The NFC champion San Francisco 49ers take on the AFC victors Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54 in Miami on Sunday, February 2. Lindy’s Sports’ UK editor Simon Milham breaks down the key match-ups in a bid to find some value selections for Super Bowl LIV…
Chiefs Pass Defense vs 49ers Pass Attack
Don’t be fooled by Garoppolo’s limited role in the playoffs. The 49ers QB may have attempted just 27 passes, completing 17 for a total of 208 yards, but he has been productive when asked to win a game this season.
The 49ers gave up a second-round draft pick to the New England Patriots in October 2017 to trade for Garoppolo and handed him a $137m deal. He is now 21-5 at the 49ers starter, having recovered from last season’s torn ACL which will likely see him wearing a knee brace for the rest of his career.
He spreads the ball around in a balanced, explosive offense and is far from merely being a game manager, with 8.4 yards per attempt and a 102.0 passer rating.
The one area that gives cause for concern is propensity to fumble. He has coughed up the ball 10 times in 16 regular-season games.
The Niners’ production starts upfront, with LT Joe Staley still going strong in his 13th season and while second-year RT Mike McGlinchey has had some growing pains, the former Notre Dame product has solidified the position. They, along with fullback Kyle Juszczyk. are fundamental to the zone blocking scheme which has proved so effective in the running game.
Unlike the Chiefs’ passing game, which opens up the run, the Niners’ running attack opens up the passing lanes and George Kittle has thrived as the most valuable tight end in the game. He is an elite blocker as well as a big target with an assured pair of hands. Kittle is tough to bring down and will wrack up plenty of yards after the catch against a Chiefs pass defense that finished the regular season ranked eighth in the league, having finished 31st in the category in 2018. Furthermore, the Kansas City defense was 28th in conceding productivity to tight ends.
The Chiefs have the ability to rush the passer with Frank Clark, Chris Jones and Terrell Suggs, and the decent safeties that can play coverage behind that in Tyrann Matthieu, Bashaud Breeland, and cornerbacks like Kendall Fuller who fit Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme well. Second-round pick Juan Thornhill, who will miss the Super Bowl with a torn ACL, has also been pivotal in stabilising the pass defense.
The Chiefs’ ability to hold their own in the passing game this season has meant that just four players totalled 100 yards in a single game against them, and D.J. Chark was the lone receiver. The others were tight end Darren Waller and running backs Aaron Jones and Austin Eckler.
If the Chiefs have a weakness in the passing game, look for Kittle to be the man to exploit it, as receivers Kendrick Bourne, Deebo Samuel and veteran Emmanuel Sanders may not get too much change out of the secondary, especially if the pass rush does a better job of getting home than it did against statuesque QB Ryan Tannehill in the AFC Championship game.
TIP: Under 6.5 Total Touchdowns6/5
49ers Pass Defense vs Chiefs Pass Attack
The 49ers pass defense starts up front with an elite group of rushers. The 2019 overall No2 draft pick Joey Bosa has elevated the defense to a different level and is a runaway Defensive Rookie of the Year, having made a ton of plays and adding energy to a fearsome front.
The Niners traded for Dee Ford to bookend Bosa after he recorded 13 sacks in a Pro Bowl season as a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Chiefs. Though he missed five games with hamstring and quad injuries, he has been every bit as good as advertised, setting the edge well against the run, as well as recording 6.5 sacks. He gets to play against his old team in the Super Bowl and has a chip on his shoulder, after the Chiefs failed to come to terms to keep him.
Many Chiefs fans feel Ford cost them a trip to last year’s Super Bowl after jumping offsides against the New England Patriots in the playoffs, but Ford has nothing but love for his former team and their fan-base, and the numbers suggest he is far more efficient than Chiefs’ replacement Frank Clark.
San Francisco gambled big on OLB Kwon Alexander in free agency and that has also paid off handsomely. He delivered in the first half of the season until suffering a pectoral injury but has returned to be a major force in the payoffs.
The Niners have the top-ranked pass defense largely because of the strength up front. Fifth in the league in sacks and second in yards allowed per game. the constant pass rush allows the 49ers to be aggressive with their coverages in the secondary, where veteran CB Richard Sherman has been resurgent.
However, they looked far from secure down the stretch in the regular season, with New Orleans putting up 46 points against them, surviving narrow escapes against the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle, and losing at home to Atlanta.
They go up against a speed-laden Chiefs attack who can prise open opponents in numerous ways.
The Chiefs fell behind in both their playoff games this season, but thanks to the magic of the league’s reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes, they rallied and won both games comfortably.
The Niners have had some difficulty with mobile passers this season and Mahomes has the ability to take off and run when necessary, which is a useful antidote to a dime look.
If given any sort of time, the Niners could struggle to contain the speed of receivers Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill. Sammy Watkins is a force outside and TE Travis Kelce is a big, versatile target across the middle and in the red zone.
The Chiefs have arguably the most dynamic offense in the league and have the quick-strike ability to turn thigs around quickly.
However, while lessons from their first two playoff wins about the need for a faster start may have been learned, the 49ers took control early against Green Bay and if their ground game is successful – and plenty points to that scenario – the Chiefs may be forced to play catch-up again.