Tampa's Super Bowl Victory Vindicates Zimmer’s Offensive Philosophy

Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons (USA TODAY Sports)

After a playoff slate filled with close games through the entire postseason, Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominating Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs felt very anticlimactic. While the Bucs avenged their early-season loss to K.C. by not allowing a single touchdown, what impressed me the most was their play on offense.

Prior to the Minnesota Vikings game in Tampa this season, I compared the Bruce Arians-led offense to the Vikings’ offense under John DeFilippo. While this was a valid early-season comparison, they learned from their mistakes, improving their offense weekly. During this game, I realized that head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak might have been spot-on with their assessment on how to run an offense.

The most memorable game when looking back at DeFlippo’s tenure with the Vikings was his penultimate game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough. The Pats deployed a double-high safety look throughout the game, bracketing both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, but DeFilippo thought it best to throw the ball 44 times. Even more frustrating was the fact that New England had a light tackle box the entire game, and when the Vikings attempted to run the football with Dalvin Cook, they were very successful, totaling 84 yards on nine carries.

DeFilippo was fired after a primetime loss to the Seattle Seahawks the following week. It leaked out to the media that Zimmer had met with DeFilippo multiple times and expressed the need to run the ball more, which DeFilippo disregarded.

Previously when I compared the Arians’ Bucs to DeFilippo’s Vikings, I noted that Arians’ stubborn offensive philosophy of wanting to air it out regardless of down and distance was detrimental. Ronald Jones was averaging 5.1 yards per carry and was trending toward a 1,000-yard rushing season, but Tampa had fallen into the same DeFilippo style of play-calling, and when the Chiefs primarily gave them a double-high safety look in Week 12, Tom Brady still ended up forcing the ball to Mike Evans.

During the Super Bowl, the Bucs utilized the tandem of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones to wear down Kansas City’s front seven. Tampa ran the ball 29 times, not including kneel-downs, and dropped back to pass 29 times. The ability to run the ball with success allowed them to keep Frank Clark and Chris Jones guessing the entire game and enabled Brady to execute their play-action to perfection, hitting his tight ends and running backs in space.

The Buccaneers were willing to run the ball through the entire postseason, and “Playoff Lenny” wore down opposing defenses with between-the-tackles running. This allowed them to take shots later in the game off of play-action and use these motions to confuse defenders on what was coming next.

The criticism of the Vikings’ offense has been that they run the ball too much and don’t allow their talented receivers the opportunities to make plays. While people who watched the Buffalo Bills and the Chiefs this season might feel this is a valid conclusion, the Super Bowl paints a much different picture.

Brady’s most-targeted player on Sunday was tight end Rob Gronkowski, and his No. 1 and 2 wideouts, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, only caught the ball three times. While you can point to the pass interference penalty that Evans drew, it’s clear that the offense’s game plan was geared toward Gronkowski and Fournette.

Those who desperately want the Vikings to adopt an air-raid offense like Kansas City’s should look at this game as a cautionary tale. Patrick Mahomes had to throw the ball 48 times, and Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett knew coming into this game that Mahomes and the Chiefs love to air the ball out. This allowed them to pin their ears back for the majority of the game and feast on K.C.’s backup tackles.

The Bucs gave the Chiefs a taste of their own medicine by using a double-high safety look 82% of the time, bracketing Tyreek Hill and not allowing him to decimate their defense as he did in the previous matchup when he shredded them for 269 yards. Kansas City was most successful on their opening drive of the second half when they mixed in runs and passes, not allowing JPP and Barrett to premeditate their pass rush and allow their below-average lineman to move forward instead of backpedaling in pass protection.

Mahomes could only do so much scrambling the entire game because of his injured toe, and he was often under duress in the first few seconds of the play. When Kansas City ran the ball with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, they were able to total 64 yards on nine carries. Instead of sticking with the run and mixing the offensive calls up, Andy Reid dialed more passes, eschewing play-action or any other type of motion to buy Mahomes more time.

When criticizing Zimmers’ offensive philosophy, think back to this game and how often Kirk Cousins would be under pressure given the state of Minnesota’s offensive line if they moved to an air-raid offense.

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