Chiefs O-line vs. Buccaneers’ pass rush a key Super Bowl matchup

The Super Bowl LV matchup that has everyone buzzing is Patrick Mahomes versus Tom Brady at quarterback. But the reality is those two won’t be on the field at the same time, except maybe for the coin toss.

The real matchup to watch between the Chiefs and the Buccaneers is going to be at the line of scrimmage, particularly when the Chiefs have the ball. Kansas City has one offensive line starter left at the same position from their opening game. Opt-outs and injuries have left the Chiefs with a much different unit than that which won the Super Bowl last year.

The Super Bowl may be decided by how this group of relatively obscure players fares against a Tampa Bay pass rush trying to get to Mahomes.

“You have to have trust in those guys up front,” Mahomes said. “They work their tail off just like everybody else and so I feel like they’ve done a great job all year of going up against a lot of good defensive fronts. For me, I’ve just got to get the ball out of my hand whatever way possible and not let those guys kind of destroy the game.”

The Chiefs depleted offensive line will face a stiff test against the Buccaneers' pass rush in the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs depleted offensive line will face a stiff test against the Buccaneers’ pass rush in the Super Bowl.
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Center Austin Reiter is the only starting lineman left from Week 1. Mike Remmers and Nick Allegretti began the season as backups. Stefen Wisniewski was on the Steelers. Andrew Wylie started for the Chiefs, but at right guard. That group will now start in the biggest game of the year on Sunday.

The Chiefs had two linemen opt out before the season began, including starting guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Then, they lost starting guard Kelechi Osemele and tackle Mitchell Schwartz to season-ending injuries early in the year. Finally, left tackle Eric Fisher tore an Achilles tendon in the AFC Championship two weeks ago and won’t play Sunday.

The Buccaneers come into this game with 48 sacks during the regular season, tied for fourth in the NFL. In the playoffs, Tampa Bay has seven sacks and has generated a lot of pressure.

“We have had guys shuffle in and out of the lineup,” offensive line coach Andy Heck said. “To me — and this probably has been a bigger year for that — to me, it feels like something that’s a constant in this league. You always have seasons where you’ve got to, ‘Hey, next man up.’ You’ve got to move a guy here to there — so in that regard, this is not unusual.

“You just approach it with a mentality that it doesn’t matter if you’re playing left guard or right tackle. There’s only a certain number of blocks you’ve got to make — whether you’re reaching a guy right, reaching a guy left or pass-protecting a guy who’s head-up inside-outside. You’re making the same blocks no matter what position you are. And then in terms of handling stunts and things like that, that’s a challenge for any offensive line.”

The Chiefs have withstood the injuries along the line in part because of Mahomes’ skill at avoiding the rush. Mahomes gets rid of the ball quickly or he slides away from pressure with remarkable skill. There are not many quarterbacks better at extending a play than Mahomes.

That will help this line in trying to slow down Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett and Vita Vea.

“My guys have been practicing hard the last couple weeks here, trying to make sure their technique and fundamentals are proper,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Listen, we’re not the prettiest bunch on the offensive line, but I’ve got scrappy guys and they’ll figure out how to do it well.”

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