Follow live coverage of Super Bowl LVIII between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
For the second straight season, the Kansas City Chiefs enter the Super Bowl as underdogs. They beat the favored Philadelphia Eagles last season and will look to knock off the favored San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Will it look like an upset if Kansas City pulls it off? The Chiefs possess the ultimate advantage with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is healthier this season than last and has played brilliantly for most of the playoffs.
Every year around this time, I ask a group of NFL coaches which team they pick to win the Super Bowl and why. Our panel did pretty well last season, with the first coach correctly picking the Chiefs to win by three.
Four coaches made predictions this year. We return to the conversation with a defensive coach’s insights into what’s bothering 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy and whether the Chiefs are well-equipped to exploit this specific vulnerability.
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The Fighting Taylor Swifts are currently playing better defense than the Niners, and that could be the difference. San Francisco needs to play better defense to win. The 49ers are still dangerous and violent, but they are giving up more yards and plays. I think they’ll play pretty well, but if you ask my gut, I still think Kansas City is doing well.
Affecting Brock Purdy is one of the biggest keys to this game. The teams that give Purdy problems are the ones that are able to affect him in the pocket. Cleveland managed to do it. Detroit couldn’t affect him that way, but the Chiefs can. They do a really good job of raising their hands. This is a big problem against Brock. They can do a really good job of affecting not only longer throws but also faster throws from all different launch angles.
Purdy’s strength lies in his lower body strength. George Kittle’s quote was really funny when he said that Purdy looked like one of those little water dragons that ran on water. This is exactly what Purdy looks like. His legs are strong as hell. But when we manage to push the pocket to his front foot, he has difficulty. It’s hard to get there because sometimes they throw fast, but I think the Chiefs have the ability to do it.
When people get to Purdy’s front foot, the ball will follow and drag or drift. Like the one he launched in the belly of the Packer guy. He couldn’t fully rotate his hips and they floated. It’s easier said than done to influence Purdy in this way. The 49ers know what they’re doing, and Purdy is really good, and Kyle is good at calling it, but I think the Chiefs with four (rushers) can do it from time to time.
(Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) is going to pressure and play his two-high combo coverages as well. It’s tough to play combo coverages when the 49ers are running everyone out. They have positionless players. (Christian) McCaffrey will be a wideout, Deebo (Samuel) will be in the backfield and 44 (Kyle Juszczyk) will be everywhere. When you play them split safety defense and they can see it and get it out, matchups can be really good.
The Chiefs don’t always attack well when you get them into space. Steve has done a really good job this year of preventing that from happening. In other years, we could isolate their guys. All of Kyle’s guys are 6-foot or 6-1, 215 and can run after contact with good hands and anger. It would be their advantage if they could find ways to get around the D-line and then move these guys forward.
I also think San Francisco will attack the edges in the running game, like Kyle did with Atlanta against New England in the Super Bowl. If you can get around Kansas City’s interior and force guys other than (Justin) Reid to tackle, you can do some things. But you have to get around their big guys. I think Kyle will find a way to make it happen, but I have a little more faith in the Chiefs.
In the 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl game: What to watch when the Niners have the ball
#1 Defensive Coordinator
This is going to be a really interesting matchup because Spags has this rolling defense, and I think that’s going to create some problems. They can go after Brock Purdy. Spags will come with good plans to at least make Purdy think, disrupt his rhythm.
The 49ers, this whole team is built on a leadership mentality. When they play with a lead, they pounce and they are better, they are more athletic, their talent shines. When they play from behind, it’s usually different. Against Detroit, they came back. I give them credit for it, but Detroit blew it royally. What happened was not repeatable.
What you need to do with the 49ers is match them early. I took the ball and tried to score. Green Bay did it. I know it’s only 7-0 up and it doesn’t matter, but if you score early you don’t answer it.
Mahomes will make the right plays when they need to. He protected the ball, something he hadn’t done as much in the first half of the season. People need to honor Rashee Rice now. He evolved. MVS (Marquez Valdes-Scantling) has become more consistent.
The 49ers defense has shown throughout the playoffs that they will move the ball their way. They don’t have many answers. You hit their weak spots and don’t let their rushers get going and they don’t get takeaways, it’s all good. The coverage system is not developed. They have a good corner, a safety who plays very well.
When you have a guy like Andy Reid out there with Patrick Mahomes, they’re going to find those weak spots. Andy does well taking 5 (yards) from Travis Kelce on a catch-and-run. It’s just tough going against Reid and Mahomes.
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#2 Defensive Coordinator
The better team is probably San Francisco, but the Eagles were probably a better team last year, and that went to Patrick Mahomes.
For San Francisco, it’s largely a matter of the flow of the game. That’s not to say Brock Purdy can’t come from behind. I’m not trying to say that. But I think this is a team that has a much better chance of winning when they play their game, whereas the Chiefs could be a little better at finding a way to win in any type of game.
This is what happened in 2019 when these teams played. Kansas City was down by two scores, and then all of a sudden they were up by two scores in the fourth quarter. It was incredible.
San Francisco came back to beat Green Bay and Detroit, but they were significantly better than those teams, especially Detroit. Detroit is not a team, in my opinion, that can hang with San Francisco. Detroit not being able to put this game away shows how much better the San Francisco team was.
I could see San Francisco’s defense not being dominant against the Chiefs. I don’t know if they are a dominant defense like they were with DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh. We don’t have the impression that they are all that. Basically, I say the leaders.
In the 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl game: What to watch when KC has the ball
The 49ers offense is tough to defend because they have talented guys who can create yards after the catch and they have a quarterback who can read defenses very quickly and place the ball in a precise spot. Their step-back game is very timing-based, whereas Kansas City is not.
Mahomes’ ability to play on or off schedule could make the difference. What makes Mahomes good is that he’s a great off-schedule quarterback who doesn’t need to play off-schedule to be great. I always thought that was the problem with Russell Wilson. When everyone said he was great, I felt that to be a top quarterback, you still have to be able to throw it on time. Mahomes can do that.
Purdy isn’t bad off his schedule because he’s a little slippery. He just doesn’t play as much off-time. Mahomes is an elite standout, and I think that’s Kansas City’s advantage.
Kansas City, surprisingly, with (Isiah) Pacheco, runs the ball pretty well, and they’ve been more willing to do that, and I think that takes a little pressure off Mahomes. This served their defense well. It probably made them a more complete team.
San Francisco gave up 280 yards against Detroit in the first half. Maybe they were surprised by Detroit, but they still haven’t figured out how to slow down the perimeter moves. Pacheco is a slasher, and if you sidelined him, I think he’d be good, even though he’s more of an inside runner.
Detroit just kept pinning ends and throwing the ball, and the 49ers secondary was slow to support. I’m sure San Francisco will make an adjustment for the crack throwing games. They just need to call someone to get support faster. It’s not a major adjustment, but they’ll probably be reluctant to make it because of Mahomes.
I love Kansas City. I want to love San Francisco, but I think in these games the quarterback matchup is pretty important, and it’s a big separation between these guys.
Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, those two guys might be enough to overcome that, but I don’t think that’s the case in this match.
If the 49ers win, surely someone associated with their team will claim that no one gave them a chance. It won’t be very long, even if oddsmakers favor the 49ers, as many people in and around the game are picking the Chiefs. I took Kansas City by a 24-20 margin among our team picks. It wasn’t so much a pick against the 49ers as it was the fear of picking against Mahomes. I was with him every week of the playoffs. Why stop now?
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(Best photos of Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy: Patrick Smith, Kevin Sabitus / Getty Images)
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from theathletic.com