1. DOWN AND OUT AGAIN
The Chiefs found themselves in the following situations this postseason: down 24-0 to the Houston Texans with 10:58 remaining in the second quarter, down 17-7 to the Tennessee Titans with 6:43 remaining in the second quarter, and down, in the Super Bowl, 20-10 with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter to the San Francisco 49ers. From this point on the Chiefs outscored their opponents 100-14 in the postseason. Patrick Mahomes completed 11 of his 20 attempts for 150 yards, threw 2 touchdowns to 1 interception, and averaged 8.3 yards an attempt in the newest Chiefs comeback.
After the 49ers last score the Chiefs stampeded into field goal position. Then disaster struck on 3rd and 6. The 49ers were playing two high man. Jaquiski Tartt (#29) paints houses and fills coffins as the boundary safety. Against man coverage, the Chiefs have trips left, with the first receiver running a drag, and the next two running slants. Tartt reads it. He breaks on the slant to Tyreek Hill (#10).
The ball is behind Hill to try and save his life. Mahomes sees the safety crash. The insane scientist tries to back shoulder the slant. Hill isn’t ready. It bounces backwards right to Tarvarius Moore.
After this the Chiefs scored 21 points in 8:53. It was similar to the 28 point single quarter outburst against Oakland this season, the 24 point half that evaporated the Patriots’ lead in last year’s AFC Championship, and of course, everything else they did this postseason.
The run started on 3rd and 15. A Laurent Duvernay-Tardif false start, a pass defensed by Emmanuel Moseley, and an overturned Tyreek Hill catch put them into this mess. Kansas City went trips left with Tyreek Hill as the second receiver. Deep corner. Two deep posts outside of him.
The 49ers countered with cover three and the strong safety playing the robber. Tartt (#29) plays the first post. This leaves Hill one v. one against Jimmy Ward (#20), the deep middle free safety. He’s scrambling to get to the center of the field as Hill bends his route before breaking outside. This spins Ward spinning like a dream within a dream.
Patrick Mahomes takes a deeeeeep drop back to buy time against a vicious DeFoeest Buckner-Nick Bosa end-tackle stunt, and throws an Albuquerque hot air balloon to Hill, who is so wide open, that he turns from a receiver to a pop fly catching center fielder.
The 49ers played a lot of man in the redzone this game. On this drive, in this part of the field, they switched to zone to get advantageous route combinations, and put Kansas City back into another third down situation. This time it’s 3rd and 10. The Chiefs get a pure cover one look. They have trips right, and end up with Travis Kelce (#87) on the weakside of the formation against Tarvarius Moore (#33).
Kansas City loves to throw the ball to Kelce on the weakside of bunched three receiver formations to spread the defense and create one v. one matchups just like this. Tartt is the deep safety and is shaded towards the trips side of the formation. An out and up gets Moore chasing. Mahomes puts the ball on the front shoulder, which stops Kelce, and pulls Moore into the defensive pass interference penalty.
A play action pass that pulls Fred Warner and leaves Kelce wide open makes the game 20-17.
The Chiefs get the ball back with 5:10 remaining. After three short completions they take a shot downfield. Only three receivers are running routes. Seven block to pick up the blitz. The 49ers run a man-match defense with Warner picking up the crosser.
This leaves Sammy Watkins one v. one against Richard Sherman along the sideline. Watkins beats Sherman off the line of scrimmage by selling the vertical down the sideline. He breaks inside of him, and gets ahead of him five yards into his route.
After scrambling for six, the Chiefs face second and 4. Tartt (#29) makes another enormous play again. The Chiefs try and run the pass option with both Kelce and Blake Bell (#81) breaking out into the flat. Mahomes reads Kelce to Bell, and has the option to run if neither are open. San Francisco was burned by this same play earlier.
This time the 49ers coverage is ready for it. Tartt comes from the boundary side safety position, flows all the way across the field, and splatters Mahomes for a one yard ‘sack’.
3rd and 5. 2:50 remaining. The Chiefs have a tie in place. Hill runs from the slot to the backfield. Kansas City has a slot left wide receiver formation, and a split shotgun backfield. They mesh in the backfield. The 49ers are in cover one. The safety Jimmy Ward (#20) is supposed to cover Damien Williams. He gets pulled by the backfield action. Kelce drives Sherman up the field and doesn’t allow him to play the swing route.
San Francisco is stopped on 4th and 10 after a Frank Clark sack. 1:25 left. Down four. All time outs left. The Chiefs run lead with fullback Anthony Sherman (#42) isolated against Kwon Alexander (#56). Nick Bosa can’t quite get there, Williams cuts outside, feigns a stiff arm and runs around Ward to score.
Kansas City changed their offense up once they went down 20-10. Up to this point the majority of their passing game was curls against zone turning drop backs, trying to find Kelce isolated against linebackers, and Watkins attacking the space left vacated by the attention those two drew. Mahomes ran a lot of boot legs away from Bosa to negate his pass rush as much as possible, which cut off half the field from him. The Chiefs hurried their offense up, and used their vertical passing game to stuff the cannons and overcome the deficit. Because of this they won, the 49ers lost, and Andy Reid finally caught the big fish.
2. PUT IN REVERSE
There are hundreds of things to love about the 49ers’ rushing attack. The ease they go from outside zone to gap scheme plays, George Kittle making every block in their outside zone game, Kyle Juszczyk getting up to the second level, Laken Tomilson reach blocks, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey cleverly getting away with holding penalties, wide receivers who love to block, cutback vision, twists on traditional plays that includes using a wide receiver to pull as the second lead blocker on counter. All of this is beautiful and lovely. Yet, one thing stands above the rest, Deebo Samuel reverses.
This season Samuel had 14 rushes for 159 yards and 3 touchdowns, which is 11.4 yards an attempt. He also led all receivers in rushing DYAR with 110, and was second in rushing DVOA with 106.1%, behind only Sterling Shepard of all people. In the Super Bowl, it will never not be funny to hear adults say ‘Super Bowl’, Samuel had 3 carries for 53 yards and the 49ers’ longest run of the game.
San Francisco fakes a power play left and uses Juszczyk as a lead blocker up to Tanoh Kpassagnon (#92).
Despite Mike McGlinchey (#69) and Ben Garland (#63) bumping into each other the play works. Frank Clark (#55) is keeping contain, stuck, is unable to play the reverse quick enough, and gets kicked out of the play anyways. Reggie Ragland (#59) bites his tongue in half reading the missionary run.
Samuel is a grasping and gasping Tyrann Mathieu (#32) away from scoring. So close. You gotta be faster than that.
Even if this reverse didn’t pick up as many yards, I adore this one even more. I’m a sucker for how San Francisco uses Juszczyk or Kittle (#85) as the lead blocker on these reverses. They’ll fake counter or power, and utilize either one as the lead blocker on a gap scheme run play, only for them to whirl back around and drive the caravan for Samuel. This one only picks up 14 yards and a first down.
The results are incredible when the window dressing is a substantial threat, instead of empty words, and burned calories.
Sammy Watkins started the season off by ripping the Jaguars after the catch in week one. He had 9 catches on 11 targets for 198 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was a Tyreek Hillian 22 yards a reception performance. Then the birds stopped squawking. Clouds covered the sun. Dealing with injuries. Going catchless. Seeing one target.
This postseason he was an ideal that came to fruition. He caught 14 of his 18 targets, had 288 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, averaged 20.57 yards a reception, and caught the second biggest pass in the Super Bowl after beating future Hall of Famer Richard Sherman off the line of scrimmage.
Watkins may not play next season. If he doesn’t, he was still worth his silly contract for these postseason performances alone. His 2019 season was a pair of pewter dragons guarding each end of a stack of Jungian analysis.
4. FILL THE GAPS
The 49ers’ rushing attack was good against Kansas City. It just wasn’t the rushing attack that averaged 5.29 yards an attempt, carried the ball 89 times for 471 yards, and allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to attempt only 27 passes. His 31 attempts eclipsed this total.
Kansas City excelled at forcing unsuccessful runs. San Francisco had nine runs that gained three yards or less and could be classified as unsuccessful, and of these, five went for a yard or less. Yes, the 49ers gained only 6.4 yards a carry, but this was the result of having five runs that picked up more than ten yards. Yards per attempt is a flawed measure for flawed hearts. The Chiefs stacked the box in a wide variety of ways, put a defender in every gap, and suffocated rushing lanes, especially on obvious run downs.
One of the ways they did this was by playing Ragland as an outside linebacker. Instead of leaving Terrell Suggs out there to stop the run, they saved him for passing downs, and let Ragland set the edge. This is a perfect example. Ragland (#59) is the right outside linebacker. The Chiefs have a defender in every gap and Anthony Hitchens (#53) is chasing and tackling.
It’s a stretch play with pin and pull action on the left side. Ragland is able to get inside of Staley (#74) before a blind side block clears him out. It’s the thought that counts.
They also used Ragland, and their other interior linebackers, to line up in the gap before the snap and crowd the line of scrimmage as much as possible. Before the snap Ragland walks down to the ‘B’ gap and Daniel Sorensen (#49) creeps down. It’s first and ten and the 49ers are running at an eight man box.
Raheem Mostert faced 8+ defender boxes on 25% of his rush attempts. Damien Williams saw the same thing on 5.8% of his rush attempts. The 49ers were unable to capitalize on the single high safety looks they saw. The sideline didn’t exist. The deep passing game didn’t exist. Garoppolo completed slants and posts off play action and that was about it.
Most teams would scorch looks like this by pushing the ball downfield. The 49ers never were able to.
This allowed the Chiefs to play single high, load up the box on rushing downs, and take pressure off their linebackers. Steve Spagnuolo made the most out of the 29th best run defense this game, and made decisions to ensure a consistent and succesful rushing attack wouldn’t doom Kansas City.
5. GO FOR IT
Football is infinitely better now that the nerds have won and convinced the football guys that going for it on fourth down is the right decision. Andy Reid has an entirely different world view. The wind feels differently in his mustache. After being the master of wasting timeouts, calling petty challenges, and puckering on fourth down, he’s now managing the end of games well, which is easier to do when you win games by ten plus points, and is aggressive when he should be.
Kansas City converted on fourth down twice this game. They picked up a touchdown on one attempt and the other set up a shorter field goal.
On the touchdown run Kansas City used motion I’ve never seen before, a backfield formation I’ve never seen before, and it was all probably something the 49ers have never seen before. Any bit of anxiety created is a great thing in a situation like this. After the setup, the Chiefs just run outside zone left. The key here are the blocks. Kansas City’s offensive line has great pad level, and drives San Francisco’s front out.
The other was a speed option play on 4th and 1. Mahomes really tossed his body around this game. Whether it was getting smashed by Tartt, scrambling in the pass game, leaping for the first down, or being fed to Bosa, he’s now purple, the color of Aladdin’s vest down in Disney.
The Chiefs almost faced another fourth and inches situation. Fortunately for them, Damien Williams’s game leading touchdown reception wasn’t overturned. If it was in this different more exciting universe, I’d like to think Reid would have gone for it there too, and made the right decision once again.
6. FULLBACKS ARE PEOPLE TOO NOW
I was one of the dumb nerds, a member of the hater and losers, who cackled a Barnwell cackle when the 49ers gave Kyle Juszczyk a 4-year $21 million contract with $9.75 million guaranteed. That much? For a fullback?
See, my heart is black and diseased. I love nothing. I hate everything. I haven’t felt anything since 2011. The only thing I care about is online validation. Please RT. Please comment. Please like and subscribe. Give me a five star review. My family is starving.
The number still seems absurd, then you really start watching San Francisco, and how they use Juszcyk in the run game as a lead blocker, and create bunch wide receiver sets out of nothing, and then, only then, does it all make sense.
Kyle Shanahan’s genius was exemplified by how they use him in the redzone. On San Francisco’s first touchdown, Juszczyk (#44) is lined up as a tight end right. He fakes the second level block on an outside zone run left, then pivots wide against Sorensen. He breaks a tackle. Kittle makes a block. He puts numbers on the board.
It’s a similar action. Juszczyk is the backside tight end blocking an outside zone play. He pivots wide after the play action pass attempt. Hitchens is supposed to chase and tackle. Kittle is double covered. It all leads to Kpassagnon (#92) trying to chase back in coverage. A string cheese tackle leaves him close to the goalline. A touchdown here, a 49ers win, some narrative crafting about the 49ers’ run game, and a fullback would have won the Superbowl MVP.
Juszczyk is a typical I-formation fullback. It’s play action once again. He runs up on Ragland (#59) to sell the lead play. Ragland braces himself for contact only to watch the fullback rush past him to the sideline. This is how you beat an eight man box.
It’s never too late to atone for your mistakes and love again. This season was a fullback renaissance. C.J. Ham oinking, Patrick DiMarco targeted on a downfield heave in a playoff game, Patrick Ricard leading an all-time great rushing attack, Cullen Gillaspia making a crucial block in Houston’s Wildcard Round win, and New England’s run attack cratering without James Develin. These are ceiling murals and flying machines. This was the fullback renaissance.
The losers of the BIG game are almost always forgotten. Poor Kony Ealy is in the XFL now, and no one remembers his performance against the Broncos in a Super Bowl from last decade. Nick Bosa is only a rookie. He may get to play in another one of these one day, but for now, he’s the Kony Ealy of this Super Bowl, the tremendous individual performance that’s forgotten as clocks melt away.
Bosa only had a sack, a quarterback hit, five tackles, and a forced fumble. A closer eye would see the damage really done. He romped Eric Fisher play after play with a variety of pass rushing moves.
This is a simple bullrush. He’s too strong for Fisher (#72) to punch and extend. Bosa (#97) is able to detonate his chest, drive Fisher, create extension, and defend the pass intended for the flat.
Bosa overwhelmed Fisher with power. This is another bullrush into Fisher’s chest. He’s able to escape from this block with a rip. He hits Mahomes, but the quarterback still lobs Watkins one in a pocket of empty space.
The 49ers rarely blitz. When they do, Robert Saleh is usually able to create pressure. Rarity creates meaning I guess. Like using the word extreme only for unleashed double kick flips instead of for popped ollies. Mosesly (#41) blitzes from the slot. Bosa slants inside and around Fisher. His rush and Fisher’s recovery almost takes him past Mahomes, yet, a long arm is able to slap the ball away.
Kansas City was enamored with not letting Bosa destroy their passing game. They spent the first three and a half quarters keeping a running back in to help, and moving the pocket, to prevent him from careening their pass game. On Mahomes’s first interception, he rolls right away from Bosa, the back helps Fisher out, and Mahomes is left forcing something past the first down marker since nothing is open.
His counter to all these bullrushes was a quick ghost move. He fakes the power, lurches away from it, then rips and bends around the corner. The 49ers had three sacks and eight quarterback hits, but they were so close, so many different times, to do more damage than that. Mahomes is the perfect quarterback for the Madden age. Rocket arm. Mobility. Tackle breaking strength. Accuracy automatic. After recovering from a dislocated knee and bruised ankle, he is able to toe tip away from Bosa’s great pass rush.
Fisher sits on his heels after getting pummeled by bullrushes for the entire game. Concrete base. Bosa takes the outside shoulder. Mahomes surfs around it and finds Kelce for the completion. Left tackles are overrated when you have a quarterback who can move like this. Bosa led the league with 62 pressures this season. He had nine in this game by my archaic calculations.
Soon this will be gone forever, then always forgotten.
8. MIDDLE BLOCKER
Chris Jones is 6’6” 310 pounds and is playing the wrong sport. He should be a middle blocker this summer for the Men’s Olympic Volleyball team. The Chiefs weren’t able to create much pressure against the 49ers. The ball is out quick. Play action makes it tough. Their offensive line is big and boisterous.
To make it more difficult, the 49ers moved their protection schemes over to focus on Jones. He was repeatedly doubled. There he sat, rather than be haunted by a mash of bodies, he watched the quarterback’s eyes, and batted down three passes in the fourth quarter, creating crucial incompletions.
9. DON’T DRINK THE WATER
Chris Jones was tremendous this Super Bowl. He gave the 49ers interior fits and often made Ben Garland’s night hell. He occasionally had some riveting interior rushes, and of course, defensed three passes. As great as he was, he wasn’t the MVP game of this game. Hipsters are going to remain sordid.
I have my own specific and obscure take for this game. The center position was the difference in this game. Austin Reiter rarely allowed interior pressure, and consistently helped both of his guards out against the monstrous Buckner and Arik Armstead. Yes, Buckner was able to shred him to pieces once, but aside from that, he was a fine pass blocker. Additionally, he did a great job getting up to the second level when the Chiefs occasionally ran the ball and attacked the 49ers light boxes.
Poor Ben Garland. He was the weakest spot along the 49ers’ offensive line. He was never supposed to play. Starting center Weston Richburg tore his patellar tendon against against the New Orleans Saints. In came Garland, and he struggled the rest of the season.
He’s the current in the ocean that Chris Jones (#95) is swimming over.
And on San Francisco’s final offensive play of the game, Frank Clark (#55) looped from the right defensive end position, and swung him down while Jones crashed into him, and then picked up the sack to bite the head off this bat.
With better interior blocking, the 49ers would have had more successful rushing plays, and the interior pressure that occasionally beat them would have been hindered. That’s the real and galaxy brain take of this game. Jones’s MVP candidacy can be left in your drafts.
10. THE BIG THROW
Jimmy Garoppolo made a bunch of easy throws this game. He popped off of play action and hit the same slants and curls, checked it into the flat, and occasionally found Kittle in the center of the field, like he always does. At some point in this game he was going to have to do something more than sit on his first read and hit on an inside breaking route. He was going to have to make the big throw.
You never know when the big throw is going to come. It could be in the first quarter to get the safeties backpedaling. It could be in the third quarter to start the rout. It could be at the most crucial part of the game. The big throw came to him on 3rd and 10 with 1:44 remaining.
The Chiefs didn’t have a deep middle safety. He was dealing with the dig. Tyrann Mathieu, the other safety, was the robber and ended up covering the comeback. The big throw was the only throw available. Emmanuel Sanders ran past Rashad Fenton (#27) and away from Charvarius Ward’s (#35) zone turn. Without a safety deep he bent his route to the center of the field. Jimmy Garoppolo missed the big throw. He threw the big throw too far.
This wasn’t an easy throw. Double coverage. A slight lead. Ball in the basket. But it wasn’t an impossible throw. Garoppolo needed to make the big throw. He had the big throw. He missed the big throw. The 49ers lost.