Super Bowl LIV Preview: San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are so much more than their league-best defense, but this is their major strong suit that will ultimately help them get to the promised land. Point out the weakness if you can possibly spot one; a defensive line with former first rounders in Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, and former Chief Dee Ford.
A top-ranked secondary comprised of GOAT trash talker Richard Sherman, Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt and Ahkello Witherspoon. The only relative weakness by comparison you can possibly name is the linebacker group, led by star free-agent acquisition Kwon Alexander and superb second-year man Fred Warner. If the names themselves aren’t enough, let the numbers prove their effectiveness.
The passing defense was first in the league, allowing a measly 169.2 yards per game, while the team overall placed fifth with a whopping 48 sacks. The trade for Dee Ford, who famously jumped offsides during a would-be game-winning play in the last year’s AFC Championship Game, has been a godsend for this roster. With Ford on the field and in pursuit during QB dropbacks, the team’s sack rate jumps from 5.7 percent (without him) to 15.8 percent.
Nick Bosa, who is a Top 3 contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year, has been one of the most disruptive edge rushers in the league this year. Bosa has 12 sacks, though he produces one every 18 pass rushes when accompanied with Ford going after QBs (Next Gen Stats).
It’s tough to decide which of those two defenders is more valuable to the team, but having to face both at the same time is just plain unfair especially when being coached by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
Mahomes actually struggles the most when facing a Cover 7, meaning there are four defenders rushing and the rest play coverage. If the extra men back are able to remove one or two of Kansas City’s major weapons, that can ultimately turn the tables in their favor.
The most overlooked part of this team is surprisingly 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He technically has a Super Bowl ring as a backup but will look to finally establish himself as the star quarterback everyone expected him to be while he sat behind Tom Brady in New England.
However, he really hasn’t had to play like a star due to the overwhelming success of his team’s run game. In a complete demolition of the Green Bay Packers, “Jimmy GQ” only had to throw the ball eight times all game and completed six of them for 77 yards.
That obviously won’t be the same result when playing against the Chiefs, but his role as an above-average game manager with premium efficiency is more valuable than you might realize. Though his season averages place him in the Kirk Cousins range of NFL QB hierarchy, he’s a Top 5 passer in both completion percentage (68.8) and yards per attempt (8.3). The most obvious reason for his profound growth this year has been Kyle Shanahan, who employs more pre-snap motions than any other coach in the league.
He thrives off of play-action plays and leads the league in deep pass accuracy, and has a strong enough run game to fool opposing defenses into biting on run fakes. Speaking of that run game, Raheem Mostert absolutely exploded in his last game for 220 yards and four touchdowns. That impressive stable of backs includes speedster Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman (who is questionable to play with a dislocated shoulder), and the most underrated player in the league, fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
Though the Chiefs struggled early on in the season defending against the run, they have improved dramatically in recent weeks thanks to the play of Frank Clark, Chris Jones, and former Texan Tyrann Mathieu. Clearly any lead that the 49ers post against Kansas City is not safe, but if they can start gaining traction with the running game early, they can control the tempo of the game.