarter, Mahomes was low on a quick pass to Hardman, who made the catch and then slipped for no gain. That set up 3rd-and-7, pressure forced another tough throw the Chiefs couldn’t complete, and they settled for a field goal. Six plays later they were down 28-9 halfway through the third quarter, completely changing the game and putting everything in miracle/hero territory.

I just highlighted seven early-down quick throws that failed to do anything for the Chiefs before it got to 28-9. This game got away from them quickly, trailing 28-9 after having the ball six times. The Chiefs also didn’t seem interested in giving the tackles any help in this one, according to Next Gen Stats.

Tyreek Hill finished with 73 yards, a decline of 196 yards from Week 12, and even those 73 yards were mostly gathered with the game out of reach.

So what did Bowles do differently? For any game of his over the last five years, he blitzed the least (9.6% of snaps) and played two-high safety (87% of snaps) the most to take away the big plays.

Frankly, this is some of the coolest stat shit I’ve ever read. A true tendency breaker in the biggest game of his career, and it worked to great success. More coaches need to do this instead of the usual “we do what we do” crap that passes as coaching in this league. You have two weeks to prepare, it’s a great opponent, do something different to attack their specific strengths and weaknesses.

However, I feel the Chiefs gave in to this approach with the quick throws I mentioned before. They were so worried about the protection for obvious reasons, but if you look at this game before it got out of reach, their best shots at making plays came when Mahomes let the ball rip.

On the opening drive’s 3rd-and-8, he had Hardman open deep, but the young, mistake prone receiver seemed more occupied with staring at the ball instead of going for it. On the second drive, Mahomes did a great job under pressure to get off a pass on 3rd-and-11, but it hit Hill in the face instead of a potential touchdown or at least first down. On the fourth drive, Mahomes again made a great play under pressure, but Kelce had a bad drop on 3rd-and-8 that would have extended the drive. Maybe they still punt, but it likely would have helped the field position that ended up being awful after a penalty wiped out a punt and the punter continued his lousy night with a shank. Tampa Bay started at the Kansas City 38 and scored a touchdown to go up 14-3. Then of course there was the play on fourth down that I led this recap with where Mahomes got that pass off in mid-flight, but that too hit Williams in the face instead of him coming down with the touchdown catch to give this game a little life early in the fourth quarter. It was the last real gasp and Mahomes’ dejected face at the end of that play said it all.

I say the Chiefs are their own worst enemy, and that may not have been true on this night. Tampa Bay’s defense was tough, but there were still plays to be had by the Chiefs that they failed to make. This is why I cannot buy the notion that Mahomes “choked” in this Super Bowl. Where are the drives that he specifically screwed up or the open throws he missed or big opportunities he didn’t take advantage of? He didn’t bring his A game, probably not his B game either, but he had three drive-killing drops on plays where he made incredible efforts to even give his guys a shot at making a play. We are used to seeing this offense make highlight-worthy plays, but they couldn’t buy one in this game.

Left: Mahomes with the throw. Right: the receivers without the catch.

There were also 11 plays where Mahomes avoided a sack that a lot of quarterbacks wouldn’t. These were still successful plays for the Tampa Bay defense, but all I’m saying is the three sacks don’t begin to tell the story with how much pressure Mahomes was under in this game.

ESPN’s Seth Walder shared from Next Gen Stats what may be my favorite stat from the whole game: Patrick Mahomes ran a total of 497 yards before his passes/sacks in this game, the highest total in any game in the last five seasons. He broke his own record as he ran 495 yards against the Raiders this year, his only other loss in the previous 26 games, another game where his pressure rate was significantly high against a non-blitzing defense.

Walder also said that the third-highest game was Mahomes against the Saints (441 yards), another game where the offensive line took a beating. Josh Allen had the fourth-highest game at 403 yards in the AFC Championship Game. So perhaps we have the blueprint to beat Mahomes: make him run a full Fran Tarkenton scramble drill clinic and hope his receivers don’t make any plays on those throws. I mean, it worked this night to perfection.

The degree of difficulty in this game for each quarterback could not be any different. That’s why the Buccaneers are champions, and the Chiefs did not repeat. Give credit to the coaches of Tampa for exploiting the weaknesses in the Chiefs and taking advantage of the Fisher injury. However, there was another factor at play here that I warned about.

The Refs: Welcome to My Shit List, Carl Cheffers

Walt Coleman, Ron Winter, Bill Vinovich. Let’s add Carl Cheffers to my shit list of worst refs because he just had to make his crew a big first-half headline in this game. The worst thing a ref could do in a Super Bowl is become part of the story, but this crew did that, and I warned in one of my previews that this could happen with the way Tampa Bay draws defensive pass interference (DPI) flags at historic rates and Cheffers loves to call that on the road team (or any team) at crazy rates this year.

Obviously, the Chiefs had a brutal penalty night, racking up 11 calls for 120 yards. Tampa Bay had six first downs via penalty, something only four other teams have had in the playoffs since 1999. Only the 2002 Titans (against Oakland) had seven first downs via penalty. No team in the Super Bowl since 1999 had more than four first downs via penalty until Tampa Bay. Most of the damage came in the first half for Kansas City.

There was a lot of undisciplined football by the Chiefs. Chris Jones had a stupid retaliation penalty that wiped out a 3rd-and-7 and gave Tampa an automatic first down. Hardman was offsides on a 40-yard field goal on 4th-and-5, which led to a new set of downs and a touchdown, a 4-point penalty. There was also that holding on a punt with a good tackle that led to a re-kick, which gave Tampa great field position at the KC 38.

You can live with that stuff. It is what it is. But the way these officials catered to the Tampa Bay receivers in the second quarter, especially Mike Evans, really does make you question if these games are on the level. First, there was the “defensive holding” call to negate a Chiefs interception on a drive that ended in a Tampa Bay touchdown to take a 14-3 lead.

Are you kidding me with this? Where’s the jersey grab? Where’s the penalty on Evans for pushing off to try creating separation? Green Bay’s receivers were visibly held two weeks ago and couldn’t buy these calls at home. Yet they call this to negate a pick.

Then you get into the last minute of the second quarter. Brady does one of his classic chuck-and-duck plays, just throwing one up for Evans, who sells some incidental contact by falling down on a bad ball and it gets a 34-yard flag for DPI, the longest “play” from scrimmage on the night. That call was bullshit as well. Two plays later, Brady sails a pass for Evans into the first row because he knows it wasn’t there and he didn’t have time to waste. There was a little contact in the end zone, but the pass was so clearly uncatchable. Defensive pass interference, put the ball at the 1-yard line. How do you completely ignore the uncatchable part here? That pass had a better chance of being caught by a cardboard cutout than a human being.

People who say 5 yards for illegal contact are wrong too. By the time the ball is released, there is no relevant contact that you don’t see on every play. It’s either PI or nothing. The fact that Tyrann Mathieu was also called for taunting after this drive despite Brady doing the same things to him is also telling of how biased the refs were in this half.

One of the network ex-officials also saw a disparity in how this half was called compared to normal games.

Maybe the Chiefs still bomb in the second half of a closer game, but those two touchdown drives in the second quarter looked tainted to me, and it’s worse because I was predicting this would happen in Tampa Bay’s favor with this referee.

So Cheffers will be on my shit list going forward. People think it’s funny when Brady tries to high-five an official like he did in the Saints game this postseason, but I think he does it because he really does expect them to have his back in these games.

This time they did.

The 10th Mahomes Loss: Where Does It Stack Up?

I have been posting charts about every Mahomes game, and here are the 10 losses updated for this game.

Where does Tampa Bay stack up? Obviously the > 28-points threshold was reached, and it probably didn’t have to be, but that’s always important. The Buccaneers did not dominate time of possession, but they still won it. They sure didn’t mind the Chiefs taking up over eight minutes on the two drives that ended with a turnover on downs, or the five-minute field goal drive late in the second quarter. The Buccaneers did not push the ball much offensively after going up 31-9, so they only finished with 340 yards, the second fewest in a win over the Chiefs.

The Chiefs obviously had one of their worst penalty games (11 for 120 yards) in the Mahomes era, and that was big in this one as I just went over.

The running game was helpful for the Buccaneers with Leonard Fournette (89 yards) and Ronald Jones (61 yards) combining for 150 yards and a touchdown. It may have even been two touchdowns if the Bucs used Fournette instead of Jones at the 1-yard line in the second quarter on the only great stop of the game for the Kansas City defense. The Chiefs weren’t horrible at running the ball as Clyde Edwards-Helaire was one of the few good players on the night, finishing with 64 yards on nine carries. It just wasn’t a favorable game script to run a lot, or maybe one could argue the Chiefs should have tried some more runs early to give the tackles a break in the pass protection area.

All I know is it’s not the game to laugh at them for taking a running back in the first round, but CEH was not the downfall here. If anything, the backs should have been more involved with chipping and protecting since they weren’t good at catching. Darrel Williams only came down with two catches for 10 yards on seven targets and Le’Veon Bell didn’t even play. Fournette pitched in four helpful catches for 46 yards, so there’s really no comparison in the production the Buccaneers got from their backs versus the Chiefs.

While the Chiefs had two turnovers (Mahomes picks), this was oddly a Super Bowl not determined by those plays. They didn’t come until midway through the third quarter with the Chiefs already in the unenviable position of trailing 28-9. Not to mention the first was a tipped deep ball thrown on 3rd-and-13.

The biggest shock is that the fourth quarter was just never close, the first time Mahomes has never been within one score in the fourth quarter in his career. The score was 31-9 at the 2:46 mark of the third quarter and it never changed again.

Worst Postseason, But I’ll Eat Crow on the COVID Season

The 2020 NFL season is completed. All 269 games were played, only a few were a farce because of COVID, and the Super Bowl was finished on time. I never thought that would happen, but they pushed through and got it done, so I’ll eat some crow on that.

Of course, I don’t think the postseason could have gone any worse than it did from both an entertainment standpoint and my own personal rooting interests. This was terrible after a season in which a lot of teams had good seasons and it seemed like we would get interesting games in the playoffs. Remember all the double-digit comebacks every week?

We couldn’t even get a single fourth-quarter lead change, the first time that’s happened since the 2005 season. At least that postseason gave us Steelers-Colts in the divisional round, which was one of the most dramatic fourth quarters in NFL history from the Colts’ comeback attempt to Jerome Bettis’ fumble, Nick Harper’s return and tackle by Ben Roethlisberger, and Mike Vanderjagt shanking the kick for overtime. I know people hate Super Bowl XL, but at least it was a better game than tonight. So I’ll take the 2005 postseason any day over this one.

The longest drought without a repeat champion in NFL history continues. If Tampa Bay ends it next year, I may have to start focusing more attention on the NBA or learn hockey analytics, because it’s hard for me to want to invest so much time in a league where one ancient quarterback continues to see his defense hold prolific offenses out of the end zone. Two of the last three Super Bowls have been downright awful representations of the product after regular seasons that were legitimately good.

In a league that is dying for new blood and new powers to emerge in a transition period, we’re left with a 43-year-old quarterback who probably is pumped full of blood from random men half his age.

I will say this, Brady did a hell of a job at picking his new team. He stayed out of the AFC, making it easier to get back to the Super Bowl since the NFC loves those flash in the pan teams where everything just clicks one year. If he goes to someone like Indy or Miami or the cursed Chargers, he’s likely getting put down early by the Ravens or Bills or Chiefs. Instead, he goes to the NFC where his main competition becomes the Saints and Packers. Guess who stops those teams short of the Super Bowl in the NFC? EVERYBODY THE LAST DECADE. Well, minus Dallas. So he gets to the final four with statistically the best defense left and a loaded receiving corps that even got to add Gronk and AB. You think the Colts are bringing in Gronk and AB? I doubt it. They scored the first three touchdowns in the Super Bowl too. So I do have to give him credit for picking the best team possible to make this happen.

Defense wins championships. Football games are decided in the trenches. Tom Brady’s luck is the greatest of all time. If he doesn’t have to change his game, then neither do I. But I will start doing video work this offseason in addition to being more active as a writer.

If you think a Super Bowl blowout is going to make me hibernate for seven months, then you don’t know me very well — not that that’s ever stopped randoms on the internet from trying. I’m over 11 months into my diet and feeling good about hitting important milestones this year. I’ll definitely write about that if it comes to pass as it would mean a lot to me if I could help even just one person out there. I look forward to getting a COVID vaccine and being able to see people I care about in person. This last year has been tough, and while a Chiefs win would have made this a more enjoyable offseason and put the league on a better timeline for the future, the fact is it’s just a football game. The outcome doesn’t change a thing that I planned to do tomorrow, this week, or the next.

When I started this blog in 2012, the very first post was titled “You Are Now About to Witness the Strength of Street Knowledge.” I’ll end the 2020 NFL season with another N.W.A. reference just for the haters out there:

You don’t like how I’m livin’? Well, fuck you!

Until next time…

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

5 thoughts on “NFL Stat Oddity: Super Bowl LV

  1. I’m just in awe on how much you hate Tom Brady, hats off to you Scott. Never seen a bigger hater ever. Well done. I mean, it colors and biases you in your analysis but again, i’m in awe.

  2. Hahahaha I love reading the incredible pain in Scott voice every time Brady wins a playoff game. It is sweet nectar to my life.

    In 2003 Scott wrote that Peyton Manning was the best QB in the NFL but got a little unlucky in his playoff games while Brady tended to have more luck. And you know what Scott was probably right! At that point Manning probably was a better quarterback, albeit he did show that his approach to quarterbacking wasn’t flawless. But 18 years later – with 18 years of evidence of Brady’s ability to improve his game and elevate the position including 5 more rings, 3 MVPs and basically every statistical record in the book (including Scotts beloved efficiency metrics), he STILL wants to die on the hill that Peyton Manning is a better quarterback.

    Peyton was just named a hall of famer – but he cant sniff Brady’s jockstrap. Scott go to bed.

    1. Manning was way better and his numbers are better when adjusting for time period (he started all of deflated 98-00 and missed inflated 11 and inflated post 15) and accomplished what he did (he was more individually accomplished) in 2 less seasons

      If greatness is based off of how great someone truly was then believing Manning > Brady is a great hill to die on, it’s the correct answer

      1. Yes the guy who just won a super bowl at age 43 with a brand new team has inflated numbers.

        PM and TB were equals early in their career. I could even see why someone could argue why PM was better, esp. in the first few seasons. But ultimately, Tom smashes Peyton bc what he’s done later in his career – its not even close.

        If we are adjusting for length of career – then one could make an argument that someone like Steve Young was the GOAT. But people don’t – longevity matters. Rings matter. The only people left in your camp are diehard manning fanboys and Brady haters.

        So just like Scott – go to bed.

  3. Glad to hear you’re doing well and the diet has you feeling good. Always appreciated your candor in your writing. It’s been a damn tough year for me, and it’s probably time for me to make some personal changes as well. It is tough to put so much time and energy into football and have these downer endings (CFB was a wash too), but hopefully things will be better post-covid. Personally I probably should start trying to get into the sportswriting biz, if I’m going to be spending so much time on it I should at least try to make some money. Hopefully now that it’s all over I can find some time to be productive on weekends now.

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