When it comes to matchups, the San Francisco 49ers‘ defense versus the offense of the Kansas City Chiefs is at the top of any list. It is essentially the best offense versus the best defense. Last time we took a look at the three biggest matchups for the San Francisco offense. This time we take a look at the defensive side of the football. Today we take a look at the three biggest matchups for this 49ers defense.
The weakest aspect of the Kansas City offense is its offensive line. The 49ers will look to take advantage of the matchup with their own version of the four horsemen. The primary battle will take place between right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and the duo of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa. Schwartz is in his eighth season and has yet to miss a game. Meanwhile, Bosa is the hot-shot rookie who has been a revelation since arriving in Santa Clara. While the headlines may focus on former Chiefs pass rusher, Dee Ford, Bosa is perhaps the lynchpin of the defensive line. Bosa has the power and speed that make him difficult to stop. The rookie is constantly on the move does not give up on plays. He has faced off against some of the most agile and elusive quarterbacks in the league and has found success.
The same can be said for Ford. In his first season with the 49ers, Ford missed a handful of games with a hamstring injury. His absence was noticeable as the 49ers struggled to produce a consistent pass rush. Schwartz has been a consistent contributor for the Chiefs since his arrival in 2016. He will face a terrifying combo in passing situations as the 49ers enjoy putting both Ford and Bosa on the same side. Schwartz will need to be quick on his feet but keep his balance and avoid leaning too much to one side. Both Ford and Bosa are talented enough to make any tackle look bad. Thus far they’ve won many of their matchups in the postseason. If they do the same against Schwartz, it will be a long day for Kansas City quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
K’Waun Williams vs. Various Slot Receivers
Williams is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league. He is very good at the line of scrimmage and has the quickness to stay with receivers. Kansas City rotates various receivers into the slot, all of which possess copious amounts of speed. Williams will be tested on every snap as he will be the one responsible for the receiver in the slot. It would not be surprising to see Williams spend a large chunk of his time covering Mecole Hardman or Tyreek Hill. Both players are pure speedsters who look to operate in space. Williams will need to stay close if he is to prevent big plays. With the amount of speed on the offensive side of the ball for the Chiefs, Andy Reid often looks to use his receivers on crossing routes.
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It is a basic concept that is difficult to stop, running his speedy receivers across the field, daring the defense to play more physical and employ man coverage. However, if Williams can play his game and keep his man close, he will have the opportunities to hold the Kansas City receivers to shorter gains of five yards or less. The idea is not to stop the Chiefs from completing passes underneath but rather force them to sustain long drives by preventing big gains through the air. The longer the drive, the higher the chance for mistakes, whether they come in the form of penalties or turnovers. Williams will have his work cut out for him. He has the tools to make plays, he will just need to be in a position to make them.
When discussing nightmare matchups, Travis Kelce quickly comes to mind. For the 49ers, the primary man in charge of opposing tight ends is strong safety, Jaquiski Tartt. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh tends to favor Tartt when choosing a defender against athletic tight ends. Tartt has good speed and has the size to hold his own against the best in the game. Kelce was the leading receiver for the Chiefs during the regular season, finishing with 1,229 yards on 97 receptions and five touchdowns. It was the fourth straight season with over 1,000 yards receiving. Kelce is the best pure-receiving tight end in the NFL. He is smooth in and out of his breaks and has great hands. Kelce has above-average speed but has the instincts to sit in a spot between defenders. He is Patrick Mahomes’ security blanket.
Tartt may receive help against Kelce in the form of any one of the speedy San Francisco linebackers. Kwon Alexander is perhaps the best coverage linebacker of the group and could see significant time facing Kelce. This would allow Saleh to employ bracket coverage and hopefully make it difficult for Mahomes to locate his tight end. Tartt has the physicality to crowd the line and slow down Kelce off the line of scrimmage. The best weapon against the Kansas City passing attack is to attack the timing and cause disruptions. Re-routing Kelce will be key, forcing him into a three-yard out rather than a seven-yard out, taking away the hidden yards on a play. Tartt will have one of the toughest matchups ahead. Like the rest of his defense, Tartt will need to make plays when called upon.
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Winning the Battle
The San Francisco defense has played quite the gauntlet over the last 10 weeks of the season. They’ve played some of the best offenses and faced the best quarterbacks in the league. They’ve faced those teams, primarily without a handful of starters and backups available. However, since the playoffs began for the 49ers in the divisional round, the team returns just about every starter from the season opener. These playoffs have shown how dangerous and dominating this defense can be. Sunday brings its toughest test on the biggest stage. The mission is simple, slow down the Kansas City offense and you’re one step closer to hoisting the Lombardi trophy.
We’ll be back on Saturday with our final preview and prediction ahead of the big game. Until then, Like and follow on Twitter @FPC_49ers
– 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