Every kid who has ever picked up a football has dreamed of moments like this Sunday. There won’t be an empty seat in the house and millions of people at home will tune in as the players fight for the right to call themselves, Super Bowl Champions. For the San Francisco 49ers as a whole, a victory would put the organization in a three-way tie for the most Lombardi trophies with six.
Coming out on top will be no easy task for the Red and Gold as the Chiefs match up well against them. Accomplishing the three keys below will go a long way in San Francisco’s quest for six.
There is no secret about it, the 49ers’ ground game is the strength of their offense. In the playoffs, the team averages 235.5 rushing yards per game which leads the league by 50 yards. Running back Raheem Mostert made a name for himself in the NFC Championship with his record-breaking performance and that should go a long way towards this Sunday.
The Chiefs are predicated on their explosive offense that averages 43 points per game in the postseason. Limiting Kansas City’s possessions and the amount of time quarterback Patrick Mahomes is on the field has to be a point of emphasis for head coach Kyle Shanahan and San Francisco’s offense. If the best offense is a great defense then in the 49ers’ situation, the best defense is a slow, methodical, clock-eating offense.
Rushing lanes should be open for the Red and Gold as the Chiefs allowed seventh-most rushing yards per game with 128.2 during the regular season, and earned the fourth-worst Pro Football Focus run defense grade.
Pressure with Four
Speed is a common theme throughout Kansas City’s receiving core. Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, and Sammy Watkins all can take the top off a defense and become a real problem for cornerbacks. As a result, defensive coordinators need to use as many players in coverage as possible to prevent getting beat deep.
At the same time, if Mahomes has all day to throw, he’ll pick defenses apart and still manage to put points on the board. So getting pressure on the former MVP is extremely important as well. In order to accomplish both, contain the speed demons and the insanely talented QB, San Francisco has to win up front.
Luckily the 49ers’ pass rush has been one of, if not the best in the NFL all year and the team hasn’t slowed down as they have nine sacks in two games during the tournament. However, the Chiefs’ offensive line has been almost equally impressive. Pro Football Focus grades them as a top-five pass-blocking unit and Football Outsiders ranks the organization’s big uglies as the fourth-best in the league.
This might be the most interesting battle of the game and whichever team has the upper hand will be directly correlated to how the scoreboard reads.
Win the 2nd Quarter
In both of Kansas City’s playoff games, the team has managed to dig themselves into an early hole and then rapidly clean up their own mess. Against the Texans, the Chiefs went down 24 to nothing and then a 28-point second quarter gave them enough momentum to walk away with a three-score victory. It was a similar situation two weeks ago when the Titans walked into Arrowhead, just a less dramatic with a 10-point deficit and a 14-point outburst by Kansas City in the second frame.
Those who have paid attention to the Chiefs all season know that the slow starts and quick turnarounds have become standard. The AFC Champions only managed about 5.4 points per game in the first quarter which ranks 10th but they lead the league with an average of 12.2 points in the second quarter this year.
Avoiding this type of huge momentum swing needs to be a point emphasis for Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. The last thing those two coaches want is to go into halftime wondering what happened and how the team let an early lead slip out of their hands. In a way, this key is tied to the first two, if San Francisco can play ball control and get pressure then the likelihood of a patented Kansas City comeback decreases.