After his MVP season in 2018, football fans everywhere knew Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was really, really good.
This season, ankle and knee injuries — not to mention Lamar Jackson’s emergence — shifted attention away from Mahomes.
But no longer.
In the Chiefs’ 35-24 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Mahomes showed why he’s the NFL’s best young quarterback and (gasp!) an even better player than he was last season. The top standout in the “Things I Noticed”: Mahomes is starting to use his legs as a running threat, which should give the San Francisco 49ers another concern heading into Super Bowl LIV.
After rushing for 19 yards in two playoff games a year ago, Mahomes has rushed for 106 in his two playoff games this season. It’s another form of evolution for him as a quarterback, another taunt to defenses who can’t handle his arm anyway.
In the video above, I explained how Mahomes’ scrambling is putting defenses in an impossible situation. The 49ers, who feature a strong defense, will be tasked with handling it in Miami. If they can’t, they’ll be watching Mahomes and the Chiefs lift the Lombardi Trophy.
So, about Derrick Henry ...
For all the talk of how the Chiefs’ 28th-ranked run defense would fare against Tennessee’s monstrous running back, the answer was … pretty darn well!
The Chiefs held Derrick Henry to 69 yards rushing, his lowest output in 10 games. It had a lot to do with the improved physicality and positioning that they showed against Henry in Week 10, when he ran for 188 yards.
All that showed up on one particular play. Tennessee faced a third-and-1 at their own 41, trailing 21-17 in the third quarter. This is the sort of down the Titans almost always convert. This time, the Chiefs’ defensive front — led by big Mike Pennel, Reggie Ragland and Damien Wilson — all converged to stop Henry for no gain:
By holding Henry down, the Chiefs showed they are a complete football team. Now they have to do it one more time, in the Super Bowl, against the league’s second-best rushing attack.
A man making a case to get P-A-I-D
Anyone who has followed me for a while knows that I believe in the mythical powers of the contract year, and how the contract year is undefeated.
Well, sometimes a pre-contract year can be pretty darn good too. That’s what we’re seeing from the Chiefs’ Tanoh Kpassagnon. A gifted but raw second-round pick in 2017, we’re now seeing the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive end tap into his potential under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Kpassagnon is built like he was chiseled out of marble, and he combines that with superior athleticism. He was one of the best testers at his position in the draft, but after playing collegiately at Villanova, the Chiefs knew he’d need some time to adjust.
Well, the time has come. Kpassagnon’s two sacks led the Chiefs on Sunday, and for the season, he’s tied for third on the team in hurries with 11 and fifth in sacks with four. He has also logged the second-most snaps (62.7 percent) of any Chiefs D-lineman not named Frank Clark.
He’ll be a free agent after the 2020 season, and if the Chiefs let him hit the open market, he fits the profile of a guy some team will pay — young, ascending and with his best football ahead of him.
Chiefs tight end Blake Bell earned the nickname ”The Belldozer” for his goal line exploits during his time as a red-zone quarterback at Oklahoma. Given the way he blocked Sunday, the nickname should apply to his blocking.
Bell, a former fourth-round pick of the 49ers, has played a role as a backup tight end with the Chiefs, catching eight passes for 67 yards in 37 percent of the regular-season snaps. Blocks like this earn the respect of the coaching staff, and given the way the 49ers will likely scheme to take away Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, it wouldn’t surprise me if a player like Bell makes an impact in the Super Bowl.
Best blocking sequence by a fullback I’ve seen all season
San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk is the NFL’s highest-paid fullback, and he showed why during one crazy sequence in the 49ers’ 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC championship game.
Check out the following highlights, which includes Juszczyk’s critical role on three killer runs during an important scoring drive for San Francisco (look for No. 44):
On the first play, Juszczyk deked out the defensive end — getting him to commit inside and thus, surrender the edge — and climbed to the next level to serve as a lead blocker for Deebo Samuel. On the second play, Juszczyk served as the lead blocker again, on a 32-yard gain. And on the last play, Juszczyk leaped through the clutter around his feet to get through the hole and spring Raheem Mostert for a touchdown.
Absolutely sensational. The Chiefs’ linebackers will need to be physical with Juszczyk — and maintain their positioning — to slow down a rushing attack that piled up an absurd 285 rushing yards against the Packers.
The 49ers’ stunts are out of this world
The 49ers’ defensive front dominated Green Bay with the use of stunts and twists, which creates confusion among offensive linemen and natural angles of attack for defensive lines:
San Francisco ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks with 48. It features one of the league’s most ferocious defensive fronts, and it’s only boosted by the use of stunts. Communication and physicality will be paramount for the Chiefs, who plan on throwing the hell out of the ball no matter who they line up against.
Chance to get back at his former team
San Francisco guard Mike Person is playing really well at the moment, and he gets a chance to continue that against his former team on football’s biggest stage.
Person, 31, spent two months with the Chiefs in 2016 (he didn’t appear in a game) and was released shortly before the next season. He has spent time with six teams in his NFL career but has seemingly found a home in San Francisco, where he has started 30 of the 49ers’ last 32 regular-season games. He caught my eye a couple times in the NFC championship game:
On the first play in the video above, Person does a tremendous job of reaching the outside shoulder of his defender, which helps spring Mostert for a touchdown. On the second play, he pulled to his left and blocked to the whistle on a third-and-1.
Considering the 49ers’ predilection toward running, Person will need to continue his steady run blocking ways if they’re going to get their ground game established.
Emmanuel Moseley is playing with a ton of confidence
Second-year cornerback Emmanuel Moseley seems to be playing with a ton of confidence, and he’ll play a key role in the Super Bowl. The undrafted free agent stood out a few times in the conference championship game.
Moseley has popped all season long, and in many ways has been more impressive than the man whose starting job he recently took Ahkello Witherspoon. He’s a feisty corner with attitude and good athleticism, and he’s not afraid to hit ya.
So in the Super Bowl, keep an eye on Moseley. Good defenses (like the 49ers’) can limit or take away both the Chiefs’ primary weapons, Hill and Kelce, in spots, but that opens up one-on-one playmaking opportunities for Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and running back Damien Williams out of the backfield.
If the 49ers are going to limit the Chiefs’ high-flying attack, Moseley will need to hold his own on an island.
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