Super Bowl LVII Preview

Some are billing this game as a rematch.  Others are billing this game as an opportunity for revenge.  While both may be true, this game represents a true battle of the titans.  The Kansas City Chiefs have made it to the AFC Conference championship every year for the last six years.  Sunday’s game marks their fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years.  The 49ers have made it to the NFC Championship four out of the last five years and this is their second Super Bowl appearance in five years.  Both squads are dominating the NFL.

The 49ers and the Chiefs are similar organizations.  Both teams have built their roster up through the draft.  The 49ers and the Chiefs have two of the most innovative minds at head coach in the NFL.  George Kittle and Travis Kelce are the two best tight ends in football.  Finally, both squads feature two of the best defensive linemen in football.

It is interesting to see how most analysts conduct comparisons.  The comparison isn’t Brock Purdy versus Patrick Mahomes, or Kittle versus Kelce, or Isiah Pacheco versus Christian McCaffrey (CMC) or Chris Jones versus Nick Bosa.  Quarterbacks play against defenses.  Defensive linemen play against offenses.  That is where my comparative analyses will begin and end.

Purdy versus Chiefs Defense.

Steve Spagnuolo is one of the time minds in defensive football today.  He engineered a brilliant defensive game against the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.  His anchor, hall of famer Michael Strahan, led a seasoned group of defensive linemen that hassled and harried Tom Brady all game long.  In Super Bowl LIV, against the 49ers, Coach Spags coached the Chiefs defense to blank the 49ers in the fourth quarter after giving up 20 points in the first three quarters.  Finally, his latest victory might be one of his best.  He coached his defense to hold the Baltimore offense to a mere ten points.  The Ravens were the number one rushing team in the NFL, and the Chiefs defense held them to a mere 81 yards, roughly half their game-to-game average throughout the season.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo talks to the media before the team’s NFL football practice Friday, Feb. 2, 2024 in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs will play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 58. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Brock Purdy has stormed on to the scene from Mr. Irrelevant to a possible MVP candidate.  Much has been said about whether or not he is a game manager or a play maker.  First, I understand the negative connotations that are usually associated with the game manager moniker.  However, quarterbacks should be excellent game managers in order to consistently win ball games.  Can you get your offense in the right play pre-snap? Do you know where to throw? Are you accurate with your throws?  Do you make good decisions?

Brock Purdy checks all of those boxes and then some.  Purdy has shown us throughout this playoff run that he can bring his team from behind to win.  He executed a game winning drive against Green Bay, and he led his team back from three scores down against the Detroit Lions.  The interesting thing is that he won those difficult games by being more than a game manager.  Purdy showed that he is a play maker by scrambling, surveying and delivering off schedule throws as well as executing off schedule runs for first downs.

Brock Purdy has the Edge.

Brock Purdy has the edge over the Chiefs defense.  First of all, the Chiefs path the Super Bowl started with the Miami Dolphins who were missing at least six defensive starters while their offensive line was banged up.  The Chiefs toughest test was arguably the Bills.  The defense blanked Josh Allen in the fourth quarter while the Chiefs opened the fourth quarter with an 8-play drive to score the eventual game winning touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy speaks to reporters after a practice at the team’s NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 58. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The eye test told us that the Baltimore Ravens were the best team in football.  However, they had a glaring weakness that the Chiefs defense exploited.  While the Ravens were first in the league in rushing, they were 19th in passing and Coach Spagnuolo knew if he could stop the run and force Lamar Jackson to pass he had a chance.  He also knew that containing Jackson on the edges and spying him the middle would limit his ability to run.  The Chiefs defense executed this plan almost to perfection.

The 49ers offense is the most dynamic offense the Chiefs defense will face this year.  Kyle Shanahan calls the plays, but Brock Purdy executes on the field.  Purdy has a treasure chest of players to deliver the ball to.  The player of choice is Christian McCaffrey (CMC).  The offense is jumpstarted thru CMC and progresses from there.  The Chiefs defense struggles with the outside zone run which is something the 49ers excel at. Once the run game gets rolling, Brock Purdy can distribute the ball to Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle.  He can always check down to CMC to keep the chains moving.  Finally, the Niners change of pace back, Elijah Mitchell, has fresh legs.  It should be noted that Juszczyk, Deebo, Kittle were all starters on offense in Super Bowl LIV.  They want to leave this one with a win.

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey participates in the NFL football Super Bowl 58 opening night, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in Las Vegas. The San Francisco 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 58 on Sunday. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

I believe Purdy has the edge because of all the players he has to distribute the ball to.  Purdy’s edge also comes from his intelligence and how quickly he processes the field.  Brock Purdy trusts his preparation, trusts his eyes and trusts his teammates.  Purdy seemingly plays with ice in his veins.  However, I believe it’s his faith that keeps him calm in stressful situations.  His faith also keeps him grounded when everything is looking great.

The Chiefs will be relying on rookie defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah to fill Charles Omenihu’s playmaking ability.  Omenihu was a 49er the last couple of years.  Omenihu collected seven sacks in 11 games and had a critical sack fumble against Lamar Jackson before suffering a torn ACL.  Spags will likely attempt to dial up a few exotic blitzes for Purdy, however Purdy has consistently shown he can make a play despite the blitz.  The Chief’s weakest link are the linebackers while their secondary might be their strongest link.  The Chiefs defensive backs are relatively unknown, but they play fundamentally sound aggressive football.

The 49ers tend to favor alignments that bring the receivers closer to the formation.  This helps set up run blocking down field.  However, it makes the offense susceptible to corner blitzes.  The Ravens were very successful with the corner blitz against the Niners during the regular season.  Coach Spags loves to blitz his corners.  Coach Shanahan and Brock Purdy are going to have to be aware of the possibility that the Chiefs could blitz a corner merely based on the alignment and they will need an answer.  Coach Spags could live and die by the blitz in this game because when you blitz a corner you leave an open space to be exploited by an opportunistic quarterback.

I believe Coach Shanahan and Purdy will be looking to attack the middle and intermediate levels of the field to take advantage of the linebackers.  Purdy can find the holes in the zone.  Once the Chiefs move to man coverage, Coach Shanahan will pick and choose which defensive back he wants to put in conflict and expect Purdy to make the right read and throw under the circumstance presented.  Coach Spags will make it tough on Purdy, but I believe Purdy has the edge here.

Patrick Mahomes versus the 49ers Defense

Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in football today.  The Chiefs chances to win start with him.  Yet, despite being the best quarterback in football, this season has been his worst statistical season to date.  The story of the Chief’s season has been the defense keeping the Chiefs in games, while the offense has sputtered along, barely scoring enough points to win.  This year’s offense does not feature any receiver over 1000 yards.  In fact, the only players that have 1000 yards of offense on this year’s Chief’s roster is Patrick Mahomes and Isiah Pacheco.

Kansas City Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco (10) jogs off the field during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, in Baltimore, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024 (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

The keys to Mahomes success in this game come from his three 900-yard players.  Travis Kelce, and rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice eclipsed 900 receiving yards while Isiah Pacheco rushed for 935 yards and collected another 244 yards receiving.    Pacheco, Kelce and Rice, in that order, have to play their best game for the Chiefs to have a shot at winning.  The Chiefs offense has changed a bit.  They have turned into a ball control offense that runs thru second year man Pacheco.  He is a fast, but bruising runner.  He is also likely the most underrated skill position player in this years Super Bowl.

The Chief’s offensive tackles tend to commit holding penalties.  In fact, Jawaan Taylor is the most penalized offensive tackle in the league.  It is highly likely that he will hold either Chase Young or Nick Bosa.  I think it’s fair to expect more holding penalties as well as sacks on Mahomes in this game.

Despite the lack of offensive production, the Chiefs offense has found a way to win consistently enough to be a third seed.  Further, they found a way to score enough points to make it to the Super Bowl.  One of the stories all year has been the fact that the Chiefs receivers have dropped the most passes in the NFL.  Yet, in a “gotta have it” play, Marquez Valdes-Scantling catches a 32-yard pass to help ice the game and win the AFC Championship against the Ravens. The most dangerous thing about this Chiefs offense is that they collectively find a way.  They are able to do that because Patrick Mahomes is the best in the business.  Mahomes usually navigates the drops and the holds and wills his team to victory.

The 49ers defense must find a way to consistently frustrate Mahomes.  The best way to do that is force him to play hero ball.  Patrick Mahomes growth in the game is shown through his ability to consistently make the check down throw to the open receiver to keep the clock and chains moving.  If the 49ers can consistently frustrate that, Mahomes will start to look to make big plays.  He doesn’t have Tyreek Hill to launch the ball to.  While Valdez-Scantling had a great play two weeks ago, he has yet to show that he can be consistently trusted to make such a play again.  Though Mecole Hardman is extraordinarily fast, he has shown that he is also very inconsistent.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) holds up the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore. The Chiefs won 17-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The 49ers defense has spent much of the season being maligned.  Most of this criticism has fallen squarely on Coach Steve Wilke’s shoulders.  About halfway thru the season, Coach Shanahan asked Coach Wilkes to move from the booth and coach from the sideline.  This was the first sign of marked improvement in the defense.  However, what folks don’t talk about is the fact that Coach Wilkes might be the best half time adjuster in the game.  The Niners defense has a history of starting slow this year.  However, after halftime, there is a marked change.  He almost always makes the right adjustments, and the players respond.

The 49ers are privileged to have a veteran group with Super Bowl experience.  Charvarious Ward has a ring with the Chiefs.  Backup safety Logan Ryan has a couple of rings with the Patriots.  Javon Hargrave was in last year’s game with the Eagles.  Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw were all starting on the roster during the last Super Bowl matchup with the Chiefs.  Overall, these players have done nothing but improve and gain more experience over the years.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks speaks to reporters after a practice at the team’s NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 58. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The Niners defense has been gashed in the run game in the last two playoffs.  That doesn’t mean it will happen in the Super Bowl.  Over the course of the season Coach Wilkes has spent valuable time shoring up the pass coverage defense.  Some argue that focus has been at the expense of the pass rush and the run defense. The game tape shows that there has been a lack of emphasis on hitting run-fits consistently.  Additionally, the pass rush hasn’t been as exotic as years past.  However, the pass rush and the run defense has executed well enough when it needed to.  Expect that the 49ers defense will be even more improved for this game.  The Niners have no choice but to improve and execute, or the Chiefs will exploit them.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Chase Young (92) and defensive end Nick Bosa (97) practice at the team’s NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 58. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Final Thoughts.

The 49ers as a team are hungry.  The Chiefs have two rings and might be complacent as a result.  The 49ers are chasing a championship.  The Chiefs are chasing a legacy.  It is hard to say who has more pressure to win.  It seems to me the pressure is equal.  The team that plays within themselves and plays the best version of themselves for 60 minutes will win this year’s trophy.

Allegiant Stadium during NFL football Super Bowl 58 opening night Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Las Vegas. The San Francisco 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 58 on Sunday. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)



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