14 thoughts on “Super Bowl 54: Chiefs-49ers

  1. On the surface, I would say this is a classic battle of styles—namely, a team built around an explosive passing offense with an OK-to-good defense versus a team built around a good-to-great, physical defense, run game, with a QB that can make a handful of plays and protect the football. But digging deeper, the formula doesn’t seem to entirely apply to both teams. Traditionally, a team like the Chiefs wouldn’t be good at ball control, but my sense is that they are pretty good at this, and their defense benefits as a result. (Their defensive stats aren’t good, but they seem like a solid defense.) It’s possible the Chiefs haven’t really faced a very good defense, yet, but that could be wrong as well (i.e., they just might be good at ball control).

    On the 49er side, I’m unconvinced that Garoppolo fulfills the requirement of ball security, especially when he’s under pressure and takes some hits. Indeed, when I think of keys to the game, Garoppolo’s ball security and performance under pressure—both in terms courageously facing a heavy pass rush and making a play in high-stakes situation—is the first thing that comes to mind. My sense is that both teams are evenly matched, and if the score is close, Garoppolo’s ball security is going to be crucial. The reason I say this is because I expect the following:

    1. The 49ers will either be able to run the ball well, or if the Chiefs stop the run, I think their pass defense will be vulnerable enough that Jimmy G can and will exploit it. The caveat to this is if the 49ers are getting into long yardage situations, because of penalties, sacks, and/or negative plays. This could occur, but I’m going to guess that the 49ers will keep this to a minimum. (However, Garoppolo still has to perform well when long yardage situations occur.)

    2. The Chiefs will be able to move the ball and score—enough to win the game, but I doubt they will blow out the 49ers (unless the Niners turn the ball over and/or give up big special teams plays). While I think the 49ers defense is very good, if not great, I think the Chiefs will be able to be able to move and the ball and put points on the board because the Seahawks could do this. The Chiefs pass pro is way better than the Seahawks’, and even though the Niner pass rush is really good, the Chiefs’ pass pro shouldn’t be worse than the Seahawks’—and Russell Wilson was able to keep the games close and win one of them. Mahomes has a similar skillset, and arguably better weapons. But the 49ers, both offensively and defensively, should be good enough to prevent a blowout. (One caveat to this: The Seahawks threat to run is probably greater than the Chiefs’—even when the Seahawks lost their three main RBs. An opposing team likely had to care about stopping the run because they knew Carroll would be committed to running the ball. The Chiefs are more one-dimensional. If the 49ers can defend the Chiefs’ passing game, without being too vulnerable to the run, the Chiefs should be fairly one-dimensional, and that could slow down their offense. I would be surprised if they’re shut down, though.)

    3. I’m pretty confident about Mahomes’s ball security. However, if he’s under heavy duress all game, if he has to frequently throw in tight windows, and/or the 49ers do things to confuse him, all bets are off.

    All three things point to the ball security of the 49ers—specifically Jimmy G’s—being the key to the game—or at least that would be my main concern if I were a 49ers fan.

    Actually, even if Garoppolo protects the football, I don’t think the 49ers will have a big lead, which means that the game will be close. In such a game, I tend to favor Mahomes and the Chiefs.

  2. I’m in agreement with just about everything you said. I think though, the implication when reading it is Garoppolo gets bothered (more than other QBs) by pass rush pressure. If that’s true, I don’t really agree with that. Garoppolo is cool in the pocket, probably too cool at times (ie: holds the ball too long). If he learned to get rid of the ball sooner, he would cut down on his errors. My problem with Garoppolo is that I don’t get a sense he has the QB smarts or basically I don’t know if he always makes the right choices on where to throw the ball if it’s outside the framework of the offense. And I don’t think he’s super accurate.

    The part I’m curious about is whether San Fran will be able to slow down the Chiefs. The Chief offense is picking up momentum and it looks very much like they did in Mahomes first starts last year. But I think maybe the Niners has the horses like the Giants against the Patriots, in that the Niners can rush four and get to the QB. The difference is whether or not the Niners can rush four, stay in their lanes and still get enough pressure, and keep Mahomes in the pocket.

    The other side is whether or not the Chiefs can stop the Niner run game. The Chiefs will try, but I’m thinking so did the Vikings and Packers. If the Niners can run on a loaded box, I think they will win. I think their defense can make enough stops. But I’m not sure if the Niners will be able to be super successful on the ground and what will Shanahan do if he’s two scores down. Will he stick to the run game?

    Like Reid I favor the Chiefs because of the Mahomes, but I’m not confident at all. I think the Niners are the better all-around team.

  3. I’m in agreement with just about everything you said. I think though, the implication when reading it is Garoppolo gets bothered (more than other QBs) by pass rush pressure.

    Yeah, this is basically correct, and we disagree on this. He’s not as bad as Goff (but very few are) in terms of reacting to pressure, but my sense is that pressure and hits affect him more than the elite QBs. (Obviously, all QBs are adversely affected by hits and pressure.)

    The part I’m curious about is whether San Fran will be able to slow down the Chiefs. The Chief offense is picking up momentum and it looks very much like they did in Mahomes first starts last year.

    I feel like one of the differences is that the Chiefs are able to control the ball better–that is, they take more time and plays to move the ball down the field. A part of me feels like penalties or failed plays actually contributes to this. When they’re faced with long yardage situations, they can overcome them. If this is accurate, those failed plays actually might be a good thing. That doesn’t seem right, though.

    If the Chiefs do well scoring, but have short possessions, I wouldn’t like their chances.–which is sort of the classic feature of the high-scoring, fast-breaking type of teams. The primary way they can win in this scenario is if they’re unbelievable at scoring TDs, and they maintain this until the end. (Or, the 49ers will have to turn the ball over or give up a big plays on ST–i.e., fall a part.)

    One other thing. The 49ers defense, at times, have looked really physical–to a similar degree as the best 49er teams under Harbaugh. If that’s the case on Sunday, that can be decisive. In fact, if they are super physical, I would favor them.

    To be clear, though, I’m not saying this is the only reason for ball security issues. It could be he has trouble with reads and accuracy–but my sense is that his accuracy and maybe his decision making decline too sharply when under duress. Also, he may not handle pressure of big situations very well.

    If the Niners can run on a loaded box, I think they will win.

    I agree, but if the Chiefs decide to do this, you don’t think the 49ers can have a lot of success through the air? I think they can; in fact, I would expect this. What I’m unsure about is if they can protect the football if they pass a lot.

    But I’m not sure if the Niners will be able to be super successful on the ground and what will Shanahan do if he’s two scores down. Will he stick to the run game?

    I think he should. You can stick to the run with two scores for a long time. I would say at least until the end of the 3rd, although it depends on how long the opponent’s offense is holding onto the ball. If the opponent is having consistently long possessions, you may have to give up the run sooner.

  4. For the most part when I think of Garopolo in the pocket, he’s willing to stand in there, he doesn’t get happy feet, and he’s standing pretty tall. Which is why I get the sense that he’s calm in the pocket.

    I should clarify on my what will Shanahan do if he’s two scores down comment. I think if Shanahan is have success on the ground early, but let’s say they commit a couple turnovers and get down a couple scores, I think he will stick to the run game. It’s if he’s not having early success and gets two scores down, will he abandon the run too early. I’m not as sure of that scenario. Some say he learned from his time in Atlanta to not be too reliant on the pass, but I think that can be attributed to success on the ground early in games. What happens if they don’t have early success is what I’m wondering about.

  5. For the most part when I think of Garopolo in the pocket, he’s willing to stand in there, he doesn’t get happy feet, and he’s standing pretty tall. Which is why I get the sense that he’s calm in the pocket.

    I’ve seen him do this, too. But I also get the sense that when he’s hit or hurried, his accuracy and decision-making seem to deteriorate as well. Whatever the cause, I feel like I don’t trust his ball security.

    Some say he learned from his time in Atlanta to not be too reliant on the pass, but I think that can be attributed to success on the ground early in games. What happens if they don’t have early success is what I’m wondering about.

    I think it’s important to note that the Falcons’ approach in ’17 was very different from ’16 or after that. In ’17, they were more aggressive offensively, even utilizing a hurry-up offense. Matt Ryan had a great year statistically, especially in terms of volume, if I’m not mistaken. If I recall the Falcons ran better in ’16 versus ’17, but I could be wrong about that. In SF, Shanahan hasn’t been as aggressive in my opinion, and he’s ran the ball quite a bit.

    Having said that, I think your question still has some validity. I thought they may have abandoned the run too early in the first game against the Seahawks. What’s crucial is the way the Chiefs are playing them. If they’re selling out to stop the run, even when they’re up two scores, the Niners passing the ball would be a sound move in my opinion.

  6. I wanted to reiterate one thing: Normally, I wouldn’t favor a team like the Chiefs facing a team like the 49ers. One of the “rules” I go by is that the balanced, more well-rounded team wins the Super Bowl–winning the Super Bowl by being one-dimensional is not impossible, but extremely difficult, and I would say rare. I heard Hugh Millen, the former NFL QB, say that this upcoming Super Bowl reminded him the ’84 Super Bowl featuring the Marino’s Dolphins against Montana’s 49ers. I think that’s a good comparison.

    The Dolphins got blown out and normally I’d tend to think this would happen in this game, but I’m leaning towards the Chiefs–which is kinda weird. In trying to understand this, I think it comes down to my thinking the game will be close, and that Mahomes will be the difference. Also, while the Niners D has looked dominant at times, I resist calling them truly great, as they look less than great at times.

    On the other hand, if the Chiefs have a lot of short possessions, which I would normally expect, but have serious doubts about, I would favor the 49ers. In that scenario, I could see the 49ers winning handily.

  7. A few other things interest me, with regard to the battle of styles:

    1. If the Chiefs blow out the 49ers, it may be one of the few times in the playoffs/Super Bowl (the first?) where a team like the Chiefs–an explosive pass-based, one-dimensional offense–blows out a good, balanced, defensive/run based team. A really good pass-based team beat defensive-run team in the playoffs before–Rams vs. Titans, maybe the Colts vs. the Bears (I would mention the Bills and Giants, although the Giants won). But these defensive-run teams weren’t all that great. From what I remember they had good-to-very-good defenses, but not great ones, and overall these teams were among the weakest to make it to the Super Bowl. And they barely lost (and one of them won by a little). If the Chiefs blow out the 49ers, that will be something different–because the 49ers not only play that defensive-run oriented style, but they’re a good team.

    2. If the 49ers blow out the Chiefs, it will be part of a fairly long pattern of explosive pass-based teams getting blown out– Dolphins-49ers, Elway’s early Bronco teams, most of Jim Kelly’s Bills, Seahawks-Broncos. Actually that doesn’t seem like a lot, so maybe I’m wrong, although I wonder how often Moon’s Oilers and Fouts’s Chargers got blown out in the playoffs.

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever been less confident about a Super Bowl prediction, but I’m going back to defense. Niners 23, Chiefs 20. MVP Nick Bosa. Gatorade purple.

  9. I’m going to post some thoughts on the game. Some (or maybe all) may be a function of confirmation bias. I really would like to hear both of your comments about some of this–just to see if I’m “confirming my bias” or if you guys agree with what I’m saying.

    1. Without re-watching the game, I think the game came down to the 3rd and 15 throw to Hill. I feel like that’s the play. And I would pair that with Garoppolo’s overthrow to Sanders in the 4th.

    2. The difference in the game seem to come down to QBs, and if I had to be more specific I would say the mobility was the big difference. The Chiefs OL seemed to struggle with the 49er pass rush, but Mahomes would often neutralize that with his mobility. Even though he didn’t often make huge explosive plays, just avoiding the sack and getting positive yards was significant in my opinion. In contrast, Jimmy G was basically stuck in the pocket–which wasn’t necessarily bad, but he couldn’t make enough plays from there.

    3. Having said this, I wonder if you guys agree that Mahomes didn’t have a great game, and it was kinda of a bad game in terms of ball security. I don’t know if I’m being unfair, but I’m still reluctant to crown him as the hand’s down best QB because of this. This was the biggest stage, against a really good defense. A great QB has to play better, taking care of the ball and also handling the pressure. (His accuracy seem to deteriorate at one point.)

    4. Going into the game, I thought the 49ers were the more balanced team, but that turned out not to be the case, I think. Part of being balanced is the ability to run or pass when you need to, and I think the 49ers failed in this regard. On the other hand, the Chiefs seemed to run just enough, especially in short yardage situations. Mahomes’s running was also a factor. And give credit to their defense which played well in the crunch.

    5. Bias may be at play here, but I really think ball control was huge in this game, especially for KC. If they didn’t have those long drives, I don’t think their defense would have been as effective, especially down the stretch.

    On a side note, I just listened to the Ringer podcast with Mays and Clark, and I wanted to add my two cents:

    1. Mays criticized Shanahan for not being more aggressive before the end of the half, and for kicking a FG instead of going for a TD. I don’t really agree–or at least I don’t think this is so decisive. The 49er defense played well enough to vindicate those decisions (Jimmy G did not, though). I really think that 3rd and 15 killed them.

    2. Re: Shanahan replacing Reid for the being the “can’t-win-the-big-one” coach. I have a problem applying that to both–if it means coaching was inadequate. In Philly, the Eagles consistently had a terrible receiving corps, and I’m not sure McNabb was a Super Bowl QB. In KC, Reid didn’t have a great QB, and did wonders with Alex Smith. The difference is that Reid has Mahomes now (although he didn’t play a great game).

    The thing is, Shanahan has Garoppolo, and I think this a bigger reason than coaching for why the Niners lost.

    Edit

    Whoa, Damien Williams ran for 104 yards. He also had a 38 yard run. That’s pretty significant. (Actually, the 38 yarder came near the end, so I guess both that run and the overall 104 is misleading.)

  10. Like Mitchell, prior to this game I was not confident on who would win this game. I had two predictions. One, if the Chiefs were going to win, it’s because they would pretty much roll the Niner defense. I was probably half right. They were spurts that the Chief’s offense was great, but overall I thought the Niner’s defense did enough to win the game. Or two, I thought if the Niners won, it would be because their great running attack would be unstoppable even with the Chiefs loading the box. I think we saw parts of that in the first Niner TD drive, but overall that was the Niner’s achilles heal. If we saw more of it consistently, I believe the Niners win.

    In a touch of irony, while watching the game with Reid, I was yelling for the Niners to run more. Reid had almost no problems with the Niners play calling down the stretch.

    I agree with Reid that the TOP of the Chiefs really helped them win the game in the end. I think though, if the Chiefs were moving the ball at will and scoring quickly, they probably still would have won, because the Niners just couldn’t count on Jimmy G to make plays.

    I thought Jimmy G outplayed Mahomes for the maybe the first three quarters. Maybe not in terms of what the QB did for the team, because Mahomes was a huge part of almost every positive aspect of the Chief offense, but he made a few errors as well. Jimmy G on the other hand was steadier. But as I thought, if the Niners needed Jimmy G to win the game, they would be in trouble.

    On a sort of side note, this Chief team and last year’s Chief team was very similar, but the difference was the defense. Last year Chief defense was horrible. This year the Chief defense was very serviceable. Give all the credit to Spags for coaching them up.

  11. One, if the Chiefs were going to win, it’s because they would pretty much roll the Niner defense. I was probably half right. They were spurts that the Chief’s offense was great, but overall I thought the Niner’s defense did enough to win the game.

    What’s interesting here is the notion of “roll.” The Chiefs offense didn’t roll the 49er defense in terms of scoring and explosive plays, but you could argue that they “rolled” them in terms of ball control. The Chiefs had long drives with a lot of plays. My impression is that they used almost as much time and ran as many plays as the Ravens, which is really surprising to me, because the Chiefs are more of a pass-first offense, and their reputation is an explosive passing game.

    Still, in the second half, it seemed like the 49er defense started taking over–with the big exception of the 3rd and 15 play.

    In a touch of irony, while watching the game with Reid, I was yelling for the Niners to run more. Reid had almost no problems with the Niners play calling down the stretch.

    Haha, yeah that’s definitely weird. Without really knowing or analyzing what the Chiefs defense was doing, I assumed they would gear up to stop the run. It would be crazy to allow the 49ers to run at that point–that would basically give up the game. But that’s an assumption on my part. If the assumption is correct, I feel like the 49ers would have to pass, at least a little.

    I think though, if the Chiefs were moving the ball at will and scoring quickly, they probably still would have won, because the Niners just couldn’t count on Jimmy G to make plays.

    But do you think the Chiefs defense would be as effective as they were? If the Chiefs kept having short possessions, their scoring would have to be unbelievable. And the 49ers offense would have to struggle. Even if the Chief got up to TDs early on, if they kept having short possessions, I think the 49ers could have won–without having to rely a ton on Jimmy G.

    I thought Jimmy G outplayed Mahomes for the maybe the first three quarters.

    Again, I think this goes back to how we define success. In terms of overseeing a ball control offense, one without a great run game, I feel like Mahomes should get credit. Now, at some point he really struggled and the two turnovers were really bad. At that point, and looking at these struggles, I would say Jimmy G was playing better–until the end of the game.

    On a sort of side note, this Chief team and last year’s Chief team was very similar, but the difference was the defense. Last year Chief defense was horrible. This year the Chief defense was very serviceable. Give all the credit to Spags for coaching them up.

    I thin Mathieu was huge for this team, but more than him, Spags, or Clark, I think the ball control was the key. Last year’s Chiefs team did not consistently have these long, clock-eating drives. They were more explosive in my opinion, at least when they were in their prime. (The Chiefs did have some of these moments in 2019, but not as much in my opinion.)

    1. What’s interesting here is the notion of “roll.” The Chiefs offense didn’t roll the 49er defense in terms of scoring and explosive plays, but you could argue that they “rolled” them in terms of ball control.

      You thought the Chiefs offense played well then? They scored 10 points in three and half quarters. I think that’s taking the TOP thing a little far. I thought the Niners D overall won the battle in this one. They put their team in the position to win. You can even say the Niners offense did enough to win for three quarters. With somewhere about 12 minutes (guessing) left in the game, the Niners had the ball up 10 points (Which seems getting close to insurmountable being that the Chiefs only scored 10 points up to that point.). They run like five plays, and punt. They give up a TD, and then go three and out and give up another TD. I think if the Niners get one more first down in the drive that started with about 12 minutes left in the game, and one more first down in the drive they went three and out, they have a great chance to at least be in OT. Two first downs could have burned at least three more minutes off the game clock. That would have put a lot of pressure on the Chiefs to get a big play. Maybe the Chiefs still score the first TD, but the second drive would probably have ended in a field goal at best. And both those drives started at second and five before they punted. That’s a killer.

    2. You thought the Chiefs offense played well then?

      I think it’s too strong to say, “They got rolled.” I will say that there were was a point, in the second half, where it looked like the Chiefs–more, Mahomes and the OL–startled to struggle. This was capped off by Mahomes throwing a pick.

      Having said that, the score was 20-10, 49ers, with 12 minutes in the game. This is where the offense could put the game away–if not by scoring, they could have long possessions to help their defense. But the Chiefs forced the 49ers to punt.

      I want to bring this back to the importance of ball control. Dungy and Herm Edwards claim that 65 snaps is a breaking point for most defenses. At this point in the game, the Chiefs played 39 snaps. It’s the 4th quarter, that seems like a decent number. In contrast the 49er defense played 52.

      After the 49ers intercepted the ball they had a 5 play drive (about 3 minutes), and punted.

      On the next possession, the Chiefs had an 11(!) play drive (2 min, 20 seconds). That put the 49ers defense at 63 snaps, right at the breaking point. To make matters worse, on the next possession the 49ers went three and out. (Chiefs D started that drive with 44 snaps. I feel like the fact that the Chiefs D played about 40 snaps at that point, significantly contributed to their ability to force short possessions by the 49ers.

      On the next drive the Chiefs ran 7 plays, crossing the 65 mark, ending in a TD.

      I feel like those long drives really helped early on, and the Chiefs were able to sustain them, while the number of plays and TOP per drive for the 49ers declined as the second half went on. (The Chiefs plays per drive seems unusually. They had one three and out, but after that they had drives of 15, 8, 7, 7, 12, 11, 7 and then 2 play drive at the end, ending in a TD by Damien Williams. My sense is that getting over 10 plays in a drive is pretty rare. (If the Chiefs can sustain this type of ball control going forward, I’m going to like this their chances. I’ll have to reconsider if pass-first offenses can be just as good at ball control. I think a crucial component of this is having a mobile QB, though.)

      I think if the Niners get one more first down in the drive that started with about 12 minutes left in the game, and one more first down in the drive they went three and out, they have a great chance to at least be in OT.

      As I mentioned, a possible reason they couldn’t do this was the Chiefs defense was well-rested, which is attributed to the Chiefs offensive ball control.

      And both those drives started at second and five before they punted. That’s a killer.

      One thing I will add about this–specifically the play calling. For me, it’s hard for to feel strongly about the playcalling, one way or the other. There are pros and cons to either running a lot or passing a lot. Interestingly, Shanahan and Quinn lost the Super Bowl because they stuck with what got them there–a uptempo, aggressive offense. And you can make a case for this, I think. But the results where obviously bad.

      In this game, Shanahan didn’t stick with what got him there, and I think you could make a case for that, too–namely, with 6 minutes, there’s too much time on the clock to get too conservative. You still have to be willing to pass the ball. Additionally, a defense will likely prioritize stopping the run, which might make them vulnerable to the pass. Finally, either running or passing more may have been moot, if the Chiefs defense was simply well-rested and raring to go.

      1. I watched a little of Around The Horn and Bill Plaschke mirrored what I said about being in 2nd and 5 twice and both times deciding to pass. But the more interesting comment by Gutierrez (I think) was if they were going to pass they should have gone to a play which got the ball to Deebo out in space (I don’t think the Chiefs stopped him all day.) or their best play to get Kittle open. I think he said that on combining both 2nd and 5’s, the Niners ran 4 plays (two second down and two third down plays) and only one of those passes went to Kittle and none to Deebo. The pass to Kittle was knocked down by a Chief defender. I agree with that as well. If you are going to decide to pass, then tell Garappolo to throw it to his two best short yardage guys or run a play specific to get them open. Gutierrez’s comments made me feel even more that the coaches/play-calling failed the Niners in the fourth.

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