On paper, it’s easy to frame Sunday’s Super Bowl as a battle between the Kansas City Chiefs’ high powered offense and the San Francisco 49ers tough defense. That narrative, however, misses part of the point. The 49ers are legitimately talented on both sides of the ball. While the Chiefs’ much-maligned defense isn’t as dominant, they’ve improved down the stretch, too.
Steve Spagnuolo’s defense knows they can’t let Patrick Mahomes do all of the work on Sunday. To a man, the unit says they’re prepared for the 49ers’ offensive “eye candy.”
The Kansas City Chiefs’ improving defense
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense torpedoed the entire team. The unit couldn’t seem to get a big stop; even Patrick Mahomes’ magic couldn’t overcome that reality.
During the 2019 offseason, though, the Chiefs tried to make amends. Eric Berry, Dee Ford, and Justin Houston all left the team; defensive coordinator Bob Sutton joined them. Kansas City brought in Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu, and Alex Okafor to fill the gaps and hired Steve Spagnuolo to run the unit.
At the start of the season, though, the defense looked as bad as ever. With each passing, however, they started to gel. As players got healthy and adjusted to Spagnuolo’s complex scheme, the unit slowly improved. While the Chiefs’ defense still might not be world-beaters, they’ve transformed into a solid group, capable of bottling up guys like Derrick Henry at the big moment.
The San Francisco 49ers, however, will represent a different challenge
In their first two playoff games, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense was able to get the job done against the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans. The San Francisco 49ers, however, will represent a new challenge.
Under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers offense keeps opponents guessing. They generally utilize motion to sent up running plays, but they’re far from one dimensional; Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t thrown a great deal during the postseason, but he’s more than capable of throwing a strike if Kansas City tries to pack the box.
Both Frank Clark and Anthon Hitchens called the 49ers constant motion “eye candy,” saying they can’t get distracted by who’s moving before the snap.
“You’ve got to focus. You don’t let the eye candy fool you,” Clark explained. “Eye candy will fool you sometimes. You’ve got to keep the eyes, your vision at a minimum when you’re preparing for a team like this.”
Can the Kansas City Chiefs defense do enough on Super Bowl Sunday?
The Super Bowl will be the biggest game that the Kansas City Chiefs have played in quite some time. It will also be their retooled defense’s sternest test to date.
While stopping the 49ers won’t be easy, the Chiefs’ best bet is probably to keep things simple. Everything should start with stopping the run and forcing Garoppolo to be the main man; from there, fundamentals will have to take over. According to Anthony Hitchens, keys include “just playing team ball, having multiple guys at the ball.”
“Everyone doing their responsibilities and buying in,” he continued. “It’s football at the end of the day. So, we need to set the edge and all the other guys need to run inside out and make tackles. They do a lot of misdirection runs and things like that, but we’ve had, I feel like, forever to prepare, so we should be ready to go.”
The Chiefs defense will also be boosted by one key reality: with Patrick Mahomes on their side, they’ll just have to keep the game close. From there, they’ll trust their quarterback to work some magic.