We know the storyline. Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady for the Super Bowl, the GOAT vs the young phenom, the thinking man’s veteran vs. arguably the most gifted arm we’ve ever seen. The storyline that doesn’t get talked about enough, however, is the battle in the trenches. No quarterback can succeed without some semblance of protection in front of them, and that’s where things get a little interesting for the Mahomes-led Chiefs.
It’s been a battle of attrition for the Chiefs’ line this year. Starting guard Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (he deserves the prefix) opted out to combat COVID-19 at a long-term care facility in Quebec. Rookie Lucas Niang, who would have been a candidate to play on the offensive line, opted out as well. Three other starters – Kelechi Osemele, Mitchell Schwartz, and most recently Eric Fisher – are lost for the season to injuries. There is only one man standing, and that’s Austin Reiter, center.
The Chiefs will be battling against a ferocious defense in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who generated the fourth-most sacks in the regular season with 48. That was all without standout defensive tackle Vita Vea, who suffered a fractured ankle on Oct. 8. Seemingly nobody outside of Vea thought he would return here, but he was activated off IR before the NFC Championship game. He played 32 snaps, and the Bucs’ defense sacked Aaron Rodgers five times.
Fortunately for Mahomes and Co., the Chiefs have the fastest offense in the league, which goes a long way toward potentially slowing down a pass rush. When I asked Mahomes about the loss of offensive tackle Eric Fischer and how the Chiefs are preparing for the Bucs defense, Mahomes said:
You have to know where those guys are on the defensive line, how they’re rushing the passer, and how they’re doing different things, but at the end of the day you have to trust the guys in front of you – and I do, I trust these guys. They worked their tails off to prepare themselves to be in this game.
We’ll do different things to try and help them out, but at the end of the day, they’re going to have to win their matchups for us to win the game. It’s going to be a great challenge for them, but we’re going to do what we can to get the ball out of my hands, and get it to the playmakers and let them make plays with it.
Mahomes has the luxury of incredible talent at the playmaker positions. Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, and their committee of running backs that are all potent in the passing game will help diffuse some of the problems. Like he said, however, these linemen thrust into starting positions in the Super Bowl are going to have to win their battles — and a battle it definitely will be.