With Super Bowl weekend basically here the anxiety and nerves are becoming more and more present. With each passing day I am thinking about new ways this game is going to go down and I am torn on what will actually be important and what is essentially fluff. These are the 5 things I think are going to determine the course of the game come Sunday night.
#1 Can the Chiefs stop the run
Look, the first one is simple. Kansas City has to stop the run, specifically on first downs. If the Niners are in 2-6/2-5 that is going to open up the playbook for Kyle Shanahan and make Brock Purdy very comfortable with the game script. We have all seen or heard how the Chiefs struggle vs certain types of run looks, and how bad KC looked vs Buffalo, and with that, it has to be priority #1 for Spags. As much as we all love watching Spags' unleash hell on opposing quarterbacks with exotic blitz packages this game, in my opinion, will come down to the fundamentals of football.
#2 Can the Chiefs generate a pass rush
If Kansas City cannot stop the run it is going to become extremely difficult for them to tee off and attack Brock Purdy. Spags' packages will become condensed and players will be forced to stay on the field for extended drives with McCaffrey running the ball down their throats. IF they can stop the run, they are going to need to generate a pass rush outside of Chris Jones. Losing Omenihu is obviously a huge loss, so someone is going to need to step up. FAU will be playing, but if he is lining up against Trent Williams it is virtually a wash that he won't have an effective game. Can GK, Danna or someone else (Nnadi?) step up and get some push when Kansas City only elects to bring 4 man pressures.
#3 Can Isiah Pacheco continue his success
The 49ers defense is what I consider "static" or "vanilla", especially in comparison to what Spagnuolo brings on a weekly basis. But that does not mean they aren't good at what they do. Steve Wilks is most likely going to be dropping a lot of players into zone coverages and daring Andy Reid / Mahomes to have long sustained drives while running the ball. Does this sound familiar? Lou Anarumo with the Bengals has deployed this tactic with great success vs Kansas City, and Reid has always struggled sticking with the game script. Isiah Pacheco needs success, but specifically early success in this game to force Andy + Pat to continue to run the ball. Holding penalties, or getting behind the sticks is playing right into this fast, opportunistic defense.
#4 Can Jawaan Taylor do enough vs Nick Bosa?
We are all well aware of Taylor's struggles at this point, but none what happened earlier in the year matters if he can have his best performance this Sunday vs Bosa. I expect Bosa to stay on Taylor pretty much the whole game, and what the Chiefs plan for Bosa has huge ramifications. Bosa has been left unblocked in games past vs KC where Andy has utilized Jet motions / sweeps going right at him, but what will be the game plan this year? Even if Andy decides to put a tight end over him, or help chip with a back, there still will be snaps where Taylor has to neutralize Bosa 1-1. If he can't, this could turn into a disaster for Kansas City's offense.
#5 Harrison Butker vs Jake Moody & Tommy Townsend vs Mitch Wishnowsky
With both teams having exceptional defenses, this game is going to ride on special teams more than what people want to believe, or what people are talking about. Jake Moody has been very good for the Niners all year, but is a rookie and has looked shaky in the last two playoff games. Butker on the other hand has looked the opposite, literally looking like a robot out there with his kicks, specifically in cold weather/snow games.
Along with the kickers having an impact on this game, I believe field position will become crucial in making these offenses go 85-95 yards over and over again. Townsend has had for the most part a good year, but has had some very shaky punts, especially in the last 2 months of the season. Along with their ability to drive the ball 60+ yards and pin teams deep, can Richie James/ Toney have a successful return like the Chiefs got last year in beating the Eagles. Ball security and getting an additional 5-10 yards for your offense literally might be the outcome of this game.
One final disclaimer - Remember, football is meant to be watched and enjoyed with friends and family. Too often do we get attached to what we see on social media and get upset over what other teams fans say and post. The reason we all fell in love with this game is because of the feeling we get every Sunday with our loved ones after a beautiful victory, and the great conversations afterwards. Let's remember how blessed we are to be Chief fans right now.