Sunday’s AFC Championship Game showed that the Chiefs are stuffed to their ears with playmakers all over the field. Take away their number one receiver, and they still have a game-breaking tight end and a capable corps of receivers and backs, both led by the best quarterback of his generation. Thankfully for the Chiefs, they never have to live in that absurd counterfactual scenario, which means Tyreek Hill is free to provide us with outrageous highlights like the following.
That catch-and-run, which took Hill on a looping 102.5-yard course for a 71-yard gain, looks like one of those highlights of an overpowered 9-year-old dominating regular-sized kids his age, only instead of size, it’s Hill’s zip that distinguishes him. He looks like the damn Road Runner, and the dudes trying to tackle him look like so many Wile E. Coyotes. The Chiefs rely on both Hill and Kelce for explosive plays, defined as plays that result in at least a 20-yard gain. Kansas City had the third-most of those in the NFL this season, and Hill was the only NFL receiver to rank in the top five in touchdowns, plays of over 20 yards, and plays of over 40 yards. Keeping him from ripping off the top of the defense is an absolute necessity for the Buccaneers.
Ominously for Tampa Bay, Hill enjoyed his best game of the year against the Bucs in Week 12, racking up 269 yards, three scores, and his longest play of the season, this 75-yard bomba.
Tampa Bay was without both its starting safeties against Green Bay, though their fearsome pass rush deserves as much credit for keeping a lid on Davante Adams as the coverage. However, shutting down Hill is a completely different task, since he had the most yards after catch of any wide receiver in the league this year. As his 71-yard jitter against the Bills made clear, he just needs to get the ball in a tiny window of space and he can break a defense. The guys you see falling down on Hill’s 75-yard score are Carlton Davis and Antoine Winfield Jr., and Bruce Arians has already said he’ll need to help Davis more in the Super Bowl.
Todd Bowles’s unit had the strongest run defense in the league, and as a result, teams passed against them at a high rate. The Bucs were 21st in pass yards allowed, though they allowed the fourth-lowest rate of explosive pass plays, and opponents’ WR1s only notched 100-plus yards and a score three times this season. So even if they give up volume, they generally keep themselves from being gouged, which is vital against someone like Hill.
Still, planning only gets you so far against someone capable of this sort of separation on any play.