Most of the national media attention on the upcoming Super Bowl has focused on the battle between the defensive line of the San Francisco 49ers and the Chiefs’ offense. Arguments have been made for both sides. Will the Niners pass rush led by Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, and ex-Chief and minor KC pariah Dee Ford be able to pin their ears back and pressure Mahomes into throwing his first playoff interception? Or will the Chiefs’ O Line hold their ground and allow Pat the time to do what he does best—escape the pocket, prolong the play, and make one of his “Pat”ented throws on the run? A quick look at a few key stats and previous Mahomes’ plays favors the latter.
We all know the 49ers can set the edge, plug the holes, and shut down a solid rushing attack. Calling the Chiefs’ rushing attack “solid” would be extremely generous. So the state of the Chiefs’ offense will likely be squarely in Mahomes’ hands (as it has been 89% of the time if you count Matt Moore’s two solid but forgettable starts). The good news is that Mahomes isn’t called MVPat for no reason. The even better news is that the chief’s offensive line is the best in the league at holding blocks for the first 3 seconds of a pass play, even with multiple injuries to the beleaguered big men throughout the year. The hurry probability also improved with the move of Stefen Wisniewski to LG in week 16, from 10% hurry probability down to 7%.
Even if the line doesn’t hold like it has been for the past 4 games, Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the league at making blocking adjustments on the fly. Big Red was a lineman at BYU and started his coaching career as an O Line coach in college and then again with the Packers, so he still composes his game plans starting with the blocking assignments. But to play devil’s advocate, say the offensive line plays like swiss cheese and Andy’s adjustments don’t stop the relentless Niners’ rush. Then the game plan will fall squarely on Mahomes’ shoulders.
The good news is Pat seems to thrive with defensive players on his tail. A play against the (noticeably less talented) 2018-19 Niners squad that highlights this phenomenon. Pat gets the ball, and #54 Fred Warner blitzes untouched up the middle. Unperturbed, Mahomes scrambles left, then circles back to the right and throws an absolute laser to Chris Conley in the back of the endzone. This wasn’t a fluke, either; think about the biggest Mahomes’ plays you can. Most, if not all, involve plays that were once thought impossible, but are now commonplace in the world of Magic Mahomes. The 4th& 9 conversion against the Ravens, the left-handed throw with Von Miller flailing feebly at his ankles; the list goes on and on.
Pat is a master at making the most of a play when it appears to be in shambles, especially against zone defenses. The 49ers run zone about 70% of the time, a holdover that 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh brought with him from Seattle’s “Legion of Boom”. Zone defenses, however, give the Chiefs “Legion of Zoom” a chance to settle into the weak spots of the zone. Kelce finds the open spot in the middle of the field, Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman streak across the cover 3 deep downfield, and Pat makes one of his patented throws on the run, like a shortstop on a soft ground ball. This comes against an opposing quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo who is basically even in every major stat with the 2017 quintessential game manager Alex Smith (except for eight more interceptions than Smith).
So, what does this all mean? We know it will be a close game. The 49ers have only lost by single-score margins, with three of their four losses being only by a field goal. The Chiefs, however, have the weapon most coveted by the entire league. If their offensive line somehow falls apart and Andy can’t adjust and bring in additional protection, then Patrick Mahomes will be the ultimate decider. And when Pat is prolonging a play and making a throw on the run, I’ll take those odds any day.