We’re just days away from the Super Bowl clash between the 49ers and the Chiefs, and it’s hard to project who’s going to win.
On one hand, can you really bet against playoff Patrick Mahomes? But on the other hand, the Niners looked like the best team in the NFL for most of the year, while the Chiefs won games in spite of their offensive performance rather than because of it.
Who better to give us insight on how the Niners can beat the Chiefs in Super Bowl 58 than Kansas City’s AFC West rivals?
Michael Peterson, Bolts from the Blue
The 2023 regular season showed us a different kind of Chiefs team than we’ve been used to in recent years. They were still one of the better teams in the NFL, but they somehow looked…mortal? Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Andy Reid have built one of the league’s best dynasties, but this past season, the offense in particular looked like it may finally be dethroned in the AFC.
Oh how wrong we all were.
Despite some offensive woes, the Kansas City defense changed from a middling group to one of the best in the NFL over the 2023 offseason. For years, it’s been Mahomes and Co. carrying the other side of the ball as they essentially only needed to hold opponents to 28 points or less to make sure their high-powered offense came out on top. Not many teams have that room for error. But this season, the Chiefs did not need to be All-World on offense to win games. They ended the 2023 regular season as the No. 2 defense in the NFL in points and yards allowed per game.
Guys like defensive tackle Chris Jones (10.5 sacks), edge rusher George Karlaftis (10.5 sacks), and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (two interceptions) have been lights out on the field for their unit. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has done some of his finest work this season and without it, the Chiefs might not have even made the playoffs this year.
Offensively, the Chiefs had to fight through some drop issues early in the season with their young group of receivers, specifically with former first-round pick Kadarius Toney. Rookie wideout Rashee Rice has swiftly cemented himself as Mahomes’ favorite target outside of his All-World tight end, ending the year with just under 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns.
Through the team’s three playoff games, Kelce has somehow managed to turn back the clock for a resurgent performance through their first three playoff games. Entering the Super Bowl, he’s hauled in 23 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. That yardage total is the third-highest of his career and he needs one more touchdown to tie a playoff career high.
One of the unsung heroes of the Chiefs offense in 2023 has got to be second-year running back Isiah Pacheco. While all the memes about his running style are getting most of the spotlight, the former seventh-round pick out of Rutgers enjoyed a career year with 935 rushing yards, 244 receiving yards, and nine total touchdowns. You can make fun of how he “looks like a kid trying on new sneakers at Footlocker” all you want, but his explosive speed will catch defenses off guard if they don’t give him the respect he deserves.
Lastly, I’d be wrong not to mention kicker Harrison Butker. The guy is as important to the Chiefs’ dynasty as anyone due to the ice water flowing through his veins in every high-pressure moment. Aside from the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, I don’t think you’ll find any kicker more reliable when it matters most. Butler missed just two of his 35 field goal attempts this season, including making all five attempts over 50 yards.
Tim Lynch, Mile High Report
Yes, we’ve gotten ourselves yet another Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl appearance — their fourth in five seasons. What better way to root for their demise than to show how the San Francisco 49ers can follow our own Denver Broncos’ blueprint to take them down in Super Bowl LVIII.
The Broncos played the Chiefs twice this season and gave their offense fits in both contests. In Kansas City, the defense held them to just 19 points in a loss and then in Denver, Patrick Mahomes and that offense put up nine measly points in a 24-9 Broncos’ victory. That is just a 14 points-per-game average that any team in the NFL would take against that offense.
But how did Denver do it? To answer that question we need to take a look at how Denver was able to limit the Chiefs’ scoring opportunities in the red zone. You can’t stop a team like the Chiefs from getting yards, so you have to focus on keeping them out of the end zone.
Denver achieved these results in a variety of ways. From creating pressure on Mahomes, getting turnovers, and through their third and fourth down stops. Turnovers can be kind of iffy to both rely on and to generate when needed, so we’ll ignore that despite Denver coming out +2 overall in two games.
Third/fourth down efficiency
The only way to get off the field without a turnover is to force them to kick or turn it over on downs. That is something that Denver did with amazing frequency against Mahomes and the Chiefs. In two games, Kansas City was a laughable 7/23 on third downs and 1/4 on fourth downs. If you include those turnover on downs, Denver actually finished +4 in turnover differential. That’s huge against a team like Kansas City.
The problem here is that the 49ers defense was quite literally terrible at getting off the field on third downs. They ranked 27th in the NFL and it is actually worse than that because they were dead last by a wide margin down the stretch. However, they were marginally better at keeping teams out of the end zone — much better than Denver was actually. That’s really the point against Kansas City. Limit those touchdowns.
Pressure, pressure, pressure
You can limit those touchdowns by getting after Patrick Mahomes and making his day a living hell. This might be the closest comparison to Denver and San Francisco I’ve got. Both teams were below average at generating pressure, but for the Broncos they showed up against Kansas City. San Francisco must do the same.
Nothing sets the Chiefs back more than having a long drive end with zero points. In a tight game, which the Broncos 24-9 win over the Chiefs was, it becomes the difference between a win and a loss.
The 49ers can get after the quarterback. They were seventh in the league in sacks, but 16th in pressure rates. To fix this, they may have to try something new in the Super Bowl. Vance Joseph and the Broncos’ defense blitzed at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL last season, but the 49ers were 30th in blitz percentages. Maybe throw Andy Reid and the Chiefs a curveball with some extra blitz packages for this game only. Just go watch the Broncos film and see how they created confusion and turnovers with their blitzing of Mahomes.
The 49ers and Chiefs both had stout defenses in points given up, so I would expect a lower score game if it wasn’t the Super Bowl. Crazy things happen in Super Bowls, so I wouldn’t be stupid enough to predict a defensive battle in this game. Despite them being two of only three teams to give up less than 300 points last season, I would expect plenty of offense to happen between punts.
That said, San Francisco is going to have to bring the heat on Mahomes and force him to make some errant throws. If they just sit back and try to play defense, he’ll pick them apart with his improvisation skills. As suspect as the Chiefs’ offense has been this season, you really don’t want to tempt fate with No. 15 back there. Frustrate him and you’ll find a path to victory much easier.
Bill Williamson, Silver & Black Pride
As the San Francisco 49ers scour for ways to get information on how to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII, they may want to closely study the tape of the Chiefs’ two games against the AFC West rival Las Vegas Raiders in 2023.
The problem, though, for the 49ers is they may be somewhat confused after watching this season’s two matchups between the Raiders and Chiefs. The games between the two teams were pretty different.
In Week 12, the Chiefs beat the Raiders 31-17 on the road at Allegiant Stadium. By the way, the Chiefs are 4-0 since the Raiders starting playing in Las Vegas in 2020. The Super Bowl, of course, is being played in Las Vegas for the first time.
A month later, on Christmas Day, the Raiders returned the road favor by stunning the Chiefs in a standalone game in front of a national audience, beating the flat Chiefs 20-14. It was the just the second time in 11 years that the Raiders won at Arrowhead Stadium, and it delayed the Chiefs clinching their eighth straight AFC West title by a week.
Again, these two games were different.
The Raiders actually jumped all over Kansas City to start the game in Las Vegas. The Raiders jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. Then the Chiefs (who overcame a 17-0 deficit to beat the Raiders in Kansas City in the 2022 season) woke up and completely took the game over by outscoring the Raiders 31-3 in less than three quarters.
The Chiefs completely clamped down on the Raiders after spotting them the early lead.
After the game, Las Vegas cornerback Amik Robertson made headlines when he said the Raiders had “more dogs” than the Chiefs. It was met with some skepticism since the Chiefs pummeled the Raiders for most of the game and that they were the defending Super Bowl champions.
Yet, Robertson’s attitude set the tone for the Raiders heading into their game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Raiders, who entered the Week 16 game with a 6-8 record and who finished the season at 8-9, were already feeling great coming off a 63-21 win over the Los Angles Chargers, setting a team record for points scored.
So, interim coach Antonio Pierce (who basically won the permanent job that day) had the Raiders believing they could pull off the upset in Kansas City. Pierce’s play was to punch the Chiefs in the face and out-hustle them. That’s exactly what they did.
The Raiders seemed to be the more focused, interested team from the opening kickoff. It was stunning since the Chiefs were playing a home holiday game with a chance to clinch the division and the Raiders were holding onto slight playoff hopes.
The Raiders’ physical play showed most upfront on both sides of the ball. The defensive line manhandled the Chiefs offensive line and made Patrick Mahomes uncomfortable all game long.
Offensively, the Raiders wore down Kansas City late on the ground and finished with 157 rushing yards. Getting Christian McCaffrey to grind down the Chiefs underrated defense and keeping Mahomes off the field would surely be something the 49ers would like to learn from the Raiders’ win in Kansas City.
The Chiefs did help the Raiders by giving up two defensive scores, dropping several passes, making untimely penalties and missing a makeable field goal. But the Raiders outplayed them and earned the win.
Kansas City’s coach recently said the loss provided a wake-up call for his team that has won five straight games since. Kansas City has looked like a different team since that game.
So it’s difficult to tell if the 49ers can learn something from the Raiders’ games against the Chiefs. Their best bet is to try to replicate the Raiders pass-rush attack with their own daunting defensive front.
Making Mahomes uncomfortable and getting him out of his comfort zone paved the way for the Raiders win. If they 49ers can do the same, they will likely hoist the Lombardi Trophy.