The much-anticipated Super Bowl LIV showdown between the 49ers and Chiefs will take place at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, and both teams match up well across the board, so it will likely be up to the difference makers to help decide the outcome of the game.
Sure, the superstars on each team’s roster are important, but they’ve already been talked about. As such, we wanted to focus on ten lesser-known players, as well as positional units that don’t often get discussed.
Raheem Mostert (Running Back, 49ers)
The 49ers saw running back Tevin Coleman suffer a dislocated shoulder in the second quarter of the NFC Championship game, so they turned to Mostert to take over the primary rushing duties. Little did they know that the journeyman running back, who had been cut six times in his career, would make history against the Packers, becoming the first NFL player with 200-plus rush yards and four-plus rushing touchdowns in a playoff game.
With Coleman limited in practice this week, the 49ers might lean on Mostert again in the running game. Look for him to get involved early and often against a Chiefs defense that struggled to stop the run during the regular season (26th in total rush yards allowed).
Chris Jones (Defensive Tackle, Chiefs)
San Francisco’s bread and butter is the running game, which has understandably given KC fans pause. As one of the worst-ranked defenses against the run during the regular season, the Chiefs could easily end up suffering the same fate as the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, but there’s reason for optimism after watching them hold Derrick Henry to 69 yards in the AFC Championship Game.
Jones told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero earlier this week that stopping the run and putting the game on the shoulders of Garoppolo is the No. 1 key for Kansas City’s defense. If that’s the case, then Jones and the rest of the defensive line need to win the battle in the trenches. San Francisco’s offensive line opened up huge holes for Mostert to run through against Green Bay. That can’t happen if the Chiefs intend to force the pass.
Taking away the deep ball is a must when going up against the Chiefs, but as Mahomes showed against the Titans in the AFC Championship Game, you have to be able to defend against the stuff underneath as well. Fortunately for San Francisco, the trio of Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw have been solid in coverage this season.
With all the quick passes, screen plays and sweeps that Kansas City likes to run to get playmakers the ball in space, the linebacking corps of the 49ers will be tested to keep plays in front of them.
Tyrann Mathieu (Safety, Chiefs)
Mathieu has been the Swiss army knife of the Chiefs defense, lining up in coverage, rushing the passer and helping out against the run. As he’s done all season, he’ll need to do a little a bit of everything against the 49ers. That means covering San Francisco’s All-Pro tight end in the slot, getting pressure on Garoppolo with the occasional blitz and coming down from his safety spot to make open-field tackles on San Francisco’s ball-carriers. It may seem like a lot, but Mathieu is more than capable of doing it.
Kendrick Bourne (Wide Receiver, 49ers)
The 49ers haven’t thrown the ball as much as other teams in the playoffs simply because they’ve been able to dominate games on the ground. Jimmy Garoppolo attempting just eight passes in the NFC Championship Game is a perfect example of that. But when the 49ers needed plays to be made in the passing game against the Vikings three weeks ago, Bourne delivered on more than one occasion. The third-year wide receiver had a touchdown catch on the opening drive of the game and came up with two clutch catches on third down.
With George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel drawing most of the attention on defense from the Chiefs, that should free up Bourne to make some plays for the 49ers.
49ers Defensive Line
So much has been said about Kansas City’s passing offense that it goes without saying San Francisco’s defensive line needs to get pressure on Patrick Mahomes. If he has all day to throw, Mahomes can pick apart defenses with ease. At the same time, pass-rushers need to be aware that the Chiefs quarterback can run too. Mahomes might not be as fast as Lamar Jackson, but he certainly showed off some wheels on his touchdown run in the AFC Championship Game.
Rushing the passer has been a strength of San Francisco’s defense all year long, but Mahomes presents quite the challenge.
Kyle Juszczyk (Fullback, 49ers)
The 49ers are one of the few teams that still utilize a fullback in today’s NFL, but Juszczyk is more than just a traditional lead blocker. As NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger explains in this film breakdown of San Francisco’s Divisional Round victory over Minnesota, Juszczyk actually plays a pretty important role on offense for the 49ers.
So, whether he touches the ball or not, Juszczyk will be a player to watch against the Chiefs.
San Francisco’s offense uses a lot of motion, misdirection and play-action fakes to try to confuse defenders as to where the ball is going. That’s why it’s so important for Kansas City’s linebackers to play disciplined football. What might look like an outside zone run at first quickly becomes a big passing play down the middle, and the same can be said for the trick run concepts the 49ers like to sprinkle in to try to catch the defense napping. Damien Wilson, Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens don’t have to be perfect, but they need to be disciplined enough to not give up those big plays.
The Chiefs have speed all over the field on offense, but the two players that get the most attention from opposing defenses are Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. If the 49ers go the route of sending extra help to both of those players, then Hardman could end up getting single coverage, which most defenders aren’t equipped to deal with because of his speed. Hardman is also a threat on special teams to return a kickoff or punt back to the house.
Chiefs Offensive Line
San Francisco is known for having one of the best defensive lines in football, and it’s been easy to see why based on the last couple of games. The 49ers roughed up Kirk Cousins for six sacks in the Divisional Round, and they tallied three in the NFC Championship Game against Aaron Rodgers. Dee Ford, Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa are tough to deal with on the edges, and the interior of the line is just as difficult with DeForest Buckner, Sheldon Day and Solomon Thomas. It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs handle San Francisco’s relentless pass rush. Making life difficult on Mahomes has to be San Francisco’s No. 1 priority defense.