Every Super Bowl comes down to a few big plays, and a few key matchups. You never know what it’s going to be, but when the game is over, and it’s time for coaches and players to review what happened and why, everyone will go back to their advanced scouting reports — how they aligned their guys and how those guys played from a schematic perspective — and try to discern what went right and what went wrong.
Not that we’re professional advanced scouts at Touchdown Wire, but here are five things the Kansas City Chiefs should probably pay close attention to when they take on the San Francisco 49ers today in Super Bowl LVIII.
Blitz the 49ers' condensed formations.... to a point.
The 49ers have aligned in more condensed formations than any other team this season, and the advantages of that are obvious — when you line up inside the hashes and inside the numbers, your receivers have more space to get open outside, and you can do more interesting things outside in the run game. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will like to blitz his cornerbacks outside the tackles against condensed formations, so you could certainly see that in the Super Bowl.
However, there’s an issue there in that 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy has been amazing against the blitz all season long — 101 completions in 150 attempts for 1,534 yards, 701 air yards, 15 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 128.6. Even in the postseason, where things have been a little weird for him, Purdy has shown the ability to singe your blitz.
Spags’ blitzes against Purdy will be a crucial part of this entire game, and how he attacks those condensed formations will be particularly interesting.
Get the ball outside the numbers in the passing game.
The Chiefs’ receivers have been problematic this season (to be kind), but there’s been a nice uptick in the passing game of late, and that’s been true all season outside the numbers. This isn’t an explosive passing anymore from a downfield perspective, but Mahomes will like to get the ball out to his backs and receivers and tight ends outside the numbers, and the Chiefs lead the league this season with 5.6 yards per attempt on passes outside the tackles.
The 49ers have had issues dealing with that, as they rank 26th in the league defending passes outside the tackles, and they’ll have to get a bead on those quick, outside passes before Mahomes starts to string big plays together on those ideas.
Run the ball right into the 49ers' leaky defense.
The 49ers’ run defense, however…. that could be a problem for defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, because it has been. The Chiefs lead with gap scheme run concepts with running back Isiah Pacheco, and they’ve bumped up from 28% gap runs in the regular season to 48% in the playoffs. San Francisco allowed 132 rushing yards to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, and 182 rushing yards to the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship game. Make no mistake, this is a power running game the Chiefs have. They’ve ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt between the tackles (5.2), and they rank second in the NFL in Success Rate (60%) on runs against stacked boxes — eight or more defenders.
The 49ers have had the fourth-best run defense against attempts between the tackles (4.3), but they’ve allowed a Success Rate of 55% when they’ve stacked the box, and that ranks 22nd in the league. Especially against the Lions, the 49ers were vulnerable to power run concepts like Duo, and Pacheco can blow a bad defense away all day with that.
Load up against San Francisco's run game.
Christian McCaffrey has been the NFL’s most prolific runner in the NFL in zone and split zone concepts this season. In those concepts, McCaffrey has led the league in carries (234), yards (1,265), yards after contact (755), and touchdowns (15). The Chiefs have faced the NFL’s seventh-most zone runs (316), and they’ve allowed 1,256 yards, 774 yards after contact, and five touchdowns.
Where the 49ers can really make hay in the run game is outside the tackles. This season, the 49ers lead the league in yards per carry on outside runs (5.7), while the Chiefs ranked 29th in yards per carry allowed when defending outside runs. San Francisco will use their tight ends, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, to motion to the run side to take out the edge defenders. The Chiefs do a lot of interesting things with their fronts, but they’ll need to align those fronts to get the most bang for the buck against that killer zone/outside run game.
Beware San Francisco's offense when it's in 11 personnel.
The 49ers and Chiefs both love their heavy personnel — San Francisco lives in 21 and 22 personnel, while the Chiefs are all about their 13 personnel both in the run and the pass game. But when the 49ers are in 11 personnel — one tight end, one running back, and three receivers — that’s where a lot of the big plays happen. This has been especially true as Brandon Aiyuk has established himself as one of the best outside receivers in the league.
But where the 49ers REALLY get it going in 11 personnel is in the run game, and that could be a big issue for Spags and the Chiefs’ defense. San Francisco ranks second in the league with a 63% Success Rate in runs out of 11 personnel, and the Chief rank dead last with a 60% Success Rate allowed in those kinds of runs. This could be because the 49ers go more with 11 personnel on third down, and the Chiefs love their third-down dime defenses.