The most underrated but likely biggest matchup on Sunday will be the San Francisco 49ers offense against the Kansas City Chiefs defense. Sure, media and front office personnel are busy discussing the other side of the ball but if the 49ers offense can repeat their performances from the previous two games, it could be a quick ending in Miami. Today we take a look at the three biggest matchups when the San Francisco offense is on the field.
The game begins and ends with the offensive and defensive lines. Through the first two games of the postseason, the San Francisco ground game has been dominant. It starts upfront with the starting center, Ben Garland. In consecutive games, Garland has faced off against two of the better interior defensive linemen in the league, in Linval Joseph and Kenny Clark. In both games, the 49ers were able to easily move the ball on the ground. Garland has the athleticism and smarts to anchor a talented offensive line.
On Sunday he faces his biggest challenge in Chris Jones. The Kansas City defensive tackle is an undeniable talent and one of the best at his position in the league. Jones has the quickness and athleticism to knife between blockers and gets quick penetration. In a zone-blocking scheme, Jones is the type of defender that can end a play before it’s had a chance to get going. Garland will not be asked to handle Jones on his own. Expect Kyle Shanahan to give Jones extra attention through either quick combo blocks off the snap or iso and power runs where he is doubled at the point of attack. Jones will get his fair share of wins. The key will be to limit those plays.
Kansas City’s talented pass rusher, Frank Clark, had some interesting statements leading up to Sunday’s big game. He’s credited himself with being the reason for the turnaround for the defense and claims the 49ers haven’t faced someone of his caliber. It seems that Clark may have forgotten his time as a Seattle Seahawk. During his four seasons in Seattle, the 49ers became quite familiar with Clark and his ability to rush the passer. Joe Staley has experience in dealing with Clark and will likely be the main guy in charge of blocking the defensive end. Staley has been playing the best football of his career over the last few weeks. The veteran left tackle missed roughly half the regular season due to a fractured fibula.
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After a rough return against the Seahawks and Jadeveon Clowney, Staley has bounced back and reasserted himself as the team’s best offensive linemen. Staley has played well against the likes of Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Preston Smith, and Za’Darius Smith. Each of his matchups during these playoffs has been among the best in the league. Staley’s footwork is what sets him apart. He has quick feet and gets himself set with enough time to adjust to the rusher. It is his footwork which also allows him to quickly gather himself against the bull rush. If Staley can put in another solid shift, the 49ers are likely doing what they please on offense.
George Kittle is the best offensive player for the 49ers. Tyrann Mathieu is the best defensive player for the Chiefs. They should be likely to lock horns on Sunday. Since arriving in Kansas City, Mathieu has helped steady the Chiefs’ defense, with his ability to play all over the field. It would not be a surprise to see Kansas City use Mathieu in coverage against the San Francisco tight end. Kittle has deceptive speed and is a handful in the passing game. During the season, most opponents utilized a safety in coverage against Kittle. Perhaps the closest comparison to what Mathieu can do is Arizona safety, Budda Baker. In the Halloween night matchup, Kittle was able to use his size to shield Baker from the football and make plays in the passing game.
Mathieu is far better in pass coverage than what was experienced in Arizona. Expect Kansas City to mix coverages against Kittle in an attempt to slow down the talented tight end. Whether it is bumping him off the line or shading help toward Kittle, the Chiefs will focus on minimizing the impact of the 49ers’ tight end. Of course, San Francisco is not new to this type of challenge. Shanahan will move Kittle around to gain matchup advantages and help expose the type of coverage being used. Kittle is also a major factor in the ground game. He is one of the best run-blockers in the league, regardless of position. A quiet night in the passing game doesn’t necessarily mean a quiet night overall for Kittle. When it comes down to it, Kittle figures to be a major player on Sunday.
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Offense Must Win
Most of the talk has been about the Kansas City offense against the San Francisco defense. However, the 49ers can go a long way to securing their sixth championship by winning the battle on offense. San Francisco finished with the second-highest scoring offense in 2019 at just under 30 points per game. Putting points on the scoreboard and giving the defense a break will be key. If the 49ers can consistently sustain drives, it will keep the potent Chiefs offense on the sidelines.
We’ll be back next time with a look at the three biggest matchups for the San Francisco defense.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covered the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada