The biggest weakness of every 2020 Super Bowl contender
Nine weeks into the 2020 NFL season, we have a fairly good idea of which teams are primed for a Super Bowl run.
Undefeated Pittsburgh earned its eighth win Sunday, while one-loss Kansas City has hardly skipped a beat from last season’s Super Bowl campaign.
In the NFC, the race is much tighter, with the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Seattle Seahawks all at 6-2. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t far behind but turned in a deflating performance against the Saints in Week 9.
Now that we have plenty of statistics and game tape to look back on, let’s break down five of the NFL’s top Super Bowl contenders and the biggest weakness standing in each team's way.
Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)
Biggest weakness: run defense
Patrick Mahomes and his high-flying offense make Kansas City a difficult out. The reason opposing teams can still hang with the Chiefs is Kansas City’s porous run defense.
Last season, the Chiefs surrendered an average of 128.2 yards per game on the ground, seventh-most in the league. In 2020, Kansas City has only gotten worse, at 138.4 yards allowed per game (fifth-most) and 4.8 yards per rushing attempt.
In the Chiefs’ lone loss, in Week 5, Kansas City allowed the Raiders to run for 144 yards and two scores. The Chiefs’ two other close games came against the Chargers, who rushed for 183 yards in a Week 2 overtime win for Kansas City, and the Panthers, who topped 100 yards rushing and ran into the end zone twice. Kansas City edged Carolina, 33-31.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)
Biggest weakness: Slow starts
The only undefeated team remaining has displayed a few weaknesses. The run game has been inconsistent, and Pittsburgh’s rushing defense has been torched in its last two games.
Most concerning, though, has been Pittsburgh’s tendency to fall behind early.
In Week 1, the Steelers didn’t gain a lead against the Giants until seven seconds remained in the second quarter. In Week 3, Pittsburgh trailed Houston, 21-17, at the half. In Week 8, at Baltimore, the Steelers’ only points of the first half came off an interception returned for a touchdown on the opening drive.
Last week, it took Mike Tomlin’s team almost two full quarters to score its first points against the 2-7 Cowboys. The Steelers didn’t hold a lead until 2:14 remained in regulation.
Green Bay Packers (6-2)
Biggest weakness: Pass rush
The Packers are lucky to have an efficient offense, because the defense has made life too easy for Green Bay’s opponents.
There's a new defense who can say they have the lowest QB pressure rate in the league: The Green Bay Packers.— Alex Rollins (@AlexRollinsNFL) October 6, 2020
They also have the third lowest blitz%
Only the Jets allow opposing quarterbacks to complete passes at a higher rate than the Packers, who surrender a 70.28% opponent completion rate. No team has recorded fewer QB pressures than Green Bay (51).
Over the last four games, Green Bay has averaged 1.25 sacks per game and failed to take down Tom Brady in a loss at Tampa Bay.
If the Packers are going to let quarterbacks complete passes with ease, they at least need to force some turnovers on occasion. Unfortunately for Green Bay, the defense ranks third to last in takeaways per game (0.8).
New Orleans Saints (6-2)
Biggest weakness: Red-zone defense
If you watched New Orleans play Tampa Bay in Week 9, you would have been hard-pressed to spot any Saints weaknesses.
The pass rush shut down Brady and his loaded Bucs offense, while Drew Brees and his assortment of weapons racked up the points on Tampa Bay's formidable defense.
Because New Orleans was so good at pressuring Brady, the Bucs only reached the red zone once and failed to convert on their lone attempt. Had Tampa Bay been more successful at breaching New Orleans' 20-yard line, chances are the Buccaneers would have found their way to the end zone a few times.
The Saints rank last in red-zone scoring percentage. Opponents have scored touchdowns at an 80% rate.
The Saints are a historically bad red zone defense. The Bucs (no. 3 in RZ offense) had a first and goal at the 1 yard line. The Saints have actually gotten exactly 0 stops in goal to go situations this year.— Luke Johnson (@ByLukeJohnson) November 9, 2020
Until tonight, when TB failed on 4 straight tries from the 1-yard line
Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
Biggest weakness: Passing game
The NFL’s most dynamic offense in 2019 has been dissected and dismantled. In an interview Wednesday, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson told Rich Eisen he can hear defenses call out Baltimore’s plays before Jackson runs them.
The predictability of Baltimore’s offense has made it much more difficult for Jackson to work his magic in the ground game. When he is forced to pass, Jackson has also been far less efficient compared to last season, when he won MVP by unanimous vote.
In 2020, Jackson has completed 62.9% of his passes, a step below last season’s clip (66.1%). He has also thrown for 300 fewer yards through the first eight games of the season.
It doesn’t help that Jackson lost one of his top receivers, tight end Hayden Hurst, in free agency, and Pro Bowl offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley went down with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 8.
If the Ravens want to make a run in the playoffs, they need to adjust their offensive game plan to keep defenses guessing, like they did in 2019.