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How the 49ers can leave Las Vegas as Super Bowl champions

San Francisco has the opportunity to make amends for the 2020 Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs

Super Bowl LVIII - Previews Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sunday is the day. The Chiefs and 49ers meet again in the Super Bowl, with the 49ers having a chance to right their wrongs from the 2019-20 meeting in Miami. Both sides have players returning for the second matchup, but there are big differences between both teams this time around. The Chiefs have turned into a ball-control offense with a stellar defense, and the 49ers have one of the most efficient and explosive offenses in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes remains, which will make any defensive coordinator lose sleep, but the offense isn’t the score-at-will offense from years past. Still, the Chiefs find themselves on the brink of a third Super Bowl championship. For the first time in the Andy Reid/Mahomes era, the Chiefs defense is ahead of the offense.

As for the 49ers, in years past, their defense has led the way with an efficient offense. With Brock Purdy under center, this offense led the league in yards per attempt, and Christian McCaffrey is the league’s leading rusher. Brandon Aiyuk set a career-high in receiving yards, and George Kittle led all tight ends in receiving yards in 2023. The defense has struggled during the playoffs against Green Bay and Detroit, but the offense picked up the slack to help the 49ers advance to Las Vegas.

The question is: What do the 49ers have to do to finish with their sixth Lombardi trophy?

Run the football

Let’s not reinvent the wheel here. The Chiefs’ clear weakness is defending the run. Taking a deeper look at the numbers highlights a clear advantage to the 49ers over the Chiefs. The 49ers have the second most rushing attempts out of 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE). On first down, the 49ers come out in 21 personnel 42 percent of the time. The 49ers finished with 194 att, 1,008 yards, 575 YAC, and five TDs out of 21. Conversely, the Chiefs allowed the second most yards in the NFL with 362 yards, 61 rushes, 223 yards after contact, and 18 first downs. The 49ers have a distinct advantage.

Use motion in the run game

The 49ers led the NFL in rushing attempts (397) with motion. The Chiefs had 251 attempts with motion and allowed 1,153 yards (11th worst in the NFL), five touchdowns, and 50 first downs. The result of the 397 rushing attempts for the 49ers was 2,095 yards, 1,180 yards after contact, 19 touchdowns (2nd in the NFL), and 114 first downs, which is the most in the NFL.

Force the Chiefs secondary to tackle in the run game

Here are the top five Chiefs defenders in missed tackles:

Trent McDuffie, CB (19 games, 1,168 snaps) - 13 missed tackles (14.1%)

Nick Bolton, LB (11 games), 634 snaps - 12 missed tackles (11.9%)

Mike Edwards, S (20 games, 736 snaps) - 12 missed tackles (18.2%)

Justin Reid, S (19 games, 1,174 snaps) - 12 missed tackles (10.1%)

L’Jarius Sneed, CB (19 games, 1,185 snaps) - 11 missed tackles (11.3%)

Get to the second level in the run game and force their secondary to make tackles in the open field.

Pressure Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes was pressured on 240 dropbacks and still finished seventh with 1,133 yards, but seven of his interceptions came under pressure with 27 sacks. 97/191 with 106 throws on target. In the playoffs, Mahomes doesn’t take sacks or throw interceptions, but disrupting the offense and getting the offense off the field on third down will be paramount.

Ball control will be huge for the 49ers to remain flexible with their playcalls, limit the Chiefs’ offensive possessions, keep their defense fresh, and shorten the game. This is all easier said than done, but if the 49ers can execute, they will raise their sixth Lombardi and have a parade in San Francisco. Enjoy the game!