32 teams. 256 regular season games. 10 playoff games.
One Super Bowl.
With 38 total wins between them, it may well come down to the finest of margins. Both rosters are packed with elite talent, led by a pair of head coaches who are widely consider to be amongst the league’s best.
It will be the individual match-ups between players and coaches alike that will determine who holds the Lombardi trophy aloft. Let’s take a look at these all important clashes.
Patrick Mahomes vs Robert Saleh
Since the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes, the mind meld between him and head coach Andy Reid began. Not to mention the work by offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to develop the offensive identity we see before us. Perhaps this group’s greatest strength is the in-game adjustments that oft-change the dynamic of a game.
As seen with their victories over the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans, it’s difficult to keep Mahomes down for long. The defence of the 49ers must be prepared to face the second wave of onslaught that may come, should the Chiefs start slow again.
The defence of the 49ers are a stingy bunch. Led by the ultra-impressive rookie Nick Bosa, it’s a fearsome pass rush that is capable of bringing down a quarterback of any stature.
However, it’s the more mobile QBs around the league that cause the 49ers the most issues. Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray averaged a QB rating of 71 against the 49ers. Whilst all other QBs averaged a rating just under 30. Simply put, Mahomes will have to use his elusiveness to escape the grasp of the vaulted 49ers defensive unit.
The secondary of the 49ers will look to compliment the front seven. On the occasions where Mahomes is able to elude the pass rush, they must make his throwing lanes tight.
This task starts with the scheming of 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Surprisingly overlooked for a head coaching role elsewhere, he has complied many a game-plan that has stymied a number of quarterbacks.
For this game, he must stop Mahomes escaping the pocket with an effective pass rush whilst making sure the offensive weapons of the Chiefs have as little chance as possible to make a catch. No small feat when looking at the receiving options they face.
Conceivably the greatest tight end match-up in a Super Bowl for a generation. With 2,481 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns between them, this duo are worth keeping a special eye on.
The ever-present Travis Kelce is a force to be reckoned with. In all but two of the Chiefs’s games, Kelce has been on the field for +90% of the offensive snaps. Meaning as well as his pass-catching exploits, he’s also deployed as a forceful run blocker. The perfect blend for an all-pro tight end.
Kelce is often found in the middle of the field making plays, allowing for the speedy trio of Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins to create big chuck plays downfield and outside the numbers. This is what makes the Chiefs so difficult to scheme against. It’s a case of pick your poison for the 49ers pass coverage.
One saving grace for the 49ers defence is their efficiency against opposing tight ends. They have surrendered an average of just 38.1 yards per game to the position. Facing off against Kelce will provide them with the ultimate test.
The 49ers will be hoping for similar efficiency with their own tight end. George Kittle exploded onto the scene in early 2018 and is now a focal point of the San Fran passing attack. His natural ability to create mismatches with opposing defences is the main reason for his effectiveness. Standing tall at 6″4 with 113kg to his name, it will take some effort from the KC tackles to bring him down.
If the 49ers can threaten the Chiefs defence via some Kittle magic, it will allow them to establish the run and open up their playbook.
San Francisco 49ers running backs vs Chiefs D
Two weeks removed from Raheem Mostert‘s herculean effort against the Green Bay Packers, the 49ers once more will look to dominate with their runners. Such was the sheer class from the ground game, Jimmy Garoppolo was tasked with throwing the ball just 8 times. Head coach Kyle Shanahan would be all too happy to win again in the same manner.
What may upset Shanahan’s dream scenario is a more talented pass rush. The Achilles heel of the Packers is the strength of the Chiefs. Superstar defensive end Frank Clark will look to create havoc off the edge, accompanied by the quietly impressive Tanoh Kpassagnon, who is fresh off a multiple sack performance.
In their most recent outing, they were tasked with stopping a perceived unstoppable object, namely Derrick Henry. The immovable force of the Chiefs D came out on top in that clash, limiting Henry to 69 yards on 19 carries.
If they can repeat this sort of performance again, it will put their team in a great position to bookend the season as champions.
The success the 49ers got from Raheem Mostert was partly due to the element of surprise. Mostert spent a majority of the season buried on the depth chart before leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
It’s likely he will draw the start on Sunday. Now the secret is out of the bag, the task of leading the run attack may fall on the shoulders of someone else. Good news for San Francisco is they have no shortage of talent at the position. Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson Jr. are all capable of producing a game winning performance.
It truly is anyone’s guess how their run game will evolve on the biggest stage of them all.
Ultimately, one team will win it all.