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Super Bowl 2021 Key Matchup: Can Kansas City's Banged Up Offensive Line Hold Off Bucs Pass Rush?

(CBS Local)- With Super Bowl LV just days away, the breakdown and analysis of the game is diving into what may determine the outcome of the duel between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. One of the biggest questions that has popped up throughout the week is in regards to Kansas City's offensive line and whether they can hold up against the Buccaneers pass rush.

The Chiefs are starting just one player in his original spot along the offensive line, center Austin Reiter. Left tackle Mike Remmers started the season as the backup right tackle, subbed in for an injured Mitchell Schwartz in Week 6 there and now moves to the opposite side following Eric Fisher's injury in the AFC Championship Game. Left guard Nick Allegretti became a starter in Week 6 as well. At right guard, Stefen Wisniewski, who started last year's Super Bowl for the Chiefs, steps back into the starting lineup because Andrew Wylie, who has been in that spot throughout the year, will play right tackle in the Super Bowl because of the move of Remmers to the left side.

That much juggling along the offensive line would normally doom a team. But, as That Other Pregame Show analyst Kyle Long said on a conference call this week, the Chiefs have the benefit of one of the best offensive minds in the league and the talents of quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

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"You want to talk about a mismatch, you go look at that Super Bowl from last year and the rush success that San Francisco had. Who other than Andy Reid to make a great adjustment, put two wing tight ends in and say, 'oh you want to beat up our tackles? Well, we're going to beat the hell out of your defensive ends before they even get there,'" said Long. "I think the Kansas City offensive line situation is even more drastic than we understand but I think the saving grace are the offensive minds and that quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The ball is out quick and Andy Reid knows how to stop a great rush."

If the Chiefs were to adjust to the pass rush by going to 12 personnel, two tight ends, it would go against their tendencies throughout the season. For The Win's Steven Ruiz and Charles McDonald noted that the Chiefs most used personnel grouping was 11 personnel (one tight end, three wide receivers, one running back) which they used 74% of the time this season. 12 personnel was a distant second at 18%.

However, breaking tendencies like that would be a classic Reid counter as Long noted. From a defensive perspective, two tight ends would allow the Buccaneers to keep their base defense (4-3) on the field which, as Long's fellow analyst London Fletcher notes, could play into what the Bucs want to try to do to stop Kansas City anyway.

"Todd Bowles may go back and look at that film from the previous game and say, 'how can we eliminate the big plays, the explosive plays Tyreek had in that game?' First and foremost, I'm putting a safety over top of whoever is covering Tyreek Hill. They may even start playing two deep safeties see if they can stop the run of Kansas City with just the seven man front," said Fletcher. "The way the Bucs defense is built, I could see them stopping the run very effectively with a seven man front. That's one of the adjustments I see them making defensively to try and eliminate some of those explosive plays. What you do is try to force Kansas City to dink and dunk their way down the football field. Can they be patient enough? Offenses tend to get impatient."

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The Bucs as a whole are strong against the run, ranking first in the league in yards per carry at 3.6 this season. But, the Chiefs know this and, in the first matchup, didn't bother much with the run posting just 20 attempts against 50 pass attempts. With two tight ends on the field, Kansas City still passes 49% of the time which would force linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David into coverage.

But, this all circles back to the original question, can the offensive line hold up against the Buccaneers rush. Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul harassed Aaron Rodgers into five sacks in the NFC Championship Game. The Bucs, as a team, recorded a 49% pass rush win rate according to ESPN meaning their pass rush beats offensive linemen within 2.5 seconds 49 percent of the time. That ranked fifth in the NFL.

Mahomes, for his part, does hold on to the ball longer than most with an average time to throw of 2.89 seconds according to Next Gen Stats. That mark was the seventh-longest this year in the league. But, that time isn't all spent in the pocket, and often, he's getting outside to extend plays and making throws on the run. We saw several examples during the AFC Championship game in which he bought time against a rusher and found one of his weapons open down the field.

There will be plenty of things to watch on Sunday, but this battle is one to keep an eye on.

Super Bowl LV is set for Sunday, February 7 at 6:30 p.m. EST on CBS. Viewers can livestream the game through as well.

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