The 49ers’ defense will need to make an impossible decision on what game plan to employ against the Kansas City Chiefs. Nobody should envy defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ job on Sunday, because either way he is going to face a lot of problems.
On one hand, he and General Manager John Lynch reprimanded the defense for its embarrassing effort on Championship Sunday against the Detroit Lions. On the other hand, effort may not be enough to beat the quarterback of the generation. A man who is not only the best player in the league, but chasing the greatest player of all time, Tom Brady.
But make no mistake. If the 49ers go all-in to contain Patrick Mahomes with all kinds of nickel-heavy formations, they still might lose. Isiah Pacheco is a very good runner and can definitely beat any defense that is only focused on Mahomes. And if the past two games are any indication, Pacheco will have plenty of room to run against a struggling 49ers rush defense. San Francisco has allowed back-to-back 135+ yards and 4.8+ yards-per-attempt performances by Green Bay and Detroit. They allowed over six yards a carry to the Lions.
No Good Decision for 49ers Defense
First of all, the 49ers defense cannot even be competitive in this game if they are missing intensity and effort. The Chiefs will simply blow the defense out of the water. Mahomes, Pacheco, and Travis Kelce are too good for a defense to slack off against. If the 49ers defense repeats the pitiful performance it showed against the Lions in the first half of that game, they will lose. If the defense allows the Chiefs to score in bunches early in the game and not allow their offense to settle in, they probably won’t recover. The Chiefs aren’t a team anyone wants to be down 24-7 to.
The two decisions that are laid out in front of defensive coordinator Steve Wilks? Load the box to stop Pacheco and run the risk of Mahomes beating you himself. Or play nickel to limit Mahomes and allow Pacheco to grind out four to five yards a carry all day. Not to say that Mahomes can’t beat the 49ers in nickel. He very well can. Patrick Mahomes is Patrick Mahomes after all. Neither approach has a guarantee that its intended effect will actually work. Unfortunately, these are the only two options that Steve Wilks has and he must pick.
The Approach They Should Take
This might be controversial, but the 49ers should choose to play a lot of man-coverage, load the box, shut down Pacheco, and force Mahomes to beat them downfield. This means five-man fronts on first down, with defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw joining the starters. A front of Kinlaw, Arik Armstead, and Javon Hargrave should, in theory, shut down the Chiefs’ run game, especially without Joe Thuney. The cornerbacks and linebackers should also play close to the line of scrimmage. This is so that they can easily rally to all the screens and short passes the Chiefs heavily rely on.
If the 49ers are to win this game, they will need DPOY Nick Bosa. The full version, not the half-version seen at times this season. DPOY Bosa was present against the Lions, and the 49ers will need him to replicate that performance. To get Bosa fully going, shutting down the run and forcing the Chiefs to become one-dimensional is of utmost importance. The same goes for the heavily scrutinized Chase Young. He will need to disprove allegations that he is not putting his full effort into every play. He has to, for the sake of his free agency this spring.
Fred Warner should be matched up with Travis Kelce in man coverage, as he is San Francisco’s best big cover guy. Believe it or not, the Chiefs offense has become a run-focused and check-down offense this season. Almost like Mahomes is game-managing. Shut down the run and the short passes. Put Warner on Kelce. And force receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore, and Kadarius Toney (?) to beat them downfield against lockdown cornerbacks like Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir.
Prediction: The Chiefs offense is going to have a good day no matter what the 49ers defense attempts to do against them. Mahomes is just too good and he could probably make me a productive receiver. This game is going to come down to what the 49ers offense can do.
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