Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- 49ers TE George Kittle (toe) did not practice at all the first week of preparation, but he was on the injury report the entirety of the playoffs with the same injury and has played 97 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in each playoff game thus far.
- 49ers DE Arik Armstead (knee, foot) was listed as a full participant on Wednesday of the first week before missing the subsequent two practices. He was then listed as a limited participant on Wednesday of week two of practice.
- Chiefs WR Skyy Moore was activated from injured reserve while RB Jerick McKinnon had his 21-day practice window opened in the first week of preparation. Moore looks set to play but I don’t think it is likely we see McKinnon after he underwent surgery to repair a torn groin muscle just five weeks ago.
- Chiefs OG Joe Thuney (pectoral) was reported to have a torn pectoral and has not practiced at any point in the two week preparation for the Super Bowl. The most recent report out of Kansas City was that the team remains hopeful that he’ll be able to play against the 49ers. I have to question those reports, particularly for an offensive lineman, considering his position required interior upper body strength repeatedly.
- In total, the 49ers are the much healthier team as the Chiefs have DE Charles Omenihu, DT Derrick Nnadi, LB Cam Jones, and S Bryan Cook on injured reserve.
- The biggest name on injured reserve for the 49ers is S Talanoa Hufanga, leaving rookie Ji’Ayier Brown to start alongside Tashaun Gipson with Logan Ryan available for fill-in snaps and sub packages.
How san Francisco Will Try To Win ::
When you look at how these two teams match up on paper, it is no secret that the 49ers are the stronger top-to-bottom team, with big names up and down their roster. Even so, there is definitely something to be said for how this team has performed in the postseason, narrowly escaping the Packers in the Divisional Round before narrowly escaping the Lions in the Championship Round, with each victory requiring a fourth quarter comeback to advance to the Super Bowl. Watching those games (and the film of those games), this team started slow on both occasions which was, in my eyes, both an issue with situational play calling on both sides of the ball as well as preparation from head coach Kyle Shanahan. Against Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and company, this team can not afford to have another slow start on the nation’s biggest stage. To buck that trend, look for the 49ers to attack the one pure weakness of Steve Spanuolo’s defensive scheme relentlessly to start the game – the run. That should also benefit the defensive side of the ball as the 49ers are a team that is much more potent when playing with a lead, which allows them varying situations to unleash their vaunted pass rush and hide some relative weaknesses in their own secondary (Hufanga on injured reserve is a bigger deal than most will lead on here). That should also open up their downfield passing game, which is likely to struggle unless they find some success on the ground. I would also love to see Shanahan dial up more early down passing through Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey as this team has had one of the higher first down rush rates in the league this season. The ultimate goal for Shanahan and his team is to score early and maintain control of the game, effectively taking the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands and forcing the Chiefs into uncomfortable territory via their “haves and have-nots” pass-catching corps.
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That likely game plan coming in should unsurprisingly benefit the best running back in the game in McCaffrey, who has played 98 and 91 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in the playoffs thus far while seeing 29 (12 targets) and 25 (five targets) running back opportunities against the Packers and Lions, respectively. The fact that I’d like to see more early-down, short area passing from this team here does not dink McCaffrey in the slightest, who is arguably the best pass-catching running back in the game today. Either way, McCaffrey should handle the lion’s share of the work out of the backfield against a Chiefs defense that is most susceptible to ground-based attacks. The Chiefs finished the regular season allowing 4.5 yards per carry (25th) behind 1.29 yards allowed before contact (below average). This should also be one of the primary matchups to decide the game in the red zone as McCaffrey led the league in total touchdowns, on the offense that led the league in red zone touchdown rate (68.49 percent). The Chiefs held opponents to a 50.91 percent red zone touchdown rate, which ranked eighth in the league this season. McCaffrey has clear upside for 28-32 running back opportunities here and carries a likeliest range of outcomes of 24-26, likely to be mostly influenced by the game flow. Elijah Mitchell is the unquestioned change of pace back, but he has seen just seven total offensive snaps across the team’s two playoff games, with the bulk of those coming after McCaffrey removed himself from their game against the Lions after a long carry. Mitchell should be considered for the unfortunate case of an injury to McCaffrey and nothing more.
The true coming out season by Kansas City cornerback L’Jarius Sneed allowed Spagnuolo to play more man coverage this season than he had in previous years, resulting in top-five man coverage rates during the regular season. Sneed should see his fair share of Brandon Aiyuk as the primary perimeter threat on this offense, which is likely to leave Deebo Samuel and George Kittle in secondary coverage for most of the game (opposing corner Jaylen Watson and free safety Mike Ewards are the clear weak links in this defensive chain). And while the Chiefs held opposing tight ends to just 10.6 DraftKings points per game this season, the bulk of that was the result of low overall volume to the position and only four touchdowns allowed, which is more of a nod to their overall defensive scheme and less important when considering a player of the caliber of Kittle. Furthermore, the Chiefs finished the regular season ranked top-five in explosive play rate allowed when in man coverage, which is a direct knock to the upside of Aiyuk in this matchup. As we’ve covered in the past when dissecting the 49ers, pure matchup means far less to this team than it does to many others around the league, and fluky things can happen like a doink off a defender’s helmet that Aiyuk reacts to for a long reception, but the matchup in this spot clearly points to Deebo, Kittle, and McCaffrey through the air, with Deebo and McCaffrey the likeliest of the four to lead the team in receiving in this spot (yes, McCaffrey has that within his range of outcomes here). Jauan Jennings operates as the clear WR3 for an offense that utilizes 11-personnel at one of the lowest rates in the league, mostly coming through the presence of fullback Kyle Juszczyk). Ray-Ray McCloud and Chris Conley might see a handful of snaps and are only viable as true “maybe this happens once or twice out of 100 iterations” plays. Finally, Deebo saw an elite 27.2 percent target share against two-high safety looks this season, which is important considering the Chiefs led the league in two-high sets this year.