Super Bowl 2020: What to watch for when Chiefs & 49ers clash
The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are set to face off in a fascinating Super Bowl. Here we look at what to watch for.
The Super Bowl LIV matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers is regarded as one of the best of recent years.
Opinions are firmly split on whether the league's most talented quarterback, Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes, or the NFL's most talented team, the 49ers will prevail at Hard Rock Stadium.
Regardless of the outcome, it is anticipated to be a game that will live long in the memory.
Here we look at the aspects of the game where a mouth-watering contest will likely be won and lost.
Patrick Mahomes v the 49ers pass rush
Mahomes is dangerous not just because of the explosive plays he makes look routine, but also because of the way in which he is able to avoid negative plays.
He was sacked only 17 times in the regular season and threw just five interceptions. However, the Niners' ferocious pass rush, which including the playoffs has racked up 57 sacks, will provide the superstar passer with his stiffest challenge of the campaign.
The 49ers' path to victory involves getting to Mahomes and forcing uncharacteristic mistakes, if they fail to do that, it could be a long evening for the best defense in the NFL.
The battle of the elite tight ends
The 49ers' George Kittle has cemented a reputation as the premier player at tight end. However, the Chiefs' Travis Kelce is also among the elite at the position and has the opportunity to state his case as the class of the tight end field on the grandest stage of them all.
Kittle is an outstanding all-around player who makes an impact on almost every play through his remarkable athleticism and pass-catching ability, along with his incredible contributions as a blocker.
Kelce has developed a near-telepathic rapport with Mahomes and is crucial to helping his quarterback dice up zone coverage schemes such as that employed by the 49ers.
Both Kittle and Kelce will be imperative to their respective teams' gameplans and whichever tight end enjoys the better outing could have a decisive impact on an encounter that looks tantalisingly poised.
A heavyweight coaching matchup
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Super Bowl LIV is the coaching matchup between Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan, two of the finest offensive play-callers in the modern game.
The offenses of the Chiefs and the 49ers have each proved near-impossible to stop this season. Kansas City's attack has thrived as the combination of Reid and Mahomes has proved a match made in heaven, the Chiefs possessing unquestionably the most dynamic deep passing attack in the NFL.
Like Reid, 49ers head coach Shanahan is a renowned innovator who excels at exploiting mismatches, with the way he has developed his father Mike's outside-zone running game turning San Francisco's rushing attack into a juggernaut.
Reid and Shanahan are known for their meticulous preparation and have had two weeks to plan for this contest. The winner of what many expect to be a shootout may be decided by which coach put together the superior gameplan during that fortnight.
San Francisco's surging ground game
That San Francisco running game is likely to be the focus of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and with good reason.
The Niners totalled an astonishing 471 yards and six touchdowns on the ground across their playoff wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, controlling the clock and taking pressure off quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo while ensuring the defense stayed rested.
Should the 49ers succeed in doing the same in the Super Bowl and keep Mahomes off the field, the advantage will tilt firmly in their favour.
The Chiefs' need for speed
Kansas City can produce consistently huge games largely because of the track-star speed the Chiefs have in their receiving corps.
Tyreek Hill may be the fastest player in the NFL and rookie Mecole Hardman cannot be far behind.
Their pace puts a huge strain on opposing secondaries, but the 49ers – despite not being blessed with significant speed among their defensive backs – have done a superb job of limiting explosive plays.
The Niners gave up just five passing plays of 40 yards or more in the regular season, thanks to a combination of their pass rush and a vastly improved secondary, with All-Pro corner Richard Sherman and safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt enjoying excellent seasons.
That trio will need to maintain that form to keep the most dangerous offense the Niners defense has faced at bay.