(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Derrick Brooks interview click on the following attachment: ▶ Ep 20: A Conversation With Pro Football HOFer Derrick Brooks | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)
When Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy appeared on “The Eye Test for Two” podcast earlier this season, he was asked how to defend Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes. His response was immediate and direct.
Create pressure with no more than four pass rushers. And don’t blitz.
That was three months ago. Now Mahomes and the Chiefs are in their second consecutive Super Bowl, yet the question is as relevant now as it was then. Which means it needs to be asked again.
So we asked, this time to Hall-of-Fame linebacker and former Tampa Bay Bucs’ star Derrick Brooks on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast.
“I completely follow what coach Dungy said,” he said, “because I’ve been a part of that success, where you find the mismatch up front and you try to exploit with the three-or-four-man rush … or combination of. It doesn’t matter how you get to the three-or-four man rush. It’s just using that amount of bodies so you can have those extra guys in coverage.
“The Raiders did it (this season) with manipulation. Sometimes it was three-or-four down linemen. Sometimes it was two linebackers and two down tackles. They did a good job of the mixing up with of the four men rushed the passer and had some success on the back end.”
He’s right about that. The Raiders split this season’s series with Kansas City and were responsible for two of the six interceptions Mahomes threw this year. More importantly, they inflicted the only loss Mahomes absorbed over his past 26 starts, including the playoffs.
“When Mahomes made a mistake,” said Brooks, “they made him pay for it. Whether it was intercepting a pass, whether it was causing fumbles, they created the turnovers and they did not allow an interception opportunity become a pass breakup. They caught the ball and made the interception.
“And that’s what the Bucs are doing now. They’re making offenses pay for the mistakes that they’re making. And they’re getting turnovers for the offense.
“So I agree with coach Dungy whole-heartedly. Yes, it’s a tall task, but it can be done. But you gotta continue to believe in what you’re doing and find that mismatch up front and tighten up those zone coverages. And keep the ball in front of you.
“They’re going to catch some passes. Mahomes is dynamic enough to make some plays. Keep the ball in front of you, and don’t give up the big play.”
Of course, that’s exactly what they did not do in their Nov. 29 loss to the Chiefs. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill caught 203 yards worth of passes for two touchdowns that afternoon … in the first period … and the Chiefs never trailed. That can’t happen again.
And it might not, if the Bucs play as they did the last three quarters — outscoring the Chiefs 24-10, keeping Travis Kelce out of the end zone and forcing a Mahomes turnover before succumbing 27-24.
“This is not the same Bucs defense that played back then,” said Brooks. “You’re talking just from a confidence level right now. How they’re playing. Yes, there are going to be some plays where they adjust just to keep the ball in front of them. But I would simply suggest just this: Do what you do, and make them at your best by out-executing you.
“That’s something that I don’t feel the Bucs did as a team the first time they played. I think they got away from some of those foundational things that they’ve done to have success all season long. You saw them get back to that the fourth quarter of this season when that winning streak started. So I would like them to stay on that path.
“Yes, there are going to be some wrinkles, and I think coach (defensive coordinator Todd) Bowles probably doesn’t get enough credit for this as of today. They’ve made some really, really good in-game adjustments in all these playoff games – whether it’s from the first quarter to the second quarter or from the first half to the second half … and I credit that to coach Bowles and his staff.”
One problem: Bowles loves to blitz, and Dungy warned against it. But on last week’s broadcast, one of Brooks’ former teammates in Tampa Bay – ESPN’s Booger McFarland – said it can be done if you do it wisely with zone blitzes, overloading one side of the ball.
Brooks didn’t disagree.
“Here’s one thing,” he said. “When you just go back one year from now, with what success the 49ers (had) against Kansas City (in the first three quarters of Super Bowl LIV). They went into that game so focused on Mahomes that the Kansas City running game actually won the Super Bowl for them.
“Yes, Mahomes made a unique third-down play, and they came back with big plays. But it was the ground game … and (offensive coordinator) Eric Bieniemy sticking to that … that got them back in the game. So the Bucs can’t get just so focused on Mahomes and Kelce and Tyreek … and even Sammy Watkins coming back … that they forget about this young rookie (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) that’s running the football.
“That, to me, is the key: Let’s not get so caught up on the quarterback. He’s going to be who he’s going to be. But the running game … make sure you make him have to throw the ball every down. And that, to me, gets into some of the things that Booger talked about in bringing the pressure package. Because now he (Mahomes) has to think. Man, but if they’re going to run the football, absolutely, they’re going to be very dangerous to stop.”