The Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVIII blitz plan was very risky, but perfectly done

Going into Super Bowl LVIII, the Kansas City Chiefs and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knew one thing about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy: Throughout the 2023 NFL season, Purdy had ripped opposing defenses to shreds when they blitzed him. Purdy had 101 completions in 150 attempts for 1,534 yards, 701 air yards, 15 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 128.6. The Chiefs had sent five or more pass-rushers on 208 opponent attempts, fourth-most in the NFL. And on those 208 attempts, opposing quarterbacks completed 112 passes for 1,122 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 76.2.

Perhaps more interestingly, the Chiefs blitzed just 81 times on opponent passing attempts pre-Super Bowl with man coverage behind it, allowing 33 completions for 360 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 56.6. But against five or more pass-rushers with man coverage, Purdy had been even better, completing 40 of 64 for 806 yards, 404 air yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 137.5.

So, this was best on best coming into the Super Bowl, which make you think that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo might not send a ton of man blitzes in the biggest game of the season.

Au contraire, mon frere.

Against the Chiefs’ man blitzes, Purdy completed 11 of 21 passes for 149 yards, his one touchdown, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 91.2. Not bad, but not the Purdy we’ve seen against these concepts through the season.

Why did this work for the Chiefs? They were brilliant when it came to presenting Purdy with pressure and coverage concepts that didn’t really make sense, but worked even when the 49ers had answers.

The Chiefs ran a zero blitz with 7:04 left in the second quarter, down 3-0. The 49ers actually blocked the six-man pressure up very well with Willie Gay as the fifth rusher from the  left defensive edge, and Nick Bolton on the right side as the sixth rusher. It was six-on-six with George Kittle in the formation because Christian McCaffrey released from the backfield on play action into a choice route, while L’Jarius Sneed had Jauan Jennings to the right offensive side on the dig route, and Trent McDuffie had Deebo Samuel up the numbers on the other side.

Purdy had time to scan those possibilities, but both receivers were locked down. Purdy had two practical choices – hit McCaffrey on the choice route, or hit Brandon Aiyuk on the flat route to the left side out of motion, which probably would have gone for about the same result – six yards – because Chamarri Conner was manned up on Aiyuk, and Aiyuk didn’t look like he would have gotten very far after the catch. This was a fascinating example to me of how much Spags trusts his defensive backs to shut things down in coverage concepts that would normally favor the offense – and would normally favor the offense to an extreme degree if the quarterback is left clean.

Also important was that when the Chiefs sent those man blitzes, most of the 49ers’ yards came after the catch — there weren’t a lot of explosive opportunities downfield, outside of this 18-yard first quarter completion to receiver Chris Conley, when Conley beat cornerback Jaylen Watson on an out-cut.

“Man, it was just tough,” Purdy said postgame of the Chiefs’ defense. “I feel like first and second down was tough. We’d always – I feel like it was like third and long. I have to be better on first and second down, taking what they have given me, and I feel like they were just sticky across the board when they played man coverage and stuff so that was another challenge. So, I just feel like on third down, I have to execute better. For our defense to give us that many stops like they did, and then for us to go three now and not do anything with those opportunities, that’s what hurts me.”

It hurt the 49ers throughout the game, and it was one of the most unexpected parts of Super Bowl LVIII.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire