MatchQuarters' Super Bowl Preview
I use data and film review to give insight into the NFL's 'Big Game' in Vegas between the 49ers and the Chiefs.
Welcome to MatchQuarters’ Super Bowl preview. There is no need for a long lead-in; this game is about two elite coaches facing off in the NFL’s big game for the second time in five years. Using data visualizations and film, let’s take a look at the 49ers vs. the Chiefs in Las Vegas. There are a ton of external links to provide context as well.
49ers Defense vs. the Chiefs Offenses
When San Fransisco’s defense takes on the Kansas City offenses, it will be a matchup of complete opposites. The 49ers have one of the NFL's most ‘static’ defenses; what you see is generally what you get. Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks has shown he wants to opt for ‘bully ball’ instead of trying to make QBs work post-snap, and rightfully so; he has one of the deepest D-line units in football. Conversely, the Chiefs run some of the highest rates of motion in the NFL.
When watching the film, the 49er's second-level defenders sometimes struggled with ‘split-action.’ Offenses will use quick motion one way and run the ball opposite. Teams had some success using quick motion to create 3x1s and running the ball back to the weak side, especially when there was a nub-TE. The Chiefs have this common attack in their arsenal.
It is not that Wilks is averse to blitzing or stunting the D-line. The 49ers will heat up an offense, but it needs to be the right situation. Looking at the chart above, Wilks is very conservative on early downs (1st/2nd) and 3rd & Short. He heats things up once an offense gets into a passing situation on 3rd Down (3-10 yards).
Most defenses opt not to blitz Mahomes, who happens to be elite versus the blitz. So, projecting this matchup to the Super Bowl, I don’t see Wilks shifting to a more aggressive game plan. San Fransisco enters the game with the league's lowest Blitz Rate (17.2%) and the sixth-lowest Stunt Rate. Those numbers may fluctuate a bit, but I don’t see San Fransisco doubling their pressure rate as the Chiefs did against the Ravens. The 49ers focus more on matchups up front with their deep roster of talented linemen.
The coverage system in San Fransisco is single-high dominant, with it being countered schematically by Quarters. Shanahan has maintained the same defensive philosophy since losing Robert Saleh to the Jets. Last year, Texans Head Coach Demeco Ryans was more Cover 3 dominant, while Wilks has sifted the team closer to a 50/50 mix.
Looking at the heat map for the 49ers compared to Mahomes, the Chiefs will most likely have to throw low in the zone and outside the numbers when developing a passing plan. Mahomes has struggled this year when throwing over 20 yards, with only two TDs and seven INTs, but this is more of an inditement on his WR corp than the best QB in the game. One area the Chiefs’ offense can target is the outside flat, which has been a common target for opponents against the 49ers’ soft zone coverage, and Kansas City is adept at hitting.
When watching the film of Reid's disciples (Giants, Jaguars, Commanders) against the ‘9ers, the outside flat area was consistently targeted. The Giants and Jaguars frequently took advantage of the soft, flat areas to stay ahead of the chains on early downs and to combat the pass rush from the 49ers. Mahomes will have to contend with the rush on standard passing downs, but early in the down, look for the Chiefs to attack the underneath areas of the 49ers’ coverages.
The Chiefs routinely attack a defense with stacks and bunches. The use of motion amplifies these concepts and gives Mahomes a pre-snap clue as to how the coverage will play out. One concept I can see the Chiefs running is from the Giants above. The outside WR will work into a Stack, only to then run a quick Out route into the exposed space.