Chiefs Super Bowl Preview

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Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and Tyrann Mathieu. 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo and Richard Sherman

The Kansas City Chiefs 50-year Super Bowl drought is over, but how do the Chiefs fare against the 49ers? Strength vs strength. Weakness vs weakness. This is the tightest Super Bowl matchup of this millennia.

Ground Game

The Chiefs just stopped Derrick Henry who was the hottest running back in football but stopping the 49ers ground attack led by Raheem Mostert is different. Henry was a power back and easier to warm to whereas Mostert is a speed back. During the 2019 season, Mostert hit 15 M.P.H. on 28.7% of his runs which was the third most. He also averaged 5.6 yards per carry, so he has been dominant over the course of the season. During the regular season, the 49ers had the second most rush attempts and the second-most rushing yards per game at 144.1, however, they’ve turned that up in the playoffs and have eclipsed 180 rushing yards in their last two games.

How does the Chiefs defense match up against a ferocious running attack like that? Not very well. During the regular season, the Chiefs gave up the 26th most rushing yards per game at 128.2 and the fifth-highest yards per carry mark at 4.9. Like the 49ers, the defense has turned it up in the playoffs. Through two games they have only given up 89.5 rushing yards per game while also shutting down the best running back this side of the half way mark.

Jimmy Garoppolo and the Passing Game

Critics like to point out the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo has only had 27 pass attempts in the playoffs as a sign of him struggling to throw the ball. Not so fast. Jimmy G was the only quarterback to finish top five in passing touchdowns, completion percentage, and yards per attempt during the season. The 49ers are 7-0 when Garoppolo throws for 250+ yards. He also had the seventh quickest snap to throw time according to Next Gen Stats. On top of that, the 49ers wide receivers lead the league in percentage of yards after the catch. While the ground game is dominant, the passing game cannot be forgotten.

The Chiefs’ defense does not stack up well against the 49ers passing. The defense, while they gave up the fewest yards to wide receivers this year, they also ave up the 29th most yards after the catch. The 49ers elite ability to make plays after the catch does not bode well for a defense that struggles to stop players once they’ve caught the ball. The Chiefs gave up the most yards to running backs and the fifth-most yards to tight ends this year. The 49ers’ biggest weapon on offense is their All-Pro tight end, George Kittle.

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs Offense

The Chiefs offense is among the best ever. They set the record for most points scored through two seasons. They have a bevy of weapons. Even if you stop Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce you still have to worry about Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, and Mecole Hardman. Defenses also cannot forget about Damien Williams who has developed into an X-Factor for the Chiefs’ passing game. Mahomes has been nearly perfect in the playoffs with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He has also made teams pay with his legs as he now has four games with 50+ rushing yards. Mahomes’ elite play making ability with his studded cast as well as his ability to scramble led the Chiefs to the best third-down team as they converted 47.6% of the time.

The 49ers’ biggest strength is their defense. This means it will be strength on strength. The 49ers led the league in fewest passing yards per game with 169.2. They were the fourth-best against WRs, second-best against RBs, and the best against tight ends. They also led the league in fewest yards per attempt, yards per completion, and plays of 20+ more yards.

Secondaries

The secondary for the Chiefs is much improved from last year. They gave up the fifth-lowest passer rating, the 8th fewest passing yards per game, the tenth fewest passing touchdowns, and they had the fifth most interceptions. The mark of a defensive back doing fairly well is the 90 passer rating mark. If they gave up a lower than 90 rating then they’re doing good, higher than 90 and they’re struggling. Charvarius Ward enjoyed a breakout year and gave up a rating of 67.3, Bashaud Breeland gave up 77.4, Tyrann Mathieu is at 67.5, and Daniel Sorensen has been the best at 65.3. The weak mark comes from Kendal Fuller who has given up a rating of 131.4. The 49ers are going to target him and take advantage of the weak link in the secondary.

The secondary for the 49ers might be the most well-rounded group in the NFL. They are the best against wide receivers. They are the best at limiting big plays. They are the best at limiting yards per catch. As a whole, they gave up the seventh-lowest passer rating. The secondary is led by Richard Sherman who gave up a measly passer rating of 46.8. New starter Emmanuel Moseley has done well with an 86.6 rating allowed. Then you have K’Waun Williams at 77.8 and Jaquiski Tartt is at 75.1. Like the Chiefs, the 49ers also have a big weak link. Safety Jimmie Ward has given up a 116.5 passer rating when targeted. The Chiefs will take advantage of this matchup.

Trenches

Kansas City’s offensive line is ranked 17th by Pro Football Focus. Just a bit worse than San Francisco’s 14th ranked offensive line. The 49ers have the advantage in the running game but when it comes to sacks the Chiefs are ranked third while the 49ers are at 12th. The weak link on the 49ers offensive line is right tackle Mike McGlinchey who accounted for giving up five sacks this year. That will be a matchup to watch.

On the defensive side of the trenches, both of these teams are boom or bust. The 49ers, led by the defensive rookie of the year candidate Nick Bosa, were fifth in sacks. Yet they were only 22nd in pressure. The Chiefs defensive line is led by Frank Clark, who has six sacks in the last four games. They were 11th in sacks. Like the 49ers, though, they were much worse at generating pressure and finished 26th in that department. Both of these defenses are good at sacking the quarterback but when they don’t get there, they struggle to produce any pressure. These two units are very boom or bust.

Defensive pressure will be big for both teams. Jimmy G has a 102 passer rating but when under pressure that number drops significantly to 68.7. Patrick Mahomes has four games this year of 50+ rushing yards. The 49ers gave up the third-most rushing yards to quarterbacks this season. If they’re unable to get to Mahomes, he will make them pay with his legs.

The 49ers pressure the quarterback, on average, 2.5 seconds after the snap. That gives the quarterback very little time to throw the ball. Over the past two years, Patrick Mahomes has a 120 passer rating and quite literally a mile of passing yards when he throws the ball under 2.5 seconds.

Third Down and Red Zone

Here we have another strength vs strength but we also have a weakness vs weakness. As mentioned earlier, the Chiefs converted third down a whopping 47.6% of the time. That led the league. The 49ers have the third-best third-down defense. They’re very good at forcing teams to punt.

The 49ers are also excellent at not letting teams get to the red zone. They gave up the second-fewest red zone attempts in 2019. However, when a team did get to the red zone, it was a different story for the defense. They ranked a lowly 23rd in the red zone. That might seem like it would favor the Chiefs… but it doesn’t. As explosive as the Chiefs offense is, like the 49ers defense, when they reach the red zone they struggle. The team ranked 20th in red-zone offense. Something has to give.

Turnover Battle

We have yet again another strength vs strength match up. The 49ers defense had the sixth most takeaways but the Chiefs offense had the third-fewest turnovers. on the flip side, the Chiefs defense had the 10th most takeaways while the 49ers had the 22nd most turnovers. The Chiefs are better in the turnover differential.

Chiefs Special Teams Advantage

One of the Chiefs biggest strengths is in their special team play. Rookie Mecole Hardman was selected to the Pro Bowl as the returner. Hardman had one return touchdown and was fifth in yards per return with 26.1. He was also fifth in punt return average among those with at least 15 returns and averaged 9.3 yards per return.

On the kicking aspect, 49ers kicker Robbie Gould has had a down year with a field goal percentage of 74.2. He has come on strong as of late though as he has made 13 in a row. For the Chiefs, kicker Harrison Butker had a strong year and finished with a field goal percentage of 89.5. He has also been reliable as of late with 11 successful field goals in a row.

Trust Scale; Chiefs or 49ers?

This match up most closely resembles the 2013 Super Bowl due to it consisting of an incredible offense against an incredible defense. There are big differences though. The Chiefs offense is explosive but it relies on speed and playmaking as opposed to concise dissecting of defenses. The 49ers defense is incredibly stout but it won’t go down in history like the Legion of Boom did.

This game ultimately comes down to who do you trust more; the 49ers defense or the Chiefs offense. Overall the 49ers are the much more balanced team but it will still come down to can the offense makes a play or will the defense get a stop. It is a coin flip but the Chiefs offense has been improving whereas the 49ers defense isn’t quite as dominant as it was at the start of the season. Patrick Mahomes is the tipping point. There is no defense that has stopped him and the Chiefs offense.

Chiefs or 49ers?

This is a very difficult game to predict. Multiple possible outcomes. It is hard to feel confident about any predictions.

  • O/U
  • Spread
  • Chiefs 33-49ers 31

Fun Facts

  • Super Bowl 54 has the highest combined quarterback win percentage in Super Bowl history
  • This will be the first time that two teams face each other in the Super Bowl whose primary color is red
  • The 49ers, who are led by their defense, scored more points on offense than the Chiefs did in 2019.
  • The Chiefs, who are led by offense, gave up fewer points on defense than the 49ers did in 2019.
  • The team wearing the white jersey has won 13 of the last 15 Super Bowls
  • Since 2005, every team that had 55+ sacks and made the Super Bowl, went on to win it.

The 49ers will be wearing white jerseys and had 55+ sacks in 2019


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