Sat, 04 Jul 2020

Super Bowl LIV: Game Preview

Chiefs
20 Feb 2020, 13:39 GMT+10

The play is a thing of legend.

Quarterback Len Dawson handed the ball off to tailback Mike Garrett as the offensive line created a mammoth hole, paving the way for a touchdown and an eventual victory in Super Bowl IV.

It was the iconic play - the 65 Toss Power Trap - that helped Kansas City secure a world championship, further emphasizing the legitimacy of the American Football League ahead of the AFL-NFL merger while cementing the Chiefs' place in the hearts and minds of fans around the globe.

Fifty years have passed since that game, and now for the first time in a half-century, the Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl.

It's the culmination of a magical season, an unprecedented seven-year run of success under Head Coach Andy Reid and five decades of unforgettable moments. Every fan of this football team has a reason for donning the red and gold, and for each of them, this is the opportunity they've been patiently awaiting.

The San Francisco 49ers stand as the final obstacle in the way of Kansas City's pursuit of a title following one of the best turnarounds in recent memory, assembling a 13-3 record in 2019 after winning just four games the season prior.

They engineered that turnaround as one of the most balanced teams in the league, featuring a high-powered offensive attack and a stout defense anchored by a tenacious pass-rush. They present a mighty challenge in every facet of the game, but in what exists as the biggest stage in professional sports, the Chiefs are focused on what they can control.

"You have to come out and be on the attack, but the biggest thing is you can't have dropped balls or penalties, which are the things that really hurt us in the Divisional and AFC Championship Games," said tight end Travis Kelce. "We want to come out and play mistake-free while matching the energy and the hype of the game knowing that everybody is going to be fired-up and that this game is going to be a little bit faster than usual."

The Chiefs, of course, overcame their early mistakes in the first two rounds of the postseason with relentless comebacks. Kansas City fought back from a 24-point deficit in the Divisional Round against Houston before climbing out of a 10-point hole in their AFC Championship bout with Tennessee.

Both performances demonstrated the Chiefs' unique ability to fight through adversity with an unwavering mentality - "championship swagger," as safety Tyrann Mathieu calls it - and while Kansas City will try to avoid an early deficit this time around, they'll still need that ferocious attitude throughout the game on Sunday as they combat one of the top defenses in the NFL.

It begins with the defensive line, which includes pass-rushers Arik Armstead (10.0 sacks), Nick Bosa (9.0 sacks), DeForest Buckner (7.5 sacks) and Dee Ford (6.5 sacks). The group tallied 48 sacks as a whole this season - the fifth-most in the NFL - and it sets the tone for a defensive secondary that's headlined by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.

Simply put, the 49ers have defensive playmakers at every level.

"It's not just the front four, which is one of the best groups in the league, it's the whole defense. They play off of each other. The linebackers know what the defensive line is doing and the defensive backs know what the linebackers are doing," said Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes. "It's going to be a great challenge for us. We have to make sure that we're executing at a high level, not making mistakes and taking it one play at a time, but I think the best part [of our offense] is that I just need to get it to these playmakers I have around me and let them make plays."

Indeed, the Chiefs have plenty of firepower when it comes to offense. In fact, Kansas City is one of just six teams since the turn of the century to tally 35 or more points in multiple postseason games, lighting up the scoreboard behind huge performances from wide receiver Sammy Watkins, tight end Travis Kelce, tailback Damien Williams and wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

Mahomes has been at the center of that offensive explosion, slinging eight touchdowns without an interception while racking up 615 yards through the air. He's been sacked just twice and owns a passer rating of 131.5, tallying six plays of at least 25 yards. Furthermore, Mahomes is four touchdown strikes away from the NFL single-postseason record.

The stats are unworldly, approaching territory that the football-watching world has never seen before from such a young player, but Mahomes is rarely interested in talking about himself.

"Just to be able to be here in this moment is a tribute to the guys I have around me," said Mahomes, who has a chance to be the second-youngest starting quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. "I was put in a great situation early in my career and I'm just trying to take advantage of every single day that I have."

But while Kansas City has piled up the yardage and the points through the air, San Francisco has been equally successful with its ground-attack. The 49ers rushed for an astounding 285 yards in their victory over Green Bay to secure the NFC title, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. It was the continuation of a season-long trend, as San Francisco tallied the second-most rushing yards of any team in the NFL this season behind only the Baltimore Ravens.

The 49ers utilize a three-headed monster of sorts to generate those yards, as tailbacks Raheem Mostert (772 yards), Matt Breida (632 yards) and Tevin Coleman (544 yards) each made a significant impact on the ground. Mostert, in particular, accounted for 220 rushing yards all by himself against Green Bay. It was only his second performance of the season with 100+ yards on the ground, but it demonstrated what this offense is capable of in the running game.

"This run game is so dynamic and they move so many pieces around. The biggest thing is people underestimate their offensive line. Those guys are athletic, they're big and they're maulers," Mathieu said. "It's going to be important for us to have an attitude and to understand that these guys like to run the football. They have fun doing that."

And while the running game has churned yardage and baited defenses, 49ers' quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has found success through the air. Garoppolo, who just completed his first full season as the 49ers' starter under center, tossed 27 touchdowns in 2019 while averaging 8.36 yards-per-attempt and posting a 102.0 passer rating.

He threw the ball just eight times in San Francisco's victory over Green Bay, but Garoppolo demonstrated throughout the year that he can move the 49ers' offense if needed - especially in the direction of tight end George Kittle.

Kittle hauled in 85 catches for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns in 2019, trailing only Kelce and the Oakland Raiders' Darren Waller in receiving yards among tight ends. He did the bulk of his damage after the catch, ranking third in the NFL in the category behind just Panthers' tailback Christian McCaffrey and Chargers' tailback Austin Ekeler with an incredible 626 yards.

Garoppolo also has rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel (57 catches, 802 yards, 3 touchdowns) and former Broncos' wide out Emmanuel Sanders (36 catches, 502 yards and 3 touchdowns) at his disposal, presenting 49ers' Head Coach and play-caller Kyle Shanahan with numerous options to spread the ball around to offensively.

Shanahan - the son of longtime Broncos' Head Coach Mike Shanahan - is considered one of the brightest young offensive minds in the game, particularly with his use of pre-snap motion to confuse the opposition.

"The formation they break the huddle in won't be the formation they snap the ball in, so it poses a challenge for guys like myself," Mathieu said. "Kyle Shanahan is smart, it's not just the play-calls he's drawing up, he's moving a lot of people around because he wants you to stop for a second and think...I think he's trying to take advantage of guys like myself who want to play fast, see what they believe and go. He moves a lot of things around to try and make you second guess yourself."

Of course, if the last eight games are any indication, Kansas City is up for the challenge. The unit has been the second-best in the NFL since Week 11, holding the opposition to just 15.5 points-per-game. In fact, as good as San Francisco has been defensively this season, the Chiefs actually posted a better scoring defense overall in 2019 with the seventh-ranked group in the league.

The defense has been right in the middle of both comebacks this postseason, preventing both Houston and Tennessee from answering the Chiefs' rallies, and it has consistently served as a perfect complement to Kansas City's high-powered offense over the course of the Chiefs' eight-game winning streak.

Kansas City can extend that streak to nine-straight victories on Sunday, and if they do so, it'll mean the Lombardi Trophy is coming back to Kansas City for the first time since 1969. It's a responsibility that Mahomes doesn't take lightly.

"It's important for Coach Reid, for us and for Kansas City. We want to go out there and win the game for them," Mahomes said. "We're going to try and play our best football, have fun doing it and, hopefully, find a way to win it."

Catch the Chiefs and 49ers in Super Bowl LIV on FOX.

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