NFL

Super Bowl LV: 'Underrated' Evans and 'dazzling' Hill could hold key

By Sports Desk February 06, 2021

Much of the Super Bowl LV build up has understandably focused on the tantalising battle between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.

Brady is eyeing a seventh Super Bowl crown against the NFL's top superstar Mahomes, who looks the most likely candidate to come close to his total in the years ahead.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs have not made it to Sunday's game purely based on their quarterbacks, though.

Stats Perform's NFL research analyst Ethan Cooperson will be in the commentary booth as part of the CBS broadcast crew with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo at Raymond James Stadium.

He has highlighted some of the most interesting data that suggests the Bucs' Mike Evans and Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill have pivotal roles to play.

EVANS RISING TO BRADY CHALLENGE

Brady and Evans have had a few difficult moments over the course of a campaign where the wideout has battled injuries at times.

But his contribution may not have had the credit it deserved for the Bucs' run to the big game.

"The Mike Evans effect is actually underrated," Cooperson said to Stats Perform News. "A little indication of that - Evans, this season, 14 touchdown receptions including the playoffs.

"The only wide receiver in Brady's career to catch more from him in one season is Randy Moss in 2007.

"So of all the years he played in New England with Wes Welker, with Moss, Evans is having the second most productive year in terms of TDs by any wide receiver who has been paired with Brady.

"This is obviously a great talent in Evans, who has had 1,000 yards in every season of his career, an unknown because he played on a team that was never in the playoffs.

"But now that he's with Brady, suddenly he's become, in some respects, a star because now we are realising how good this guy has been for all these years - and Brady's helped bring that out."

Evans is a formidable red-zone weapon when he is targeted. He has had one red-zone catch in each of the past two games, both touchdowns.

Per Stats Perform data, including the postseason, 11 of his 15 TD catches have come in the red zone; both figures are franchise records.

CAN HILL BE STOPPED?

In the AFC Championship Game, Hill (nine catches, 172 receiving yards) and Travis Kelce (13 catches, 118 receiving yards) became the first pair of team-mates all-time with 20+ catches and 280+ receiving yards combined in a playoff game.

The only time any NFL duo reached those numbers during the 2020 regular season was Kelce and Hill in Week 12 when they won impressively at Tampa Bay (21 catches, 351 receiving yards).

The Bucs will need an answer for Hill. In the first meeting, he became the second player in NFL history with 13+ catches, 20+ yards per catch and 3+ touchdowns in a game, joining Jerry Rice (December 18, 1995).

His 269 receiving yards were the most by any player in a game this season and the most ever allowed by Tampa Bay.

Cooperson explained: "Let's see what the Buccaneers do to defend Tyreek Hill.

"Last meeting, Carlton Davis against Hill, Davis allowed 194 receiving yards in that game - 183 to Hill, but 194 receiving yards, the most that any one defender has allowed in any single game all season.

"Clearly, they need to do something different against Hill, that's what this might come down to.

"In that game it was one of one of the better performances by a receiver in a single game in league history, something has to be done differently to try to shut him down.

"But, of course, there's the danger that if you rotate through much of the coverage to him then Travis Kelce's open all day to catch passes and beat the defense that way.

"It is a dilemma for any defensive coordinator with two great weapons like that, it seems like it's almost impossible to stop both of them - so maybe try to stop one of them.

"It's a nightmare to try to try to defend. And clearly they struck out in trying to defend Hill the last time. Recently, no one else has been able to cover both of those receivers.

"I like Hill with the speed. I think he's tougher to bring down in the open field. Some of his runs when he gets into the open field are electrifying and what he can do after the catch is pretty dazzling.

"He's an effective rusher in addition to being a great pass catcher. In the open field, that's a big part of what makes him so dangerous."

GRONKOWSKI V KELCE

The two star tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Kelce, are also sure to capture plenty of attention and have been subject to many pre-game comparisons.

"To be fair, I don't think Gronk is a great weapon at this point," said Cooperson as he gave his verdict.

"I think he has one catch in the postseason. So he's a great blocker. That's one thing that's not mentioned about him, more than some of the other very good pass-catching tight ends.

"Cameron Brate actually is having a much more productive postseason than Gronk as far as receiving.

"It's essentially a case where Kelce has inherited the mantle from Gronkowski as the game's elite tight end. He has statistically, in terms of receptions and yards, surpassed a lot of what Gronk has done.

"Five straight 1,000-yard seasons - unprecedented for a tight end. Kelce is such a weapon, he's almost a wide receiver playing tight end.

"He's such a weapon in the red zone, he is such a weapon over the middle, he's a weapon on deep throws. There's not much in his game that he can't do.

"And there's not much that they don't use him to do. He's having the best season ever by a tight end and he's destroying the tight end record book.

"His next catch, assuming he gets a catch in the Super Bowl, that will be number 127 of the season, which will be the most ever by a tight end over a regular season and playoffs combined."

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