MIAMI — Super Bowl LIV between the Chiefs and the 49ers is just four days away now, and to get you ready for it, I asked a few coaches and scouts who’ve worked the pro side to get their take on the matchup, before we get to your mail.
I asked each, via text, what stands out about this matchup on paper.
AFC pro scouting director: “The most interesting thing to me will be watching [San Francisco’s] front four in passing situations. It’s one thing to be able to rush and gain pressure versus a quarterback that stands in the pocket, but trying to rush and contain is difficult. [Patrick] Mahomes can run and probably doesn’t get enough credit for that. If he can get on the edge and extend drives with his feet or his arm it’s going nullify some of their four-man rushes, making them commit another player to the rush which leads to taking a man out of coverage. … A one-on-one would be [Eric] Fisher vs. [Nick] Bosa. I think Bosa is going to give him a tough time and he is one of the few 49ers that have the burst to close on Mahomes.”
AFC exec No. 2: “Most interesting to me is that San Francisco has had success with the old-school formula of running the ball and stopping the run while [Kansas City] is a pass-heavy offense and No. 26 in the league vs the run in the regular season. Two super talented teams with different styles of play. It should be a great game.”
AFC exec No. 3: “I think the tempo of the game and number of possessions will be big. [San Francisco] ran it on [Green Bay] and completely controlled the pace of the game. [Kansas City] ran in the second half to help their defense. Explosive plays will also be interesting and can San Francisco’s defense limit Mahomas’ explosives on broken plays that are often the difference and change the tempo to Kansas City’s favor.”
And then, one AFC defensive coach churned through some tape and sent some notes over.
“Biggest difference to me is Garoppolo is average on third down, Mahomes is best in the league,” he wrote. “If both teams bring their run defense and force third-and-longs, Kansas City will beat their a--. … [Kyle] Juszczyk’s better than the Chiefs’ average linebackers, and Kansas City needs to hope the defensive line is disruptive so that’s not an issue. … Undisciplined rush from San Francisco will kill them—Dee Ford rushes past quarterbacks a ton, and that will lead to big plays. Bosa a better rusher for this type of QB. …
“49ers are mostly zone coverage—can they plaster when Mahomes extends plays, and are they fast enough to hang with those Kansas City wideouts? Will San Francisco match up at all? If they don’t, they will have problems. … The Chiefs’ edges in the run game are an issue too, [so] can they adjust to [the 49ers’] run game? … Kansas City will probably run a lot of jet sweep and screens early to wear out [the San Francisco] line.”
So there are a few things to look out for on Sunday. And now, to your mail…
From Barry Hyman (@barry_hyman): Will the Ravens be able to re-sign Matt Judon?
Barry, I’m taking your question first because I think it represents an interesting dynamic that we could see play out in the years to come—the tagging of a player with intentions to trade him. It happened twice last year, with Dee Ford going from Kansas City to San Francisco, and Frank Clark from Seattle to Kansas City. The two teams forking over capital in those deals happen to be playing this weekend.
I do think this will cause some teams to review their practices on gaming the comp-pick formula. Ordinarily, the Ravens might let a guy like this go to the market (Pernell McPhee and Za’Darius Smith are recent examples of that happening with Baltimore pass-rushers), knowing they’ll get a third-round pick in return. But if the possibility is out there that more than a third-round pick could be had?
Ford brought home a second-round pick for Kansas City, and Clark a first-rounder and a second-rounder for Seattle. It’s a fair bet that Ravens GM Eric DeCosta was paying attention, and maybe even wondering what he might have gotten for Smith last year. The risk, of course, is that the trade market isn’t there, no team wants to fork over picks and a big contract, the player signs his tender, and you have to absorb a big number on your cap for a year.
But there’s more potential upside, to be sure, than there has been in the past, especially for guys who play premium positions like Judon does. So it might be worth swinging for the fences here, if you aren’t willing to pay him in the neighborhood of $20 million per, which is where three top edge rushers (Khalil Mack, DeMarcus Lawrence, Clark) now reside.
From Mark Brownlee (@markbrownleeott): With the success of the 49ers this season, do you think a lot of franchises will follow their example in offering a six-year contract for coach/GM in the future?
Mark, I understand your point, but I think it’ll moreso become a tax for either a team in a bidding war, or one struggling and with a reputation for pulling the plug on coaches quickly. The 49ers’ spot in 2017 was a case of the latter, with the franchise having consecutive one-and-done head coaches. Kyle Shanahan was leery about taking the job for that reason; he was clear with the Niners that he would turn down the job if it wasn’t right, and did consider that an option until the end.
The Panthers’ situation—giving Matt Rhule a seven-year deal—is more of a case of the former. They were competing with the Giants, and the presence of a big-money college program (trust me, Baylor has cash) in the mix, since longer deals are commonplace at that level, was a factor too. Add in that the Panthers had an owner, in David Tepper, making his first coaching hire, and leverage lined up for Rhule.
It’s fair to say that these things will continue to be dictated by circumstance.
From Alex Lee (@AlexLeeSays): Who do you have the Jets drafting at No. 11?
Alex, a lineman. I don’t know which side of the ball, or which one, but if there’s one worthy of the No. 11 pick there, and some blue-chipper doesn’t slip out of the Top 10, I think this one will be fair academic for GM Joe Douglas in his first draft at the helm. The Jets need help on the both lines, and Douglas believes in building that way.
I don’t think the corner position will fall where the value is there. Jeffrey Okudah will be long gone and there might not be another guy at the position worthy of the 11 pick. This year’s draft is so stocked at receiver that the Jets can just wait until Day 2 on that position.
From NMH (@nosmhnmh): Will Drew Brees be back in New Orleans? And if not, would the Saints make sense for Tom Brady, and would he go there?
NMH, my feeling on Brees—he’s always believed that, physically, he’d be able to play until he’s 45. Being able to get to that particular age is actually a Tom House thing—it’s not arbitrary—which is why you hear Brady spit that number out all the time. But I think for the last few years, he’s taken the approach that just because he can doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily want to reenter the grind with his kids growing up.
I think that’s where he is right now, evaluating whether or not he can buckle that chin strap for another season. Last year, he announced he was returning on Feb. 1, 12 days after his season ended. It’s been 24 days since his 2019 season ended. A sign? Maybe he’s thinking this one through a little more than he did last year.
From Elliott Knopp (@ElliottKnopp): Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. Who stays?
Elliott, Austin Ekeler is a restricted free agent, meaning they can tender him at $3.3 million or so (the second-round level) without a ton of worry that he’ll get poached, or at $4.7 million or so (the first-round level) if they want to remove all doubt. Meanwhile, it would cost over $12 million to franchise Gordon. And if he makes it to the market, which I believe he will, some of the hard feelings of last year might still drive him to leave.
So, you get my drift. Ekeler’s probably staying. Gordon’s probably a goner.
From Tyler Schmidt (@teachgeek90): How likely is Philip Rivers to the Colts? Would the Colts be better served finding a QB in the draft?
I think if the Chargers are, in fact, finished with Rivers, he’ll have a lot to consider. He still believes he has something left, but the question is what lengths he’ll go to in order to prove that. If the Titans job opened, that would be ideal—it’s a contender that’s geographically close for family. A place like Tampa Bay could make some sense too. Both those teams have decisions to make on their own quarterbacks.
And obviously, as his history shows, family will be a factor for Rivers. His oldest son is a fifth-grader, and Rivers wants to coach him when he gets to high school (Rivers played for his dad as a teenager too), so that puts a natural deadline on his career.
How about the Colts? I don’t know if he’d be willing to do what some other players do, and live away from his family for a good chunk of the year. But he is close with Frank Reich and Nick Sirriani. Reich also has a strong relationship with Nick Foles from Philadelphia.
Like you said, the draft could provide a better long-term option, and the Colts will weigh that option with their No. 13 pick. It may be tough for them to pull both levers, given the guaranteed money they own financial commitment they’ve made to Jacoby Brissett and Brian Hoyer.
From Jim Walker (@truckerjim72): What warrants the Bengals trading the first pick?
History tells us there are four things that could prompt it. One would be a team not thinking the presumptive first pick is worth taking that high. Two would be a monster offer coming in from another team. Three would be the presumptive first pick saying he won’t play for the team with the first pick. Four would be a team without a quarterback need having the shot to. Usually, it has to be a combination of more than one of those things.
In 2016, for example, the Titans didn’t have a quarterback need; they’d just drafted Marcus Mariota, and got a monster offer from the Rams. And the Browns, picking second that year, didn’t have that high a grade on Carson Wentz, and got a monster offer from the Eagles. In 2004, Eli Manning refused to play for the Chargers, and the Giants put together a huge package to trade for him.
And that why it just doesn’t happen all that often. Moreso than with trades elsewhere in the draft, it takes multiple things coming together.
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