We’re just a few short days away from seeing the Chiefs take on the 49ers in Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Though we typically wouldn’t bet against Patrick Mahomes, particularly in the postseason, but this Chiefs offense hasn’t looked like a typical Patrick Mahomes offense this season. The Niners are a complete team, and there’s no guarantee the Chiefs can pull off a repeat of 2020 in Miami.
How can the Chiefs take down the Niners on Super Bowl Sunday? Who better to tell us than their NFC West rivals.
Mookie Alexander, Field Gulls
This pains me to say as a Seattle Seahawks fan, but the San Francisco 49ers could have dynasty potential. Four NFC Championship appearances in five seasons underscores how well Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have done in turning the Niners back into a powerhouse. All that’s missing is a Super Bowl win that I truly hope doesn’t materialize. It’s bad enough already that they’re 5-0 against the Seahawks over the past two seasons (combined score: 148-72).
With all of that said, the 49ers have arguably the NFL’s best roster, even if it’s not necessarily the deepest at every position. Across the board, San Francisco has the consensus best or among the best at running back (Christian McCaffrey), fullback (Kyle Juszczyk), wide receiver (Deebo Samuel), tight end (George Kittle), left tackle (Trent Williams), edge rusher (Nick Bosa), outside corner (Charvarius Ward), and middle linebacker (Fred Warner). Then there’s Brock Purdy. However you feel about him as a “system quarterback,” his statistics align with that of an MVP caliber season. He runs the system pretty damn well, I’d say.
With a full season of Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey in his system, this is by far the best offense Kyle Shanahan has had as 49ers head coach. When you’re No. 1 in DVOA (No. 1 pass, No. 2 rush), EPA/play, yards per play, and points per drive, there’s no disputing how great your offense is. Between Shanahan’s scheme and the elite talent at his disposal, it is almost impossible to hold down San Francisco’s skill position players for a full game. Injuries to Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams certainly were major factors in their three-game losing streak, but this year they have avoided catastrophic injuries that have derailed seasons before.
It sounds embarrassingly simple and cliche, but turnovers are the best chance for the Chiefs to slow the 49ers offense down. While Kansas City’s defense struggled to generate takeaways in the regular season, they were able to get three against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship. San Francisco has had nine turnover-free games this season (playoffs included), but 11 of their 19 giveaways are concentrated in losses to the Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, and Cincinnati Bengals. I’d expect Steve Spagnuolo to dive deep into his bag of tricks and unleash as many coverage disguises on Brock Purdy as possible to force him into riskier throws and bad decisions.
While the 49ers offense has achieved juggernaut status, the stout defense has taken a slight step back under first-year coordinator Steve Wilks. They’re still 4th in DVOA and 10th in EPA/play, but they’re surprisingly near the bottom of the league in 3rd down conversion rate and a modest 15th in DVOA against the run. Both the Packers and Lions attacked the perimeter of San Francisco’s defensive line, where they’re statistically at their weakest. It’s worth noting that in last year’s 44-23 win over the 49ers, the Chiefs scored three rushing touchdowns (two with Mecole Hardman, one with Clyde Edwards-Helaire) going to the outside. We could see something similar this Sunday, although Hardman may not be trusted with the ball given his last two touches have resulted in fumbles. Isiah Pacheco’s physical running style could present some issues for the 49ers.
Lastly, San Francisco’s pass coverage has shown signs of vulnerability this postseason, and a lot of it is down to an under-performing pass rush. Javon Hargrave and Chase Young in particular have no sacks or quarterback hits in the past two games, putting a lot on the shoulders of Nick Bosa. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are excellent at protecting the middle of the field, where the 49ers rank No. 1 in DVOA. Steve Wilks has a preference for zone coverage, and if there’s any combo capable of exploiting even the best zone defenses, it’s Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, who’ve hooked up for 23 catches for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns in their latest playoff journey.
Seth Cox, Revenge of the Birds
The Arizona Cardinals saw the San Francisco 49ers up close and personal twice this season, starting with their early season game against the then Josh Dobbs led Cardinals team.
That was a bit of a surprise, and showed some of the flaws we have seen show up in a number of Niners games this season. The Cardinals saw Dobbs throw for 265 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 105 yards.
Yet, it was the Niners offense that set the tone for everything they did. Brock Purdy had an easy day, going 20/21 for 283 yards and a touchdown, but it was the running game that allowed everything to look easy for the Niners.
Christian McCaffrey had 20 carries for 106 yards and three touchdowns. While his long was only 18 yards, it was their ability to run for the five yards per carry that allowed them to stay efficient all day.
Brandon Aiyuk was dominant, finishing with six catches for 148 yards, and McCaffrey added seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown as well.
It was the first show of how easy their offense can make things look, but also showed there are some times where the focus on defense can lull.
In their second matchup, with Kyler Murray back in the fold, it again showed that there are some holes on the defense.
The Cardinals with Murray rushed for a staggering 234 yards on 30 carries, averaging 7.8 yards per carry.
They did a nice job of limiting the passing game, intercepting Murray two times and getting three sacks, but it once again showed that the Niners defense seems to live and die by the big play, rather than being stout for 60 minutes.
That is what this Super Bowl will be about, can the Niners defense avoid those lulls against a team that has one of the better defenses in the NFL?
The Chiefs present a unique matchup with their lack of skill players, but a strong offensive line, a good run game and the best player in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs have been better in the playoffs offensively, but they are not the same high octane offense we are used to seeing.
In fact, they rely heavily on a strong defense and that could play into the Niners hands.
The Niners offense is efficient in both the run game and pass game, but they need Brock Purdy to make sure he doesn’t have mistakes he has gotten away with the last two games.
While he could potentially get away with them again, the Chiefs are excellent at taking advantage of mistakes, and their defense has not allowed 400 yards in a game this entire season.
It is a much different matchup than Super Bowl 54, but in the end, could come down to the play of Patrick Mahomes and if the Niners can not have any defensive lulls during the game.
The Chiefs will need their best defensive effort of the season, against the best offense in the NFL if they are going to win their third Super Bowl in six seasons.
Kenneth Arthur, Turf Show Times
The 2023 San Francisco 49ers are the epitome of a Kyle Shanahan team, the most realized vision of what he wanted the Niners to be when he got there, which is an offense that is ignited by its run game, powered by the NFL’s most talented running back, and a defense that dominates because of their ability to extinguish your passing attack. Everything basically starts with Christian McCaffrey on offense and Fred Warner on defense, and because San Francisco has finally made it to the Super Bowl without any major injuries (aside from safety Talanoa Hufanga), the 49ers must now “put up or shut up” when it comes to Kyle Shanahan’s strategic abilities to build a championship roster and a consistently victorious game plan.
Nobody knows that better, or has suffered more because of it, than Rams head coach Sean McVay.
The two longtime friends and now bitter NFC West rivals have faced off 15 times with their respective teams, but Shanahan has won nine of the last 10 regular season meetings. The only win came when both the Rams and 49ers rested starters in Week 18 of this season, otherwise Shanahan likely continues the winning streak against his counterpart. When L.A. finally broke through to win a Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford in 2021, it was before the team got McCaffrey, several upgrades on defense, and Brock Purdy, who is an upgraded version of Jimmy Garoppolo because of his ability to stay healthy and to improvise off-schedule plays, as well as move the pocket to get the ball to San Francisco’s elite playmakers.
Purdy’s job is very simple: You’ve got four to six All-Pro talents around you, just hand the ball to McCaffrey, pitch the ball to your elite pass catchers, and don’t turn it over. That’s the one Achilles heel, as Purdy has one of the highest rates of turnover-worthy plays in the NFL, but the Chiefs rank 27th in takeaways, so he must not try to be a hero and overdo it. Defensively, the 49ers pass rush has not been where it needs to be, but if Warner and company can neutralize Travis Kelce, there aren’t many other places for Patrick Mahomes to go.
This is Shanahan’s best opportunity yet to win a Super Bowl, which would tie him with McVay. Until then, he’s just the guy who can’t win a Super Bowl.
Will his best representation of a “Kyle Shanahan team” close the deal?