It won’t be long until the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers square off in Super Bowl LIV. It’s a dream matchup for NFL fans. The league’s most explosive offense takes on a brick wall of defense. A running game that can wear down opponents faces one of the NFL’s most questionable run defenses. How will it all play out?
The Chiefs’ Offense
There’s no secret when it comes to the Kansas City offense. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the reigning NFL MVP for a reason. In two playoff games this season, Mahomes is 46-of-70 for 615 yards and…wait for it…eight touchdowns!
Kansas City fell behind in both games to Houston and Tennessee and when the Chiefs needed a spark, Mahomes provided it. He hasn’t done it alone and this is where the 49ers defense will need to beware. Mahomes has a trifecta of extremely capable receivers – TE Travis Kelce, WR Tyreek Hill, and WR Sammy Watkins. If that isn’t enough, RB Damien Williams has rushed for 92 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason.
For San Francisco, it might not be possible to shut down the Chiefs offense. After 86 points in two playoff games, the 49ers will count slowing down Kansas City as a win.
The 49ers’ Defense
If not for a pair of late touchdowns to Green Bay in the NFC championship game, the 49ers would be giving up much less than 15 points per game this postseason. San Francisco put a massive chokehold on the ground games of its two playoff opponents allowing just 41.5 yards per game. Adding in the 211 yards a game allowed passing, the 49ers are giving up a healthy 252.2 yards per game.
San Francisco had the best pass defense in the NFL during the regular season allowing just 169.2 yards per game. That is primarily due to a front seven that dominates the line of scrimmage and puts tremendous pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The problem for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV is that Mahomes isn’t the average quarterback. He can also get out of the pocket and run. Mahomes has been the leading rusher for the Chiefs in both playoff games recording 53 yards in each game.
Mahomes’ scrambling ability also allows him to buy time and create big plays. San Francisco must avoid as many “playground” type plays as possible. If Mahomes is allowed to run around while Chiefs receivers run wild and free, the 49ers are in for a long day.
The 49ers’ Offense
Raheem who? Between 2015 and 2016, RB Raheem Mostert played for six different teams. He logged one NFL regular season carry in the process. The 49ers scooped up Mostert and all he has done is rush for 278 yards and four touchdowns in two playoff games. The beauty of the 49ers offense is that head coach Kyle Shanahan likes to rotate running backs. Mostert, Matt Breida, or Tevin Coleman (105 yards, 2 TDs versus Minnesota in the divisional playoff) can go for big yards.
The ability to run the football – the 49ers were second in the league in rushing during the regular season – helps quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (3,978 yards, 27 TDs) in the passing game. Garoppolo is especially good in the play-action passing game, which involves tight end and leading receiver George Kittle (85 catches, 1,053 yards, 5 TDs). The Chiefs defense will have its hands full trying to slow down the 49ers running game.
It’s also no secret that the Chiefs face some challenges on defense. Kansas City has improved dramatically from last season under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Still, the run defense is suspect and that could be an issue against San Francisco.
During the regular season, the Chiefs finished just 26th in run defense allowing 128.2 yards per game. They were 17th in total defense (349.6 YPG) and, surprisingly, finished seventh in points allowed per game giving up 19.3. Kansas City finished one spot ahead of…you guessed it… San Francisco in that category.
Now, while the Chiefs have held their two playoff opponents to 89.5 yards per game on the ground, they have allowed nearly 28 points per game. Like the 49ers, Kansas City slowing down the San Francisco running game would be a win and help guide the Chiefs toward their first Lombardi Trophy in 50 years.