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Studs and duds from Super Bowl LIV: Staley shines

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The play from the backups on the defensive line hurt the 49ers

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

We’ve covered the Super Bowl from about every angle. Believe it or not, there were some outstanding performances from the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The same can be said for the Kansas City Chiefs, who capitalized when they had the opportunity. For the record, I’m not going to mention Kyle Shanahan or Jimmy Garoppolo. Both had impressive moments, and both had a few plays they’d like to have back. We’ve already beaten those topics into the ground. Here are the studs and duds from Super Bowl LIV.

Stud

Joe Staley

Staley put on a show. He turned back the clocks and looked spry as ever getting to the edge and taking out plenty of Chiefs defenders in the process.

Staley was even more impressive as a pass blocker. Frank Clark’s agent tweeted out the 49ers tackles tendencies, and Clark made it seem like he played a great game afterward. Clark didn’t beat Staley one time. On 30 pass-rush snaps, Clark had a sack, and a QB hit. That’s it. It seems like Clark played well since he had that sack at the end of the game, but he was a no-show for a good portion. Thank Staley for that. I hope he comes back, man. Staley was enjoyable to watch this season.

Nick Bosa

You saw what Bosa did in the Baldy Breakdowns. There isn’t much new to say about him that already hasn’t been said. I remain impressed with Bosa’s motor. He played 77% of the snaps, and you’d never be able to tell. The rookie proved to be one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, and he showed why during the Super Bowl. Bosa was a monster and overwhelmed Eric Fisher all game.

Deebo Samuel

What a rookie class for the 49ers. Samuel would be Anquan Boldin if Q ran a 4.4. That’s coming from a diehard Florida State fan who thinks Boldin is one of the better receivers to play the game in the past 15 years. Samuel has the potential to be that good. His improvements as a route runner were on display during the second half of the season. Look at this route in the slot to the bottom:

Samuel added tempo to his routes, and that’s paid huge dividends. When the ball is in his hands, there isn’t a secondary player in the league that wants to tackle Samuel. That was on display on each carry.

Duds

Backup defensive linemen

I’m surprised this topic isn’t getting more run. Actually, I’m not. It’s easy to blame everything on the quarterback and head coach. In a ball-watching sport, that’s what we pay attention to. The Chiefs averaged seven yards per carry when rushing behind the left guard and four yards when rushing up the middle. Sheldon Day struggled, and his backups Earl Mitchell and Solomon Thomas were somehow worse. The Chiefs only ran the ball 17 times, but I’d guess their success rate was in the 60s or 70s. The 49ers pass rush won decidedly. The Chiefs dominated the ground game, though. That hurt the linebackers, and that’s why Kansas City was so successful on the ground.

Kwon Alexander

This was one of the first games where Alexander’s missed tackles hurt the defense. For the majority of the season, when he played, Kwon missed a tackle, but there was someone else there to clean it up. Or he’d force the running back to cut back inside, and it would be the right play, though it wouldn’t show up in the box score. Alexander had a few ugly reps against Kansas City. His angles weren’t great, and that caused Alexander to miss some tackles on the sideline. Teams do tackling drills at a young age, and they teach you to run to the inside hip/inside shoulder so the runner cannot cut back. Kwon didn’t do that.

Alexander allowed 41 yards in the air, and 24 of those came after the catch. That’s an area where this team has been strong all season, limiting YAC. That didn’t happen, and the Chiefs made the 49ers pay.

49ers free agents

As we approach free agency, I wonder how much recency bias will play a part in the deals that Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward, and Emmanuel Sanders. I don’t think either of those three played poorly, but they didn’t have anywhere near on the level of the “studs” listed above. Sanders obviously could have had a big game if the 3rd & 10 throw on the second to last possession was on target, or if the referee calls pass interference when the defender clearly had both hands on him. Because the Chiefs scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Ward gave up a big play, will that hurt him? It shouldn’t. Ward was a baller all season, as was Armstead, who finished the game with only two tackles, though both resulted in stops.

He’s not a free agent, but there is no more guaranteed money left on Dee Ford’s contract. After being banged up all season, do the 49ers try and move on from him? We’ll talk about this ad nauseam as March gets closer. Ford’s effort was...not great...to put it kindly on a few crucial plays. When that’s the last thing you remember, it makes me wonder.

Studs

DeForest Buckner

Speaking of paydays, Buckner is likely a year away, but what a game and season for the former first-rounder. Buckner has a signature pass-rush move, and that led to one sack against the Chiefs. Thanks to a motor similar to Bosa’s, Buckner made plays all night. The 49ers ask a lot of DeForest, and he rarely disappoints.

Kyle Juszczyk

It doesn’t make much sense, but Juice is one of my favorite players to watch on offense. He can block, catch, and run at a high level. He’s a smart player that is asked to do a lot, and Juszczyk doesn’t mess up his assignments very often. Juszczyk caught three targets for three first downs and also made someone miss in the process. He’s an important piece of this offense, and Juszczyk’s value cannot be understated.