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…
Chiefs Run Defense vs 49ers Rushing Attack
The 49ers have run their way to Miami. Their two playoff wins comprised a total of 89 runs and 27 passes, accounting for 471 rushing yards and 191 through the air. In their 37-20 NFC Championship win over Green Bay, the 49ers ran the ball 42 times (for 285 yards) and passed just eight times. The win was far more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests, as their offensive line bullied the Packers to build a 27-0 half-time lead.
The Chiefs’ run defense is sturdier now than it was earlier in the season. Kansas City allowed 83.1 rushing yards per game in the last eight games (including playoffs), after allowing 148.1 yards in their first 10 contests.
While the Chiefs managed to beat Baltimore 33-28 at home in Week 4, the Ravens’ top-ranked rushing attack still managed 203 yards, with Mark Ingram posting 103 of them. They have allowed five other 100-yard rushers this season but held Tennessee’s Derrick Henry to 69 yards in the AFC Championship game, doing a better job than in Week 10 when he gashed them for 188 yards in a Titans’ 35-32 win.
Should the Chiefs win the Super Bowl, the MVP of the game award is likely to go to an offensive player, as is the norm. Yet defensive players such as LBs Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson, and DTs Derrick Nnadi and DT Mike Pennell will be just as valuable, as they will be responsible for helping limit a three-headed monster that is the 49ers ground game, which has dominated in the playoffs.
The 49ers already had the game won against Green Bay when they lost one of their trio of top running backs, as Tevin Coleman (28 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns in the post-season) suffered a dislocated shoulder. His status is obviously questionable for the Super Bowl, so they will rely on speedster Raheem Mostert, who has 278 yards from 41 carries, with four TDs in two playoff games, and Matt Breida, who saw limited action against the Vikings and Packers. The 24-year-old had a couple of 100-yard-plus games earlier in the year before injuring an ankle and is likely to see a much heavier workload, despite being in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse since coughing up two fumbles in the Niners’ Week 15 loss (a 29-22 home reverse) to the Atlanta Falcons.
Only six other teams gave up more yards on the ground than the Chiefs in the regular season and Mostert will run behind a strong offensive line that has helped draw comparisons with the 1985 San Francisco Super Bowl-winning team, which also ranked second in scoring and fourth in total yards.
That year they were three-point favourites and went up against a suspect Miami Dolphins defense (ranked 19th in yards allowed) and their second-year phenom QB Dan Marino (who never went to the big game again), and blew the Dolphins away 38-16.
TIP: First Offensive Play – Run at
49ers Run Defense vs Chiefs Rushing Attack
The 49ers have had plenty of success building leads and taking away opponents’ ground games. Their run defense passed the eye test until Week 9 when they looked none too sound against the Arizona Cardinals’ Kenyan Drake, who had arrived just days before from the Dolphins.
And it will be another former Dolphins’ running back who will likely shoulder the load against San Francisco; Damien Williams flipped the script on the Titans last week, helping Kansas City control the clock in the second half and keeping Henry off the field in the AFC Championship game, as the Chiefs out-rushed Tennessee by 112 yards to 85. Williams is not a speedster, but his ability to keep the 49ers’ offense honest helps the passing game, which is dynamic.
As defences continue to focus on taking away the deep plays downfield, especially to TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill, it leaves open running lanes, particularly for Mahomes, who accounted for 53 yards on the ground against the Titans, including a spectacular 27-yard touchdown run that gave the Chiefs their first lead of the game at 21-17 after falling behind for their second straight playoff game. After trailing 24-0 against Houston last week, Kansas City fought back from a 17-7 deficit with 6:39 left in the first half against the Titans.
The 49ers have a propensity to give up chunk plays of the ground, as they did against Carolina, Cleveland and Arizona, but that is always a risk when you have such a heavy pass rush and particularly when using dime packages (4-1-6) with just one linebacker, as the 49ers might do often in a bid to slow down the electric Chiefs’ passing attack.
This fair run defense does not have too much to fear from the Chiefs’ middling rushing attack outside of Mahomes.
TIP: Team to Punt First – Kansas City Chiefs