If you watched Super Bowl LV in hopes of an exciting contest, you were highly disappointed. If you happened to be pulling for the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or just for Patrick Mahomes to come out on top over Tom Brady, you were likely a bit disgusted.
But if you want to take away some lessons that can be applied to the Dallas Cowboys as they try to get back on track for the coming season, there were several things that you can take away. Here are the ones that jumped out.
Priorities for free agency and the draft
Sometimes, you can just go to social media to have your work done for you. This sums up the biggest thing that the dominant win by the Bucs illustrated.
QB position aside, if you want your team to win a Super Bowl then you want them to draft OL or DL in the early rounds in April. Might not be as much fun on draft weekend but it wins championships.— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 8, 2021
While this game was understandably marketed as Brady versus Mahomes, the outcome was much more about the matchup between the Tampa Bay defense, particularly their pass rush, and the offensive line of Kansas City. For those that didn’t have the sound on during the game, or weren’t paying attention the two weeks prior, the Chiefs were a patchwork affair up front. To give you an easy to grasp comparison, they were fielding a line roughly equivalent to the one that the Cowboys put on the field early in the season, but minus a Zack Martin. Yeah, that bad.
They were trying to stop a pass rush of Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, with William Gholston used on roughly a third of the snaps. The Bucs mostly rushed four, which was still more than KC could handle. They only notched three sacks of Mahomes, but that was because he avoided sacks by throwing the ball under incredible duress, including one pass when he was horizontal about two feet off the ground or less. He managed to get that throw on target, only to have his receiver drop a likely touchdown reception. Other times Mahomes would try to get the job done with his legs, but Tampa Bay did a good job of defending that element of his game, so it did not hurt them.
It is a fairly obvious and easy to grasp lesson. That hardly means that it will even register with Dallas, especially concerning defensive tackles. There is an unwritten rule that they do not use first- or second-round picks on interior defensive linemen. Heck, maybe Stephen Jones has a set of official guidelines that includes the premise.
Just as importantly, the Cowboys have to make sure they have better depth on the offensive side of the ball, and may have to worry about replacing one of their starting offensive tackles. At least they have not shied away from spending first-round picks on the offensive line in recent years. The team needs to lean hard into the concept of rebuilding from the inside out.
Let’s not forget the rest of the defense
It was not just the pass rush. The Buccaneers picked Mahomes off twice and kept the Chiefs ground game mostly under control early when it was still relevant. This was just a masterful job of coaching by Todd Bowles as well as great execution on the field. They had a big vulnerability to exploit and did so while negating most of what Mahomes is capable of doing. The Cowboys still need to bolster their secondary and need to boost their linebacking as well. We hope Dan Quinn can do a lot to fix the issues of last year, but they have to give him the talent to pull that off.
It’s not about the best quarterback, it’s about the right one
Whether it was the repeated incredible throws under pressure, his mobility, or just the stats, Mahomes was the best and by far the most athletic quarterback in the game. Brady was just the most efficient. He would ride a paltry 201 yards passing to the Winning Quarterback Award, commonly mislabeled as the MVP. He had the inestimable advantage of a largely functioning offensive line, which only surrendered one sack while opening up holes for the running game as the Buccaneers asserted their dominance as the game progressed. More importantly, he made quick throws and kept out of a lot of third down situations, where his team only converted 33%. Brady knows what he does best, he is about as good at reading a defense as you would expect someone who is now in his third decade in the game, and just as importantly he did not hurt his team. He was perfectly content to be the bus driver the team needed and let the rest of his roster do their jobs to carry the day. In contrast, Mahomes had to try and make up for the deficiencies of his protection by using his remarkable athletic ability to buy time and find those jaw-dropping throws he so frequently makes, but that often saw him retreating far from the line to buy time and try to find a miracle throw. He did make more of those than anyone has a right to, but his receivers did not help him out.
What the Cowboys need is a quarterback who can make good and sometimes great throws while also keeping his head about him to read the defense well and make the right decisions. You know, someone who has shown he has that combination of skills. It would be nice if the team had it in their control to get a player that fits that to a tee.
If you somehow don’t know where I am going with this, let me be even more clear. SIGN DAK PRESCOTT! He does not have the same combination of insane athleticism and arm talent that Mahomes does, but he is about as close as any other quarterback in the league. He is a long way from having the savvy that Brady has accumulated, but is at least as good as any other quarterback with similar experience. He can win as the hero or as a game manager. Any other path forward at quarterback is going to be a major step backwards for Dallas, and would justify torches and pitchforks. This is the most important decision their management has to make, and there is only one right solution.
Running games matter
The Tampa Bay ground attack was just what they needed, racking up 145 yards. There was one key sequence with Leonard Fournette that demonstrated this. After the Chiefs took an early lead with a field goal in the first quarter, he had three consecutive carries to open the next drive, netting a first down at their own 40. That forced the Chiefs to pay attention to the running game, and then Brady (with a little help from a defensive holding penalty and anther 11-yard run from Fournette) marched the team to their first score, an eight-yard walk-in touchdown reception by Rob Gronkowski.
That set the tone for the Buccaneers offense, with Brady only having two completions of over 20 yards all game, while Fournette helped seal the game with his 27-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. They only amassed 340 yards, but they were brutally efficient while their defense just stymied Kansas City.
If the Cowboys can get their offensive line questions sorted, they have the backs they need in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to do the same thing to other teams. Coupled with what Prescott displayed before his season-ending injury, this offense can be a true threat against almost anyone in the league. We will see them face the Bucs this year, so we will have a true test. Although it is worth noting that a certain player named Suh, who had a sack and a half in the game, is an unrestricted free agent, so he may not be back for them. And if a certain team needing to bolster their defensive tackle room were to overcome a foolish reluctance to use some cap space to get him - well, let’s not jinx things by putting that more clearly.
The one-year turnaround
In 2019, the Buccaneers finished 7-9, with little indication that they would be hoisting a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the next season. Then they signed that Brady guy, who lured his old teammate Gronkowski out of retirement and also had a hand in bringing Antonio Brown to Tampa. Bruce Arians and his team had a rough patch after the midpoint of the season, losing three of four, then got things on track to go on the win streak that culminated in them being the first team to win the title in their home stadium.
It turned out that Brady was just what they needed to get them to the top, and Tampa Bay was an ideal landing spot for him. Do not take this as a prediction that the Cowboys will have the same kind of success this year. They just have so many issues to overcome. But with some smart decisions in the offseason and a little luck, they could be much, much better than they were in the dismal season just passed. And we know what job one has to be.
Those are five big lessons Dallas needs to heed from the game. Now let’s see how much attention they paid.