The path to the Super Bowl goes through space

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,384
80,290
0
Ypsilanti, MI
Do space force units matter in NFL games?

Yes, this was made very clear over the weekend in the NFC and AFC Championship games. I would say that, if anything, it matters more.

The differences in “infrastructure” positions between NFL teams is much less than in the college game. While Alabama can generate an accumulative advantage from having blue chips at offensive guard and linebacker going up against the non-blue chip athletes playing across from those guys, such is not really the case in the NFL. The advantages you can generate from having the best linebackers or offensive guards is diminished by the consistent quality of the guys across from you. If you can overcome that edge in the college game (and you can) then you can definitely do so in the NFL, particularly in the playoffs.

Differences in the quality of the space force units was apparent in the conference championship games and can easily help to account for the outcomes.

Buffalo at Kansas City

Here’s how the matchups looked in this game from the space force perspective.

AFC CG space force matchups.jpg

I include the round these guys were drafted in (or not) not to make a specific point but to fill out the table and include an interesting nugget on how these crucial athletes are often acquired. Generally the good ones are first round picks and were I a GM, I’d certainly be looking to use my first round picks on space force positions.

Kansas City actually started the game with Eric Fisher but he blew out his achilles and had to leave the game, leaving them with Mike Remmers and Andrew Wylie as their starting tackles for the Super Bowl. Both of those guys started the year as back-ups, which is something to consider when it comes time to analyze the Super Bowl matchups.

Receiver is a tough part of the equation to factor in. The no. 2 receiver and chain-moving guy underneath is an important part of any offense. The Chiefs have “space force dreadnought” Travis Kelce, who had 15 targets in this game he translated into 13 catches for 118 yards and two scores at 7.9 yards per target (ypt). The Bills have “space force PT boat” Cole Beasley, who turned nine targets into seven catches for 88 yards and no scores at 9.8 ypt. Beasley was effective but didn’t produce at the same volume as Kelce and not in the red zone.

The chain-moving underneath receiver is super important but he’s simply not as important as the deep threat receiver. Infiltration down the field is the biggest factor, there’s a lot of ways to punish a team underneath if they have to commit two defenders to defending the end zone every snap. The chain-movers do matter more in the red zone where the field constricts and Kelce was unquestionably more valuable than Beasley down there.

You can see from the states how the game featured some really lopsided battles in space. Charvarius Ward, Bashaud Breeland, and L’Jarius Sneed were able to hold up in man coverage on Stefon Diggs without overcommitting the safeties to his side of the field or getting crushed on deep shot/50-50 balls. Meanwhile the Bills were helpless trying to solve the Chiefs’ multitude of passing game threats, settling for off coverage and hoping to tackle Kelce or Hill before they scored.

On the other side, Frank Clark was a big problem for the Buffalo offensive line but the Bills’ edge defenders weren’t able to make much of the opportunity presented by Kansas City’s injuries. Jerry Hughes is 32 years old and the Bills haven’t been a great edge-rushing team this year but have instead dialed up pressure as needed with blitzing. Well you can’t do that against Kansas City, you need all hands on deck in coverage, so if you’re depending on Jerry Hughes to provide pass-rush without help to bother Patrick Mahomes then you probably aren’t going to be playing very good defense on that day.

You hear people complain about Kansas City’s lack of defense in this regard or the other all the time but there’s a reason they rarely lose football games. They tend to dominate the most important matchups which leads to outcomes drifting in their direction across multiple dimensions of the game.

Tampa Bay at Green Bay

The non-Bay area Bay bowl was understandably not marketed as such, instead the focus heading into this game was the battle between aging veterans Tom Brady (43) and Aaron Rodgers (37). Both of these guys have been supplying really strong infrastructure for their franchises’ offenses for basically the last two decades.

The game was inevitably going to be billed as a battle between the two old gunslingers with the outcome shaping the conversation of which was greater. Here were the numbers for these guys though:

Tom Brady: 20-36, 280 yards, 7.8 ypa, three TDs, three INT
Aaron Rodgers: 33-48, 346 yards, 7.2 ypa, three TDs, one INT

You probably wouldn’t guess Brady was the winner, and nearly by a blowout, from those numbers. If I told you Brady’s interceptions made the game close when it otherwise wouldn’t have been, that’d be easy to believe. At any rate, what these two guys offer their teams is not exactly what it’s billed as. Truly the impact they have is guaranteeing high level decision-making and the ability for each team to press advantages, but those advantages come from the space forces.

Here’s how the space force matchups looked.

NFC CG space force matchups.jpg

We could have a long, spirited debate on my inclusion of Chris Godwin over Mike Evans as the outside receiver. The best answer is I should maybe rename the spot “primary infiltrator” or something like that rather than just “outside receiver.” Godwin and Evans both line up both inside and outside, like most top receivers.

Green Bay treated Mike Evans as the most serious threat and put Jaire Alexander on him most of the game, with positive results, they really should have been more worried about Godwin. This kid has been underrated for a long time, the best Joe Moorhead offense we’ve ever seen was the 2016 unit which had a sophomore Trace McSorley throwing it deep for Godwin. That the Nittany Lions team won the Big 10 and had an amazing shootout against the Sam Darnold Trojans in the Rose Bowl. Subsequent teams got away from the vertical shot-taking feature which defined their Big 10 title success. Godwin lined up inside and outside and whipped the Packers, including on the “mills from 3x1” set I’ve broken down here on multiple occasions.


Brady on this play, just as he was on the deep shot before the half, is recognizing a favorable 1-on-1 matchup and throwing the ball up in hopes his guy will prove he’s worth the shot. Godwin delivers.

Not only did Green Bay misdiagnose the crucial matchup there, they didn’t get much out of the battles up front and were pretty badly beat in the space force matchups. Here’s a perfect example of how these sorts of things tend to play out:


Billy Turner, Green Bay’s left tackle, is getting double-team help against Jason Pierre-Paul. The right tackle Rick Wagner is left 1-on-1 against Shaquil Barrett, holds up decently, but Tampa Bay is in 2-man under and Rodgers has nowhere to go with the football so the Bucs get one of their five sacks. Barrett had three sacks in this game, neither tackle could handle his matchup 1-on-1 which doomed Green Bay from sustaining drives through the air.

Tampa Bay knew they couldn’t cover Davante Davis 1-on-1, so they didn’t. They shaded a lot of help his way and grabbed and held him as much as they could get away with. Then they went to work up front where they could win 1-on-1 matchups.

On the other side, Green Bay often had Za’Darius Smith lined up over a guard. I don’t know if this is their normal approach and how he got to 12.5 sacks on the year but it’s not going to work in a postseason battle. If you let Wirfs go 1-on-1 outside and can’t beat him, the Bucs can shade help elsewhere as needed. Plus, Tom Brady has always been the type to get the ball out fast.

I’ve seen a couple of teams go up against Brady and they seemed to think the takeaway from his current teammate Jason Pierre-Paul and the New York Giants beating him twice was related to the Giants moving a top pass-rusher inside and preventing Brady from being able to step up in the pocket. That’s only part of it, and it doesn’t work if Brady’s team can double your inside guy because they feel fine on the perimeter. Additionally, your inside guy is going to get worn down trying to win outside on guards, chips, and double teams all day when Brady is flipping the ball out quickly and making him go play chase.

The poor matchup work in the space force units by the Green Bay staff was a big part of their defeat. Another big factor was their disastrous decisions before the ends of the halves. Playing traditional cover 3 before the half with no time left just doesn’t make any sense. The cornerback shouldn’t be trusted to bail and stay over the top against switch routes, he (or whoever has the deep ⅓) should be positioned 20 yards off the ball watching it develop and keeping everything in front of him. It was a bad beat and a bad play by the cornerback, but there was no reason for that risk to be a factor.

Matt LaFleur’s decision to kick a field goal on fourth and goal down by eight points with just over two minutes left, similarly terrible. I don’t care what math binders say or that the Pack had three timeouts and the two minute warning.

You have a shot to win the game, a field goal doesn’t really make a difference in your favor. Whether you kick a field goal or go for the score and fail, you’ll still need to stop Tom Brady, get the ball back, and march down the field and score a touchdown. Take your shot, man. You have Aaron Rodgers who inadvertently (?) threw his coach under the bus after the game by noting he’d have called a different play on third down if he realized his coach was going to send in the field goal unit on fourth down. Not a lot of trust between those two when it mattered, it seems. Meanwhile Bruce Arians allowed Brady to go win them the game on the next drive, calling passing plays, and Brady kept taking shots and threw the ball for their crucial first down pickup knowing he was going to have to depend on the officials being willing to throw the flag. They threw the flag (rightfully so) and Tampa Bay won.

Glancing at how these space force units are composed and thinking ahead to the Super Bowl matchup, it’s clearly going to be an interesting game. Narrative-wise, Brady has been dispatching all the old gunslingers like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, like a retired gunfighter putting the gun belt back on to restore order to a town out west. The young shooter coming into town next will be his toughest challenge yet.
 

sherf1

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
11,025
36,835
0
Great stuff.

I dont know what Rodgers did to get stuck with all these conservative coaches who love to kick short field goals, while his opponents fake Field Goals for TDs (that crazy Seattle NFC title game) and throw bombs with 5 seconds left in the half to win the game.

For the SuperBowl, TB has already shown they can't hang with the Cheifs offense when it's rolling. If the OT injuries slow them down it could be a fun game, but KC seems to just be a better version of Tampa's approach so besides turnovers I dont see how they can consistently win matchups.

KC 31 TB 21 for me.

Also thanks for mentioning the KC defense, which still has some narrative of being soft or bad, but is probably the best unit in the league at defending a 10 point lead in the second half with their ability to create base pass rush and consistently play man coverage outside.
 

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,384
80,290
0
Ypsilanti, MI
For the SuperBowl, TB has already shown they can't hang with the Cheifs offense when it's rolling. If the OT injuries slow them down it could be a fun game, but KC seems to just be a better version of Tampa's approach so besides turnovers I dont see how they can consistently win matchups.
Well, scroll back up to your "if" clause.
Also thanks for mentioning the KC defense, which still has some narrative of being soft or bad, but is probably the best unit in the league at defending a 10 point lead in the second half with their ability to create base pass rush and consistently play man coverage outside.
I really only watch the playoffs and they're always dialed in come playoff time.
 
  • Like
Reactions: sherf1

sherf1

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
11,025
36,835
0
Well, scroll back up to your "if" clause.

I really only watch the playoffs and they're always dialed in come playoff time.
Right, but they held up fine against the Bills. I'm sure they'll have some struggles but Mahomes does a crazy good job of balancing getting the ball out with being able to still take deep shots, so I would be surprised if they're able to have the same success they had against GB. I also don't think Tampa will be able to score enough to really put them under pressure and into a pass-only game plan like SF was able to do last year.
 

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,384
80,290
0
Ypsilanti, MI
Right, but they held up fine against the Bills. I'm sure they'll have some struggles but Mahomes does a crazy good job of balancing getting the ball out with being able to still take deep shots, so I would be surprised if they're able to have the same success they had against GB. I also don't think Tampa will be able to score enough to really put them under pressure and into a pass-only game plan like SF was able to do last year.
The Bills don't have Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett.
 
  • Like
Reactions: stilesbbq

OneRiot

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 25, 2011
14,818
62,700
0
Boerne, TX
Narrative-wise, Brady has been dispatching all the old gunslingers like Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, like a retired gunfighter putting the gun belt back on to restore order to a town out west. The young shooter coming into town next will be his toughest challenge yet.

Young gun gets him this time.
 
  • Like
Reactions: sherf1

sherf1

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
11,025
36,835
0
The Bills don't have Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett.
I think the Packers also made them look good. They (the Pack) have struggled against high end edge guys for a while (the SF destruction last year, got torn up by Bosa and Ingram from the Chargers, and both games here vs TB). 15 of the 25 sacks they've had this year came in 3 games, 5 vs TB #1, 5 vs Carolina, 5 vs TB #2.

In two games vs TB, they had 10 sacks on Rodgers. Got Mahomes twice in their first game, but got totally shredded through the air (37/50--456--3 TDs, no picks).

Totally possible they come out and dominate the backup Chiefs tackles, but I'd be more inclined to predict a slightly slow start from both teams, with KC eventually wearing down Tampa and a beaten up Brady throwing a bad pick or two that break the game open.
 

stilesbbq

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Oct 2, 2019
5,368
25,025
0
The Bills don't have Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett.
They do have Ed Oliver though, who has been a bit of a surprising disappointment.

I have held strong all year that the Chiefs are essentially the peak Golden State Warriors of football and cant be beaten only really beat themselves.
 

stilesbbq

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Oct 2, 2019
5,368
25,025
0
I think the Packers also made them look good. They (the Pack) have struggled against high end edge guys for a while (the SF destruction last year, got torn up by Bosa and Ingram from the Chargers, and both games here vs TB). 15 of the 25 sacks they've had this year came in 3 games, 5 vs TB #1, 5 vs Carolina, 5 vs TB #2.

In two games vs TB, they had 10 sacks on Rodgers. Got Mahomes twice in their first game, but got totally shredded through the air (37/50--456--3 TDs, no picks).

Totally possible they come out and dominate the backup Chiefs tackles, but I'd be more inclined to predict a slightly slow start from both teams, with KC eventually wearing down Tampa and a beaten up Brady throwing a bad pick or two that break the game open.
I cant imagine TB have a prayer against Mahomes if Brady throws three picks
 

sherf1

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
11,025
36,835
0
I cant imagine TB have a prayer against Mahomes if Brady throws three picks
Yeah this feels like one where we overthink it.

Bucs showed they were a bad matchup for the Packers with dominating wins in both games. Same for Chiefs vs Bills.

27-24 regular season score was a lot closer than than the game when KC beat Tampa in the regular season.
 

ttaghorn

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Oct 29, 2008
14,424
6,535
0
76
New Braunfels, TX
I cant imagine TB have a prayer against Mahomes if Brady throws three picks
Two of Brady's 3 where results of tipped balls, not really his fault, however TB will go into the game as the UD. Mahomes is just magic with the ball in his hands, he only takes 2.5 sec to get rid of it, unless he is forced from t he pocket, and then he is really dangerous because he can throw on t he run with great accuracy.
 
  • Like
Reactions: stilesbbq

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,384
80,290
0
Ypsilanti, MI
If the Chiefs can’t protect Mahomes then this game will be interesting. The Bucs can play man under and Tampa 2, they have speed in the secondary and will play bracket coverage and let their DL cook for them.

Worked for San Francisco until their pass rush wore down and Mahomes did some magic. They didn’t build any kind of lead tho or have Tom Brady.
 

sherf1

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
11,025
36,835
0
If the Chiefs can’t protect Mahomes then this game will be interesting. The Bucs can play man under and Tampa 2, they have speed in the secondary and will play bracket coverage and let their DL cook for them.

Worked for San Francisco until their pass rush wore down and Mahomes did some magic. They didn’t build any kind of lead tho or have Tom Brady.
This D line isn't close to SF though. If the KC tackles are competent, which they seemed to be against Buffalo, it's gonna be a long day.

JPP showing a little resurgence, but he also had like 4 sacks the prior 11 games before the GB game, so not exactly a consistent terror.
 

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,384
80,290
0
Ypsilanti, MI
This D line isn't close to SF though. If the KC tackles are competent, which they seemed to be against Buffalo, it's gonna be a long day.

JPP showing a little resurgence, but he also had like 4 sacks the prior 11 games before the GB game, so not exactly a consistent terror.
Bucs pass-rushers this season:

JPP: 9.5 sacks, 14 QBH
Shaquil Barrett: 8 sacks, 16 QBH
Devin White: 9 sacks, 16 QBH
Ndamukong Suh: 6 sacks, 19 QBH
William Gholston: 3 sacks, 20 QBH

That's a lot of guys up front who can get into the backfield to disrupt the passing game. And the Bucs can play conservatively because their LBs are fast and because they can get pressure up front without sending too many.

So I think the situation is a little more dire for KC than you've suggested. It's a good group and this bunch against back-up offensive tackles might look like the 49ers.
 

sherf1

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Dec 8, 2018
11,025
36,835
0
Bucs pass-rushers this season:

JPP: 9.5 sacks, 14 QBH
Shaquil Barrett: 8 sacks, 16 QBH
Devin White: 9 sacks, 16 QBH
Ndamukong Suh: 6 sacks, 19 QBH
William Gholston: 3 sacks, 20 QBH

That's a lot of guys up front who can get into the backfield to disrupt the passing game. And the Bucs can play conservatively because their LBs are fast and because they can get pressure up front without sending too many.

So I think the situation is a little more dire for KC than you've suggested. It's a good group and this bunch against back-up offensive tackles might look like the 49ers.
All those guys were there a few weeks ago when he shredded them for almost 500 yards though.

Tampa seems most dangerous when they can bring pressure (Devin White 9 sacks is crazy for an off ball linebacker), Boweles is super good at that, but KC is the absolute scariest team to blitz, which is what happened when they first played and Hill went crazy.

Maybe the OT situation leads to a weird inversion where Tampa can play safe coverage and get pressure, which was the SF approach that almost worked last year, but that's totally out of their normal approach. Should be interesting to see how a couple very smart coaching staffs approach that variable.
 

Ian Boyd

Member Who Talks (A Lot!)
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
23,384
80,290
0
Ypsilanti, MI
All those guys were there a few weeks ago when he shredded them for almost 500 yards though.

Tampa seems most dangerous when they can bring pressure (Devin White 9 sacks is crazy for an off ball linebacker), Boweles is super good at that, but KC is the absolute scariest team to blitz, which is what happened when they first played and Hill went crazy.

Maybe the OT situation leads to a weird inversion where Tampa can play safe coverage and get pressure, which was the SF approach that almost worked last year, but that's totally out of their normal approach. Should be interesting to see how a couple very smart coaching staffs approach that variable.
They played Green Bay pretty conservatively.