On Thursday, NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks published two different analyses of the upcoming matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV this Sunday — what he called a blueprint for each team to win the game.
In his Chiefs blueprint, he listed five keys for a Kansas City victory:
- Just let Patrick Mahomes be Patrick Mahomes
- Make the game a track meet
- Force Jimmy Garoppolo to beat you
- Match San Francisco’s physicality and toughness
- Manage the game wisely
From his first key:
Kansas City needs to just put the ball in Mahomes’ hands and let him go to work on the 49ers’ defense. I know the thought of throwing the ball all over the yard against the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense might sound crazy — after all, San Francisco allowed just 169.2 passing yards per game during the regular season — but the Chiefs are at their best when No. 15 has the freedom to play sandlot football from the pocket. Mahomes boasts the best career postseason passer rating (115.0) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (11:0) by any player in the Super Bowl era (min. 125 pass attempts). Most importantly, he has the most pass attempts without an interception (142) to start a postseason career since at least 1991.
Considering the Chiefs have eclipsed 30 points in all four of Mahomes’ career playoff games, I expect Andy Reid to put together a “First 15” script that enables his QB to get into a rhythm quickly. The opening plays will likely feature a handful of RPOs (run-pass options) and some screens to get the ball out of Mahomes’ hands quickly before San Francisco’s pass rush can get home. Additionally, Reid will throw in a shot play or two to see if he can catch one of the 49ers’ young defenders napping on the job.
In his blueprint for the 49ers, Brooks picked five keys for San Francisco:
- Bludgeon the Chiefs with the dressed-up run game until they stop it
- Unleash Jimmy Garoppolo as a deep-ball thrower off play action
- Make Patrick Mahomes produce from the pocket
- Take away Kansas City’s deep ball
- Don’t let K.C. get loose in the return game
From his first key:
San Francisco adds some pizzazz to the run game by featuring a variety of pre-snap shifts and motions on nearly every offensive snap. This is certainly not a surprise, given Kyle Shanahan’s long history of dressing things up as a play caller. Still, according to Pro Football Focus, Shanahan has increased his shift/motion rate by about five percentage points in each of the last four seasons. He has also led the NFL in shift/motion rate during each of the last four seasons, with the 49ers employing such action on a whopping 78.6 percent of offensive snaps in 2019. A big part of the Niners’ success with their shift movement plan can be attributed to the versatility of tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. These two Pro Bowlers are adept at sealing the edges from their respective positions as hybrid lead blockers/playmakers on the perimeter, which enables Shanahan to move them around to put them in favorable positions to execute their blocks. With Kittle and Juszczyk constantly shuttled between various spots, particularly on running plays, the 49ers have averaged 5.3 yards per rush on runs preceded by pre-snap motions, per PFF, compared to just 3.4 yards per rush on non-motion runs.
Against the Chiefs, San Francisco should continue with the dizzying tactics, given Kansas City’s struggles against the run — particularly against runs preceded by shifts or motions, when K.C. has allowed 5.2 yard per rush. The soft edges allowed by the Chiefs’ defensive ends should encourage Shanahan to attack the perimeter with a variety of outside zone plays preceded by Kittle or Juszczyk moving into advantageous spots to crack or reach defenders on the edges. The 49ers should run the ball over and over until Steve Spagnuolo’s unit proves that it can stop it.
You may agree (or disagree) with how Brooks sees each team’s best chance to win. But the one thing most pundits (and the public) agree upon is that this will be a close game. The Chiefs are currently listed a 1.5 point favorites in the game — only the fourth time in Super Bowl history that a team has been favored by fewer than two points.
The last time was in Super Bowl XLIX after the 2014 season, when the Seattle Seahawks were favored by a single point and lost to the New England Patriots 28-24. Then you have to go back to the 1982 season, when the 49ers were favored by a point over the Cincinnati Bengals. The 49ers went on to win Super Bowl XVI 26-21. Following the 1973 season, oddsmakers gave the Miami Dolphins a one-point advantage over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII — and the Dolphins won 14-7.