Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. With Super Bowl LV approaching, Brooks digs into the teachable moments of the Chiefs’ and Bucs’ paths to Super Sunday.
The Super Bowl is a great time for general managers, scouts and coaches to research and study how the contenders got where they are. While team-building processes are unique to each squad, astute evaluators can find commonalities that are applicable for leaders intent on constructing their own championship-caliber groups.
Given some time to study the All-22 Coaches Film and the transactions that each team made along the way, here are five lessons that I’ve learned from the Chiefs and Buccaneers this season:
1) It is truly all about the quarterback
The recent history of the Chiefs and Buccaneers, who were not able to fully maximize their potential until an elite quarterback showed them the way, serves as a prime example of why the NFL is really a QB-driven league.
The Chiefs were a perennial playoff team under Alex Smith, but they have become dynastic with Patrick Mahomes at the helm. The 2018 MVP has a 38-8 career record as a starter, with 25 wins in his last 26 starts (including playoffs). Most impressively, the Chiefs are 6-1 in the playoffs under Mahomes, and he has them on the verge of winning a second consecutive Super Bowl.
The team’s dominance over the past three seasons can be attributed to his remarkable ability and how he’s made the Chiefs’ offense nearly impossible to defend. As an elite playmaker with A-plus arm talent and extraordinary improvisational skills, Mahomes can make Andy Reid’s creative play designs come to life. Whether operating off a script within the pocket or playing sandlot football on the perimeter, the fourth-year pro is a big-play hunter with the discipline to take the check-down when his primary reads are covered.
Tom Brady has been just as impactful as a thermostat leader who has changed the culture of the franchise. The six-time Super Bowl winner turned up the heat on his teammates with his disciplined approach and attention to detail. Moreover, Brady has helped an ultra-talented offense perform at a higher level as a pinpoint passer with excellent management skills. The NFL’s ultimate winner operates like a pass-first point guard from the pocket, feeding the ball to open receivers while also playing excellent situational football.
From Brady’s flawless execution of the two-minute drills to his mastery of third-down and red-zone situations, he has transformed the Buccaneers’ offense into an efficient scoring machine. The veteran passer is a high-percentage distributor with a great feel for locating the optimally positioned playmaker from his five-star supporting cast.
Each field general has led their respective teams to the Super Bowl in their own unique way, proving that the presence of an elite quarterback is needed to compete at the highest level in this league.
2) Speed kills
Credit Andy Reid and Co. for assembling a track team on the perimeter. The Chiefs have an Olympic-level 4×100-meter relay squad, with Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Travis Kelce (who is fast for a tight end) and others (Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle) blazing the turf on an assortment of routes. The individual and collective speed of the unit overwhelms opponents lacking A-level speed and athleticism at linebacker and in the secondary.
The overall explosiveness on display in the Chiefs’ All-22 Coaches Film is jaw-dropping. They have a collection of players with the capacity to run past defenders on vertical plays or transform short plays (quick passes, screens and reverses) into big gains on the perimeter. The run-after-the-catch (RAC) ability of the Chiefs’ playmakers is scary, due to their speed, acceleration, burst and athleticism. They can make defenders miss in traffic or run away from tacklers in space, and that makes the unit a nightmare to defend.
Opponents looking to join the ranks of the elite must keep the Chiefs’ collective speed in mind as they build rosters with the capacity to go toe to toe with the defending Super Bowl champions. Whether by acquiring the defensive personnel needed to neutralize the Chiefs’ offense or by upgrading the speed and explosiveness on the perimeter to win potential shootouts, competitors must prioritize getting faster and more explosive.
3) There’s no such thing as too much talent
Old-school coaches will quickly tell anyone within earshot that it is not about the Xs and Os, it is about the Jimmies and Joes. Bucs general manager Jason Licht and coach Bruce Arians have embraced that mantra by stockpiling the roster with current and former All-Star performers on each side of the ball.
On offense, in particular, the Buccaneers have put together a Pro Bowl squad with decorated playmakers all over the field. The Buccaneers’ brain trust not only added Brady to a nucleus that already featured receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and tight end Cameron Brate. At Brady’s request, the team also added tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Antonio Brown to the lineup to create an aerial attack with the capacity to match the Packers, Saints and other NFC heavyweights in a shootout.
With veteran running backs Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy also joining the team as ring chasers along with first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Buccaneers have put together an offense that should earn a 99 rating on the latest version of Madden.
Although the pieces of the puzzle didn’t fit together nicely at the beginning of the season, the Buccaneers have been able to overwhelm opponents with their offensive firepower during different stretches of the year. Moreover, the Buccaneers’ collection of talent gives them a chance to match the defending champions point for point in a Super Bowl setting that will serve as a showcase for the offensive-centric team-building trends that are transforming the league.
If you want to compete with the title contenders in the AFC and NFC, you need to have the talent to win a shootout on the grass.
4) Invest in the trenches
The fireworks on the perimeter tend to mask the impressive work done by each team in the trenches. The Chiefs and Buccaneers have invested draft capital and free-agency dollars in their offensive and defensive lines, and it has resulted in each team controlling the line of scrimmage in big games.
Tampa’s defensive dominance throughout the regular season and playoffs has been fueled by its monsters at the line of scrimmage. The No. 1-ranked run defense (in the regular season) has been spearheaded by a key free-agent signee (Ndamukong Suh, on his second consecutive one-year deal with the team) and a top pick (Vita Vea, selected 12th overall in 2018) on the inside. The big-bodied 1-2 punch at the point of attack routinely whips blockers at the line and eliminates creases for runners on inside runs.
The Buccaneers’ pass rush, meanwhile, is sparked by Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett. The ultra-athletic rushers were initially acquired through trade (Pierre-Paul was shipped over from the Giants in 2018, then signed a two-year deal with Tampa last offseason) and free agency (Barrett signed a one-year deal in 2019, then was retained via the franchise tag last offseason) to form a formidable pass-rush combination, and the duo has been up to the task, combining for 17.5 sacks during the regular season and another five sacks during the playoffs. The persistent pressure has enabled the Buccaneers to harass opponents with a four-man rush, with max coverage behind it.
The Chiefs’ defense isn’t viewed as a dominant unit, but they are a close-out squad, thanks to their marquee pass rushers. Frank Clark and Chris Jones are house-wreckers at the point of attack with excellent hand-to-hand combat skills and outstanding explosive strength. The surprising trade acquisition (Clark was sent to K.C. from Seattle in 2019) and homegrown product (Jones inked a four-year extension in 2020 after being taken in the second round in 2016) have given the Chiefs’ front line the boost needed to whip opponents who are chasing points. The presence of an outside rusher to complement an inside pocket pusher has affected opposing quarterbacks forced to make plays from the pocket to keep up with the Chiefs’ high-powered offense.
The investment in the big uglies has paid dividends for each team, and aspiring contenders should follow suit.
5) Diversity matters
With the inequity in the composition of coaching staffs around the league continuing to be a hot-button topic, team builders should pay close attention to the Chiefs and Buccaneers. Because Andy Reid and Bruce Arians have made a concerted effort to build diverse coaching staffs with qualified coaches from different backgrounds.
The Buccaneers feature Black coaches at each coordinator position (Byron Leftwich on offense and Todd Bowles on defense) and the assistant head coach spot (Harold Goodwin). Also, Arians has brought female assistants with decorated resumes (assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar and assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust) to handle key positions. The melting pot of people and perspectives have enabled the Buccaneers to build a strong team equipped with sound fundamentals while hearing different voices that reach players differently. Considering the diversity on the field and different paths that every player has traveled to arrive at this point, the Buccaneers’ coaching staff has enough variety to effectively meet players where they’re at in their journey.
Reid’s offensive imagination is considered legendary in coaching circles, but offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is Black, deserves credit for putting his stamp on the Chiefs’ offense. The longtime NFL running back turned coach has sprinkled in some creativity on top of the running attack while also managing the development of one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Although he didn’t come from a traditional background to land at the offensive coordinator spot, his divergent path has enabled him to be a major influence on the most explosive offense in the league. The Chiefs’ success should encourage team builders to think outside of the box when considering future play-callers and leaders.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter.
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