The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will face off in Miami on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV. Both teams have incredible strengths and have had impressive seasons. There is the possibility that this game will be a extremely close contest. Below is a Super Bow LIV breakdown.
Super Bowl LIV Breakdown
Patrick Mahomes vs. San Francisco 49ers Pass Defense
The 49ers play a lot of zone defense, and the Chiefs are excellent against the zone. This season, 78% of the 49ers defensive plays run have been zone-defense concepts. Perhaps no team has had more success playing cover-3 and cover-1 than the 49ers. The 49ers defensive success is reliant on bringing enough pressure with a four-man rush, so the opposing team’s quarterback doesn’t have time to find holes in the zone.
Because of the tremendous success the secondary has had with their cover-3 and cover-1 defenses, and because of the daunting pass rush, the 49ers defense finished second this year in DVOA, which measures performance relative to league average. This is a fancy way of saying, they were pretty good. But the 49ers have not played Patrick Mahomes this year.
The Chiefs offense is going to rely on quick passes and run-pass-options (RPOs) early on in the game to slow down the 49ers pass rush. The Chiefs should look to start the game with a couple quick bubble-screen passes with a no-huddle offense. This will get them into a rhythm early and tire out the relentless 49ers pass rushers. If the screen game is successful, this will open up the entire offense. Mahomes will be able to buy time and space to roll out of the pocket and do what he does best, which is find his speedy receivers down field.
Mahomes’ ability to escape the pocket puts a ton of pressure on the 49ers front-four to not over commit to their rush, which in turn will put pressure on the 49ers defensive backs to stick to the speedy receivers for longer. However, if the 49ers are able to get to Mahomes early on, this will spell trouble for the Chiefs since their offense is at their best when they have time to let plays develop. The first few possessions will be very telling.
As good as the 49ers defense has been this year, Mahomes and the Chiefs offense probably have the slight edge in this match-up. Speed kills, and the Chiefs have plenty on offense. As good as the 49ers secondary has been, the Chiefs have too many burners on offense. Between Tyreke Hill, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson, the Chiefs will get open on some big plays down field, and no one is better at completing that deep ball than Patrick Mahomes.
49ers Running Backs vs. Chiefs Run-Defense
If the 49ers are able to run wild like they did against the Green Bay Packers, the 49ers offense will look like the well-oiled machine it has been for the entire season. But on Sunday, Jimmy Garoppolo will need to throw the ball more than eight times. Teams don’t beat the Chiefs without airing the ball out, but there is something to be said for establishing the run.
Establishing the run will help San Francisco keep Mahomes off the field, open up the play-action and run-pass Option (RPO) game and give the 49ers pass catchers tons of one-on-one coverage.
Whenever a team plays a great quarterback like Mahomes, the best defense is keeping him off the field. An opposing team does that by extending drives by running the football successfully. But Mahomes will be on the field for some of the game, so the 49ers offense must try to match Mahomes and the Chiefs offense. Garoppolo is at his best when the 49ers are running the ball effectively, and they can call play-action passes or RPOs to get rid of the ball quickly down the field to an open receiver. Establishing the run will also force the Chiefs to start stacking the box with seven or eight men on some plays, allowing for playmakers like Emmanuel Sanders, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel to get open in one-on-one coverage.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they have been towards the bottom of the league in run-defense. They rank 29th in the NFL in run-defense DVOA. The Chiefs were able to slow down Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship, but that was heavily due to the fact that the Tennessee Titans were losing in the second half and had to throw the ball, and started to neglect the run. Steve Spagnuolo turned the Chiefs pass defense around this year, and they now rank in the top-10 in the NFL. However, if they fail to stop the run, their whole defense will begin to suffer. The 49ers have the advantage in this match-up. Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman may not be huge names, but Kyle Shanahan is, and he will have his running backs in a position to put up huge numbers in Super Bowl 54.
Secondary vs. Tight-ends
Travis Kelce and George Kittle are arguably the two best tight ends in the NFL. Interestingly enough, the Chiefs and 49ers rank on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of covering tight-ends. The 49ers are in the top five in yards allowed to tight-ends, whereas the Chiefs rank in the bottom five.
Expect the Chiefs to stick to what they’ve done all season. They will predominately play zone, and mix in both single high and double high safety coverage. This may allow Kittle to find holes in the flat and weak spots in the zone. However, the Chiefs have two big play safeties that could make life difficult for Kittle. Both Daniel Sorensen and Tyrann Matheiu are big hitting safeties who could bother Kittle and perhaps limit his production.
The 49ers will also stick to what they have done all season and play zone defense, and sprinkle in both single high and double high safety coverage. Kelce, like Kittle should find holes in the zone, and with lots of attention dedicated to Hill on the outside, Kelce should be able to make some big plays down the seams.
This tight-end match-up is close. In terms of pass-catching, it’s a wash. However, Kittle gets the slight advantage because of his superior run-blocking. But expect big games from both on Sunday.
Super Bowl LIV Prediction
The 49ers have been proving skeptics wrong all year. John Lynch has constructed this team to perfection, Kyle Shanahan has been brilliant on the offensive side, and Robert Saleh has coached this defense towards the top of the league. They truly don’t have any glaring weaknesses on their team. They match up well against the Chiefs and have the ability to slow down Mahomes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the 49ers will win.
The Chiefs might truly be too good this year. Mahomes has never lost an NFL game by more than a touchdown, so the Chiefs will be able to keep this close, and down the stretch it’s easier to trust Mahomes over Garoppolo. Defenses win championships, but no defense has played Patrick Mahomes in a Super Bowl yet. Fans have doubted the 49ers all year long and they keep proving everyone wrong. But Mahomes is really special. The prediction for Super Bow LIV is the Chiefs win 34-31.