Zone Rushing Attack
San Francisco has the look of a Mike Shanahan team. They explode off the snap and pound you downhill. They’re arguably the most athletic offensive line in the NFL. They run a lot of inside/outside zone, using the speed of their 3 running backs (Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert) to get to the edge and upfield. While Tennessee’s offensive line was fantastic, they aren’t nearly the athletic freaks that the 49ers are on the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs are going to have to be fresh on the defensive line, while setting a hard edge for 4 quarters. Nobody schemes run plays better than Kyle Shanahan. They’re a running team, just like Tennessee, but much faster and better at it.
Run Sets Up Play Action
I understand why the analytics say that that running the ball doesn’t set up play action. It’s true, there’s not an X amount of carries to reach to run play action. Still, San Francisco sets up their play action with their run action better than anyone. They’ll run some sprint outs, but they mainly run a lot of deep crossing routes with their speedy receivers. Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel do a really nice job patrolling the middle of the field, giving Jimmy Garoppolo easy throws across the middle of the field.
I’ll get to it in more depth once the All-22 comes out, but this will give Kansas City problems. Due to our slow linebackers not being able to cover in their zones, we got killed over the middle with play action. With two weeks to prepare, Spagnuolo will need to have a plan for what to do to defend these crossing routes.
George Kittle is a matchup nightmare. He’s the best blocking tight end in football, while having the speed to dominate as a tight end. He isn’t Travis Kelce as a receiver, but his blocking in their zone scheme makes him very valuable to their attack. They’ll isolate him on defensive ends, and he’ll maul them off the ball, leaving the edge wide open for their speedy backs to run through.
As a receiver, he doesn’t have the feel that Travis Kelce has against zone, but if he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to beat you with his speed. Look for Steve Spagnuolo to treat Kittle as a receiver, putting one of his bigger cornerbacks on him. Kittle’s a good receiver, but he doesn’t terrify me like Kelce would if I was the 49ers. There are ways to stop Kittle. He only has 4 catches for 35 yards in the playoffs. I trust Spagnuolo to have a plan.
Battle in the Trenches
If the 49ers are truly special in one area, it’s their defensive line. They’re easily the best defensive line Patrick Mahomes has faced in his career. Nick Bosa is the arguably the best pass rusher we’ve faced this season, who wins with excellent technique and strength. DeForest Buckner is a matchup nightmare in the interior, using his long arms and quick first step to not allow quarterbacks to step up in the pocket. Arik Armstead is their base defensive end, who kicks inside on any passing downs. He’s a long, powerful player, who wins primarily with a bull rush. Dee Ford is their sub-rush player, who’s there to work in their stunts and use his elite first step and speed to get upfield.
This game is going to be won or lost by the play of the Chiefs offensive line. If they can protect Mahomes, we’ll easily pick apart their zone coverage. Since they are so good up front though, it can be hard to sit in the pocket and deliver balls downfield. They’re the perfectly built defense in the modern NFL. While we’ve faced good defensive lines in the playoffs, this is a new challenge. Luckily, we have two weeks to develop a gameplan against these guys. We need to be prepared.
Richard Sherman in Cover 3
Another reason why they play so much zone is because of Richard Sherman. While Sherman isn’t the same athlete he was earlier in the career, he’s extremely smart and still athletic enough to dominate in zone. San Francisco mainly plays Cover 3, mainly due to the fact that Sherman can lock down a side of the field. He’s not a man corner, but they’re able to protect the other side of the field due to other teams’ unwillingness to throw at Sherman.
Attack the Other Guys
I alluded to it, but while they’re an excellent pass defense, you can attack the other guys in their secondary. Emmanuel Moseley is fine, but he’s a rookie and developing. Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are competent safeties, but they can be attacked over the top. As long as we can protect Mahomes and keep him upright, with our weapons we should be able to attack these guys. They haven’t seen the speed we have on our team. The only team they’ve seen who’s close to our speed is Seattle, who was inches away from being 2-0 against them this season. A scrambling quarterback who can make plays to his speedy receivers gives San Francisco issues. Sounds like a formula for success to me!