When the Chiefs and 49ers get together for Super Bowl LIV in South Florida, which can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app, it will be one of the more intriguing Super Bowl matchups in a while. Both teams were very good in the regular season and steamrolled through the playoffs. The 49ers are trying to break a 26-year drought without winning a Super Bowl. The Chiefs haven’t even been to a Super Bowl in 50 years.
They arrive at the Super Bowl with much different approaches.
49ers play a throwback style
It’s too simple to paint Chiefs vs. 49ers as a matchup between the pass-happy, high-scoring team that fits the modern NFL and a team that relies on an old-school, run-heavy approach. The Chiefs run the ball fairly well and their defense has improved, and the 49ers threw for 3,792 yards in the regular season. But there is some truth in the narrative.
The 49ers want to run the ball. They were second in the NFL in rushing attempts and yards, and first in rushing touchdowns. The Baltimore Ravens, who got 176 carries and 1,206 rushing yards from quarterback Lamar Jackson, are the only team that leaned on the run more. The 49ers have been so dominant this postseason, Garoppolo has thrown only 27 passes for 208 yards in two playoff games.
Kyle Shanahan has an offensive system that is similar to what was successful for his father, Mike. The 49ers want to run the ball to set up the pass. And if you can’t stop the run, the 49ers will keep pounding the ball on the ground. They have a tremendous defense, so that style makes sense for them. Against the Packers in the NFC title game, Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns, and the defense made sure the early lead was never threatened. The 49ers barely threw the ball because they didn’t have to.
In some ways the 49ers might mirror the 1972 and 1973 Dolphins. In four of the Dolphins’ five playoff games those seasons, quarterback Bob Griese threw 11 or fewer passes and didn’t break 88 yards passing. The Dolphins won back-to-back Super Bowls, letting the running game and the defense do the work.
The 49ers are a little more wide-open than that, but it’s a decidedly old-school approach that should please fans who like to remember the good old days.
Chiefs rely on their great quarterback
The Chiefs like to throw the ball, and that makes sense considering they have Patrick Mahomes at quarterback.
Kansas City was fifth in the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns, and that was with Mahomes missing two games and most of a third with a knee injury. Kansas City was 27th in the NFL in rushing attempts despite a 12-4 record. Most teams run the ball more when they have a lead.
That works for the Chiefs. Kansas City’s defense has improved and played well after their bye week, but it’s still a team that wants to score a lot and hope the defense makes a few key plays and stops. The Chiefs aren’t on the same level defensively as the 49ers, but they don’t need to be. Kansas City has been in the top six of the NFL in points and yards for three straight seasons, and led in both categories last season. The defense just has to be good enough, and it has been lately.
The Chiefs fit the changes in the modern game. They have a great passing offense and rely on it heavily. Kansas City has no problem trying to outscore opponents in a shootout. That seems to be the way the NFL game is evolving, though not every team is lucky enough to have a Mahomes at quarterback.
The 49ers are proof that there is more than one way to win in the NFL. A great defense and productive running game can still put a team on the doorstep of a Super Bowl title. So can a wide-open passing game with a defense that has improved but is still in the middle of the pack. Super Bowl LIV should be a fascinating contrast in styles.
More from Yahoo Sports