If any team can shut down Patrick Mahomes and the potent Kansas City Chiefs, it’s the San Francisco 49ers. That said, if anyone can figure out how to carve up the stifling defense of the 49ers, it’s Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. And with that the stage is set for the two best teams in the NFL when they square off in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
In a fight between a cobra and a mongoose, good luck figuring out who has the edge.
This is precisely why oddsmakers Kirk Cousins in the NFC Divisional Round and Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game, and the Richard Sherman-led secondary has three interceptions in those two outings., with the Chiefs currently sitting as slim one-point favorites. There’s a reason for this, because as dominant as they are and for as quickly as the Chiefs can strike, the 49ers boast the best defensive front in the NFL. It racked up nine combined sacks to take down
The combination of rookie phenom Nick Bosa with veterans Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and DeForest Buckner packs a wallop up front, and it often forces opposing quarterbacks out of their comfort zones and into making mistakes that become turnovers. The physicality doesn’t stop on the defensive side of the ball though, because although Jimmy Garoppolo can take over the game in the air, that often isn’t required. Raheem Mostert’s historic performance on the ground against the Green Bay Packers is evidence to that fact, and Matt Breida along with Tevin Coleman help created a three-headed hydra that’s tough to pin down — even if you just held league-leading rusher Derrick Henry to only 69 yards two weeks prior.
So, yes, Garoppolo can air it out to George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel, but none of them are speedsters who take the top off of a defense, and they’ve shown that’s not a bad thing when you consider what they actually do well. They’re bullies at their respective positions, and that’s especially goes for Kittle and Samuel, who are runaway freight trains with the ball in their hands.
Contrarily, and with all due respect to the skill of Cousins and the greatness of Rodgers, Mahomes is a different animal entirely.
He’s comfortable inside the pocket, outside the pocket, beside the pocket, on top of the pocket — wherever. The simplest way to explain it is wherever Mahomes is behind the line of scrimmage at any given moment is his new pocket, effortlessly turning an NFL field into a pair of cargo pants. Like Rodgers, he can also do damage with his legs but, unlike Rodgers, his baseball arm can make even the most impossible throws; and sometimes he does it left-handed, because why not?
By the way, the Chiefs have scored 86 combined points in their past two games, and won despite spotting the Houston Texans a 24-0 start before scoring seven touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions.
Beware, because a cobra laying still isn’t the same as it actually being dead.
Crash down too aggressively on Mahomes and you’ll find out why speed can overwhelm defenses, because rookie Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill will absolutely blow your doors off as two of the fastest players in the league. Being forced to respect their sonic boom-level speed keeps defenses honest enough for All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce to do his job at the second level, and it’s one he does oh so well (along with in the red zone). Once the opposing defense accounts for every receiving target along with Mahomes as both a passer and a runner, they’ll get a dose of running back Damien Williams as the Chiefs switch from speed to power in the blink of an eye.
In the end, these teams are so evenly matched that the outcome will most likely be determined by special teams, and that’s where the Chiefs truly have the edge. Hardman is one of the best returners in the league and although Hill has a muff this postseason, he’s usually sure-handed and guaranteed dangerous when asked to field a punt.
So as the offenses and defenses throw haymakers in a fight to the football finish, keep an eye on special teams, because it’s what will ultimately break the stalemate.