On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will play the Kansas City Chiefs for the right to call themselves the best in the NFL. Seems like yesterday we were all gathered around the fireplace listening to the preseason games on the radio. . .or something.
All season, the Chiefs and 49ers were considered two of the best teams in the NFL, if not the best. It’s no surprise they’ve both made it this far. But what are their strengths? Weaknesses? How did they get here? Here’s a look at how the two teams match up.
An old trope that you will probably see/hear a lot in the lead up to this game is “An unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” Bleacher Report has already done it. And, to be fair, it’s not a bad way to describe the match up between the Chiefs offense and the 49ers defense.
The Chiefs’ offense has been near unstoppable this year (hence the comparison to the unstoppable force above) mostly thanks to the play of Patrick Mahomes. In the past two games against the Texans and Titans, Mahomes has thrown 46 completions on 70 passes for 615 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s also added 106 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Those are good numbers, if you’re not familiar with how football works.
It also helps that he has an above-average offensive line in front of him and some of the most dangerous weapons in the league around him. Damien Williams is probably their top running back with 29 carries the past two games for 92 total yards. Not exactly lighting the world on fire, but when you have the best quarterback in the league, running the ball seems stupid anyway.
Especially when Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman are the ones running routes. Hill, Watkins, and Hardman all have dangerous, game breaking speed. While Kelce has been one of the top tight ends in the league for years. Williams isn’t bad out of the backfield, either.
All Mecole Hardman does is score touchdowns that are over 20 yards.
Also, that TD against TEN is one of the most incredible "fast guy" moments I've seen. Just dusts a pair of world-class athletes. pic.twitter.com/cX6lowh6QO
— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 28, 2020
Of the group, Kelce has been Mahomes’ favorite target. Kelce finished the regular season eighth in total receptions with 97 and fourth in total yards with 1,229. Hill and Kelce were both selected to the Pro Bowl, but couldn’t make it for some reason. Hardman had an 83 yard reception and a 104 yard kick return during the regular season.
Also, Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker has made more kicks than anyone else in the league with 34.
Basically, the Chiefs are a pass first, big-play offense that are good at, well, creating big plays and scoring a lot of points. An “unstoppable force”, if you will.
And here is your “immovable object.” The strength of the Chiefs in their pass offense is matched by the pass defense of the 49ers. Below are some stats from the 49ers pass defense during the regular season:
- Completion percentage of 61.3%, seventh lowest in the league
- 2707 passing yards allowed, lowest in the league
- 5.9 yards per pass attempt, lowest in the league
- 9.7 yards gained per pass completion, lowest in the league
- 48 total sacks, fifth most in the league
- 66.15 expected points contributed by passing defense, second most in the league
- Hurry percentage of 14.7% (QB hurries per dropback), highest in the league
- Five 40+ yard plays allowed, second fewest in the league
- 11 rushing touchdowns allowed, seventh fewest in the league
Okay, okay, that last one wasn’t a passing defense stat, but you get the idea. The 49ers’ defense is good. They’re anchored by league veterans Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward, and Dee Ford. DeForest Buckner, Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Nick Bosa have all been exceptional young contributors still on their rookie contracts.
Something has to give. Whether it will be Mahomes and the Chiefs’ speedsters, or the versatile, attacking 49ers defense remains to be seen.
There was a lot of talk about this Chiefs defense going in to the AFC Championship against the Titans. Specifically, whether this defense that finished 29th in rushing efficiency could slow down the hottest running back in football, Derrick Henry.
They held him to 61 net yards and a touchdown on 21 touches. His worst day since the Denver game, week six of the regular season. Now, does that mean they suddenly have one of the top rush defenses in the league? Probably not. But it sure is a good sign for them headed into their match up with this 49ers offense that favors the run game.
The 49ers are also similar to the Titans in that they both have an efficient quarterback that is perfectly capable of throwing the ball to open receivers. The Chiefs loaded the box in the AFC Championship to slow down Henry, which allowed Ryan Tannehill to have a pretty solid day throwing for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if Jimmy Garoppolo has a similar stat line if the Chiefs try the same defensive strategy on Sunday.
Outside of this particular match-up, the Chiefs’ defense has been hot and cold all year. We’ve already covered that their rush defense has been sub-par all year, but they were top-10 in passing yards allowed, passing touchdowns allowed, and interceptions. In no small part due to Tyrann Matthieu and his efforts this season at safety. Frank Clark and Chris Jones also got Pro Bowl nods along the defensive line this year.
Unlike the Chiefs’ offense that runs because they “have to,” this 49ers offense runs the ball because they can. The 49ers finished second in rushing yards (2,305) and attempts (498) , and first in rushing touchdowns with 23. During the NFC Championship, they ran the ball 42 times on 50 plays, and it worked really, really well. A lot of people were saying it was just because their opponent, the Packers, were bad, but the 49ers have had one of the top rushing offenses all year.
What makes this offense somewhat special is they have a three-headed monster at running back, which you don’t see a lot in the NFL these days. Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert all had over 120 rushes and 540 yards this season. Mostert was the star of the NFC Championship game with 220 yards and four touchdowns, but all three of them are capable NFL running backs on their own.
Since Garoppolo hasn’t thrown the ball as much as some other quarterbacks in the league he isn’t exactly near the top in the “total” stat columns. BUT he is top ten in passing touchdowns (27), pass completion percentage (69.1 percent), yards per pass attempt (8.4), yards per pass completion (12.1), adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.26), passer rating (102), and a bunch of other stat categories that nobody understands. Basically, the volume might not be there, but Garoppolo is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league throwing the football.
If Kelce isn’t the best tight end in the league, George Kittle certainly is. He is just as capable running routes and catching as Kelce, but he may be the superior blocker. Just look at this pancake of Ricardo Allen earlier this year (sorry Falcons fans, at least Atlanta won the game).
Both teams are led by coaches trying to purge some playoff demons from their past.
Andy Reid is regularly regarded as one of the best head coaches of all time that has never won a Super Bowl. He has been a head coach in the league for 20 years, and he has only appeared in one Super Bowl: a loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl 39. He has a 207-138 record as a head coach, the best of any coach who never won one. His offenses are regularly considered some of the best in the league, and this year is no different, as we’ve already covered. He also dresses like the lovable granddad he is.
Fit lord Andy Reid pic.twitter.com/8wshUT1t6P
— The Ringer (@ringer) January 28, 2020
And then there’s Kyle Shanahan, who we all know from the 28-3 lead he blew in Super Bowl 51. Sorry again, Falcons fans. At least Atlanta won that game against the 49ers earlier this year.
Both have the opportunity to change the narrative around their names this Sunday.