The 49ers had one of the best defenses in the NFL this season. They led the league in pass defense (169.2 yards allowed per game) and finished second in third-down conversion percentage (33.3 percent). They also finished fifth in sacks (48.0), sixth in takeaways (27) and eighth in scoring defense (19.4 points allowed per game).
But they haven’t seen anything quite like Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
So, how should Kyle Shanahan and the Niners game-plan for Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV? What’s the most important thing – or who’s the most important player – they have to take away?
Believe it or not, it might not be Mahomes.
“I always hated small, quick receivers who create separation,” Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson said on Tiki & Tierney, referring to Tyreek Hill. “So in my mind, I’m like, ‘I got to get my hands on this dude. He is way too fast for me to keep running with him all day – and he knows where he’s going. I have no idea.’ So that would be my first game-plan: get ahold of one of these small guys when I’m pressed.”
After that, Woodson says, just don’t let Hill get away from you.
“In my mind, I’m like, ‘I can’t let him get behind me,’” Woodson said. “I have to make [the Chiefs] work [their] way down the field. They can’t take these chunk plays. They love to do it. You have to keep everything in front of you. If you keep everything in front of you, they got to work their way down the field, and the likelihood of them making a mistake increases. But if you give them a 40-yard play and then a 30-yard play, they’re on the 5-yard-line. So I would try to slow down Hill, which is easier said than done, and then secondly don’t let him out-run me to the goal-line.”
Of course, that’s not to say that Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce aren’t dangerous. After all, Mahomes finished 23-of-35 for 294 yards and three touchdowns against the Titans in the AFC Championship. He also had a rushing touchdown before halftime that completely broke the Titans’ spirits. Kelce, meanwhile, had 10 catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ Wild Card win over the Texans.
That, to put it mildly, is a tough duo to stop.
“You have to keep [Mahomes] in the pocket because [you can’t allow him to] extend plays with his feet,” Woodson said. “If I was playing as a 27-year-old corner, my game plan . . . I’m trying to keep Hill in front of me. I can’t let him get behind me. Now if I’m a defensive coach, the first thing we did when I was coaching with the Raiders, we were banging Kelce wherever he was at. Anytime Kelce is around the core, we were putting somebody in front of him, we were chucking him first and then we would rush the quarterback.”