dujour.com photo: NFL Vince Lombardi Trophy
By: Joe Lami
The Niners’ Quest for Six may conclude on Sunday, as the Niners face-off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV in Miami. It’s only been eight years since San Francisco last competed in America’s biggest game. Yet, it feels like an eternity full of locker room division and incompetence until John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took the reigns. Since then, they have led the red and gold to one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history since Bill Walsh did the exact same thing with San Francisco in 1982.
Meanwhile, Kansas City heads into their first Super Bowl in over 50 years, still hunting for Andy Reid’s first-ever Lombardi. Reid enters as the most winningest head coach in NFL history without a Super Bowl ring. San Francisco faces a tall task, but if they’re able to do these six things, they’ll bring home their first title back to the Bay since 1995.
Limit Patrick Mahomes
Limiting Patrick Mahomes is easier said than done. Since the electric second-year-starter took over, Kansas City’s offense has been explosive. The Chiefs have only been held to under 20 points once in that span, earlier this season. There was chatter of the Colts printing the blueprint on how to beat K.C. using man defense, but they were without speedsters Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins that game. However, the Colts were able to sack him a season-high four times.
The secret will come down to the pass rush, and if Saleh’s front four can pressure Mahomes into mistakes that the secondary can take advantage of. San Francisco meanwhile creates the most pressure, sacking the QB 14.3% of the time, when they’re in Cover 1, a man defense. This could bode well if the Colts game wasn’t just a fluke, and Mahomes’ weakness proves to be man coverage.
The Niners ranked second, will be the toughest test Mahomes has faced since week 14 in New England, the NFL’s top-rated defense. In that game against New England, Mahomes completed 65% of his passes for 283 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in a 23-16 victory. It was the Chiefs’ second-lowest point total of the year, and much was thanks to the Pats’ sixth-rated pass-rush, sacking QBs on 8.77% of plays. San Francisco’s sack rate proves to be a better challenge at 9.25%, good for third in the league, while they created pressure on almost 25% of all plays.
Continue to Dominate on the Ground; Own Time of Possession
The Niners blew through the NFC playoffs thanks to a ground and pound game that has old-school football fans salivating at the mouth. The Niners have owned the ground game, averaging 235 yards per game through the first two games. Raheem Mostert carried the red and gold to their seventh Super Bowl with the second-best running performance in playoff history, dashing the Packers for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been averaging 89.5 yards allowed on the ground thus far. Part of the which is their explosive offense scores quick and often on teams, erasing the considerable deficit and forces teams to start airing the ball out. If the Niners can control the ground game, they’ll be able to keep the ball out of the hands out of Patrick Mahomes for as long as possible to avoid a shootout.
No runner this year for San Francisco has owned the workload throughout the season. Expect the running game by committee to continue for Shanahan, with Mostert, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman at his disposal. Also, expect Deebo Samuel to turn into a threat from the backfield. Samuel has quickly turned into a go-to threat for the Niners offense, exploding for 43 yards in the win over Green Bay.
Jimmy Garoppolo Balls Out & Protects the Football
Garoppolo has received all the hate this week leading up to the big game for his lack of protection thus far in the playoffs. The national media is trying to create a narrative that completing 17 of 27 passes for 208 yards, a touchdown, and an interception doesn’t warrant him the spot in the Super Bowl. But, the Niners simply haven’t needed Jimmy yet to win.
That could all change on Sunday if the defense isn’t able to maintain K.C.’s explosiveness, and the game turns into a shootout. But we’ve seen Garoppolo ball out in a shootout this season when San Francisco bested New Orleans in a 48-46 thriller. In that game, Garoppolo completed 26 of 35 passes for 349 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception.
That was in the middle of Garoppolo’s red-hot stretch against four of five straight playoff-caliber opponents in which he played the best football of his career. In the five-week stretch, Garoppolo completed 67% of his passes for 1,439 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only four interceptions for a 108.3 passer rating. If Garoppolo can repeat that performance in the most significant start of his career, the Niners’ chances of leaving Miami with the Lombardi will be astronomical.
Jimmy G’s biggest knock is, of course, bad Jimmy’s love of interceptions. While Garoppolo tossed 27 TDs this season, he also threw 13 passes to his opponents. Cutting out the costly pick has been the Faithful’s biggest wish of their young-(ish) gunslinger. Garoppolo has only thrown one pick losses this year, thanks to the outstanding defense stepping up when given the challenge. But this is not something to test against K.C.
Win the Final Play
The Niners have been in every contest they’ve played this year and have found multiple ways to leave victorious, yet have only found one way to lose. That’s come on the last play of the game. It happened in overtime against the Seahawks, it happened on a last-second field goal against the Ravens, and it happened on a failed goal-line stand against the Falcons. The Niners then reversed the curse when they won the division on a goal-line stand, thanks to Dre Greenlaw.
If the Super Bowl comes down to the last play of the game, San Francisco must find a way to win that final play to earn the franchise’s sixth ring.