Super Bowl LIV: Madness in Miami?
The last 10 years has given us more than our fair share of exciting Super Bowls. Whether that is the Ravens 34-31 victory over the 49ers in New Orleans, the 28-3 game in Houston, or the shootout in Minnesota between the Eagles and Patriots, we have seen some fantastic matches in recent history. However, Super Bowl LIV has the potential to top them all, as two of the best play callers in the NFL go head-to-head in Miami
This game has the potential to be a fantastic advert for the NFL, because quite simply it has a little bit of everything. The headline act is a third year quarterback already being talked about in the same breath as the greatest to play the game. However, we also have an incredible defense, formidable running backs and electric wide receivers on show on Sunday.
For the 49ers, the key to winning will be to keep Patrick Mahomes and his offense from getting an early lead. The 49ers success throughout the season has been largely down to their relentless run game. However, this could be almost irrelevant if the Chiefs go up early and the 49ers have to chase the game. If the Chiefs do jump out to an early lead the 49ers will need Jimmy Garoppolo to demonstrate why they gave him a big contract.
Equally the Chiefs need to make sure they do not let another big lead slip early. They have reeled opponents in in their last two games, but doing it against the 49ers will be another thing. Between the run game and their dominating pass rush, the 49ers are not a team you want to be chasing the game against.
As mentioned above, the play calling is set to be a huge part of this game. Kyle Shanahan has shown incredible creativity with his offense this season. The offense has had pre-snap mtionon 79% of his plays, making it almost impossible for the defense to fully prepare for what is coming after the snap. However, on the other side of the ball is Andy Reid, who was one of the first coaches to bring plays such as the Jet Sweep from the college game to the pro game.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Fastest Offense in the NFL
The most obvious star on the Chiefs side of the ball is Mahomes. After a virtually unrepeatable MVP performance in his first season as the starter where he set all kinds of records, Mahomes spent 2019 quietly going about his business in the shadows of Lamar Jackson. Although there was regression in almost all of Mahomes’ on field stats, he hasn’t looked any different when healthy. He is still the illusive and intelligent leader with the rocket arm that we saw in 2018.
Taking nothing away from Mahomes’ talent, but he benefits hugely from having perhaps the most talented group of pass catchers around him. Travis Kelce has been his normal Mr Consistent self. With his fourth consecutive 1000+ yard season and a 71.3% catch rate he is the number one tight end in the league. Kelce has just finished his 7th season, racking up an impressive 6,465 receiving yards with a 70.9% catch rate. However, we have seen some drops in big moments in these playoffs, but the Chiefs have been able to overcome those errors later in the game.
Another huge part of Mahomes’ weapons has been the speedster Tyreek Hill. Whether it is beating defenders or drawing double coverage away from one of the other speed demons on the Kansas offense he always has an impact in Chiefs’ games. Hill may not be the type of receiver that will have consistent 100 yard games, in fact he only had 2 this past season. However, when Hill does have a big game he goes off, and he can do it on the biggest stage, as he proved against the Patriots last season in the AFC Championship game. It will be fascinating to see how the 49ers matchup against him, especially when (or if) he lines up opposite Richard Sherman.
At the beginning of the season when Hill picked up his injury, he was out for four weeks and the questions were asked of who would step up and fill his role. However, Reid had a plethora of of options to utilise whilst he waited for his star receiver to get back to full fitness. Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson have all stepped up at times this season. All three of those receivers are talented enough to dominate a game while the defense is focused on Kelce and Hill.
A Mediocre Run Game and an Improving Defense
The Chiefs running game has been far less reliable than last year where they spent the majority of the year with an excelling Kareem Hunt and then a revitalised Damien Williams towards the end of the season. This season there has been uncertainty at the position with changes between LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams throughout the year.
During pre-season many believed that Darwin Thompson would be able to break on to the scene and take the starting role from both of the more experienced backs but this was not the case. Both Darwin Thompson and Darrel Williams we’re giving minor complimentary roles in the offense but neither had over 50 carries on the season.
However, neither Damien Williams or McCoy managed to break 500 rushing yards in this electric offense, which goes to show how unsure Andy Reid was about which one would be his lead back. The majority of Damien Williams yards came from long break out runs, with his longest being 91 yards. Williams is likely to be the stronger of the two in this game, but the Chiefs have been somewhat resting McCoy in the last month or two, so he could easily be a big part of the Chiefs offense in this game.
The Chiefs defense have come under some serious scrutiny this season. Their sometimes feeble efforts against the running game leaving them 29th in the NFL against the run. However, they were strong against the monster that is Derrick Henry last time out. The Chiefs defense ranks 14th by DVOA, which demonstrates how much the passing defense has had to pick up the pieces.
The defensive line has played its part with Chris Jones and Frank Clark combining for 17 sacks and 24 total QB hits. However the real star of the defense has been Tyrann Mathieu. During his time at the Cardinals, Mathieu showed signs of being a star in the safety position, however, when he moved to Houston he seemed to fade away as their defense struggled to show any signs of dominance. This season, Mathieu put up 75 combined tackles, with 63 of them coming as solo efforts. Numbers wise it is not as many as he had in Houston, but his leadership and ability to perform in the big moments has stood out this season.
A Miraculous Turnaround
The events that have led to the 49ers incredible year were quite astonishing. The New York Jets winning the last game of the 2018 season resulted in the 49ers having the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. That pick turned into Nick Bosa, who was vital to the 49ers success this season. With Bosa helping to take the defense to another level, Shanahan has one from coaching the Senior Bowl in 2019 to a Super Bowl in 2020. This will be the first time in Super Bowl history a team picking in the top two of the draft has managed to make the Super Bowl the following season.
A lot of that turn around has come on the back of a revitalised defense, but getting Garoppolo back healthy this season has been a huge driving force for the 49ers. We have not seen many games this year where the 49ers have relied on Garoppolo to win games for this team. The game in New Orleans was one such moment, but outside of that it has been few and far between. That is not to say Garoppolo has been bad. He ranked eighth in QB rating (102) from Pro Football Reference, directly behind Mahomes (105.3). However, despite playing two more games he has thrown less passes than Mahomes in the 2019 season. The split between the two is more evident when we look at ESPN’s QBR, where Mahomes ranked second to Garoppolo’s 12th.
A Dominating Run Game and a Monster Tight End
While Garoppolo has not often had to put the team on his back and carry them to victory, his presence has had an impact. The 49ers’ key to success this season has been run, run and run again. With Garoppolo under centre opponents have had to respect the 49ers ability to pass and it has allowed their run game to flourish. Shanahan is a great believe in the athletic side of the game. At his core he believes that as long as his backs can run fast and keep hold of the ball then his offensive line will create the holes. Who knew it was that simple?
Both Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert entered the NFL as undrafted free agents. Breida has spent time with the 49ers and has been given plenty of opportunities, especially last year when he made a reputation for himself as the unbreakable man playing through various injuries. Mostert has had a slightly different experience in the league, currently with his seventh NFL team in just five years. The 49ers gave him his opportunity and he has repaid them in style. Playing in all 16 games of the regular season yet not starting any of them, Mostert accumulated an impressive 10 touchdowns along with 5.6 yards per carry. To top this off, he scored an unforgettable four touchdowns in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
An under rated part of their run game has been the play of tight end George Kittle. Kittle has been strong blocking in the run game as well as putting up impressive performances in the passing game. In each of the past two seasons he has paseed the 1000 yard mark whilst racking up six touchdowns in both of those seasons. Be in the run game or the passing game, it is safe bet that Kittle will have a major impact on this Super Bowl.
A Stifling Defense
The 49ers defense has been up and down this season. After drafting Bosa they came out of the gates at a terrific rate, before somewhat coming down to earth in the second half of the season. However, in the past few weeks they have bounced back to the terrifying defense they were in the first half.
A big reason for that has been the return of former-Chiefs defensive lineman Dee Ford. Ford’s presence combined with Bosa, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner has put the spark back into this team. In 2019, those four accounted for 33 of the teams 48 sacks. This game will likely be won or lost on the 49ers defensive line. If Nick Bosa and Dee Ford can get to Mahomes and stop him controlling the pace of the game, then the Chiefs are going to be forced to fall back on their run game.
The reason for this is the complementary strength of the 49ers secondary. Covering all of those weapons for Kansas City is tough, but if Mahomes is having to deliver the ball quickly then they have a real chance of causing havoc. They have linebackers who can flow sideline to sideline effectively. They then have a talented secondary behind them, with Sherman and Jaquiski Tartt the two most recognisable names. As a group they can make life extremely difficult for the Chiefs pass catchers, but only if the front four can force the ball out of Mahomes’ hands quickly.
Super Bowl LIV will see the explosive, free flowing Kansas CIty Chiefs against the solid, reliable, persistent San Francisco 49ers. My personal pick is the Chiefs on the back of the Mahomes and his seemingly destined march to the title. However, with all of the great matchups on both sides of the ball in this game, Super Bowl LIV has the potential to be one we talk about for a long time to come.
ARI IS A 29 YEAR OLD FATHER OF ONE FROM LIVERPOOL WITH A PASSION FOR SPORTS. HE STARTED FOLLOWING THE NFL SIX YEARS AGO AND IS SEAHAWKS FAN. HE RECENTLY CREATED FOOTBALL FANATICS UK TO OFFER A UK PERSPECTIVE ON ALL THINGS NFL, CONNECT THE BRITISH AND US FANS AND TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE BRITISH AMERICAN FOOTBALL GAME WORLDWIDE.
Image Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports,