As an addendum to my previous post, I figured I would take a look at the other side of the ball: that is, what will Andy Reid and Co. try to cook against the 49ers? Data courtesy of DVOA and The Ringer.
1. This is not the Patrick Mahomes we're used to
When people think of Patrick Mahomes, probably the first thing that comes to mind is his strong arm and ability to make plays out of nothing.
And while that hasn't gone away, it's also not nearly as prominent as in years past. This year, Mahomes sports an average depth of target LOWER than notorious noodle arms like Jimmy G. or Derek Carr. And this hasn't changed in the playoffs. Against the Ravens, he had two passes that you would consider "chunk" plays": a 21 yard pass to Kelce and a 32-yard pass to MVS to ice the game. He and the Chiefs have adjusted their offense to be one of a lot of quick hitters and short passes, and it's paid off because Mahomes has thrown 0 turnover-worthy throws so far.
Ironically, when people talk about game managers, that's actually closer to what Mahomes is doing this year. Short passes and relatively mistake-free ball sounds a lot like Alex Smith.
2. Personnel: Chiefs like going heavy.
The Chiefs, in general, run 1 of 3 personnel groups:
1. 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR)
2. 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR)
3. 13 (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR)
with the vast majority being 12 or 13.
Of that group, they find the best offensive success rate when going 12 or 13 against nickel defenses. When in 12 personnel, the Chiefs offense generated 4.4 yards per play and -12% DVOA against base defense while they had 6.1 yards per play and 25% DVOA against nickel. This will be interesting for the 49ers because we saw the exact opposite happen against the Lions: they deliberately went heavy to put in Oren Burks and then targeted him over and over again. So this might be a big game for Burks because we need to punish the Chiefs if they want to go heavy.
Conversely, the 49ers are weakest against 11 personnel, we are rank 28th in success rate against that personnel. So it will be interesting to see if the Chiefs go wide to attack the 49ers' weaknesses or go heavy to play their strengths.
3. Zone is where the Chiefs feast
In terms of DVOA, the Chiefs are 20th against man defenses but 7th against zone defenses. That generally is because Mahomes looks to two targets to break a zone, Travis Kelce and Rashee Rice, and those two are noticeably weaker against man than zone.
For example, Rashee Rice averages 3.5 yards-per-route-run against zone but 0.7 against man. Rice is ridiculously quick (has a faster 10-yard split than McCaffrey, as a point of comparison) but his route-running and hands leave something to be desired. Kelce is a great TE period, but he's ungodly against zone. For example, he averages 5.1 yards of separation against zone defenses.
For the 49ers, who are a zone team, this is going to be a case of strength vs strength. The 49ers are the best team in the NFL in guarding passes over the middle, so it'll be a battle of Greenlaw and Warner vs Kelce.
As another point of comparison, we even saw this happen against the Ravens.They initially came out running zone and got pretty handily killed in the first half before adjusting by switching to more man and trying to disguise their looks. There's a reason Kelce only had 1 target in the second half after destroying them in the first.
4. Short and YAC it up
In a lot of ways, the Chiefs offense is similar to the 49ers under Jimmy G. Lots of short passes (or in Reid's case, screens) designed to get his playmakers in space to get YAC. Only the 49ers have more YAC than the Chiefs.
The 49ers have generally been a strong tackling team (second fewest missed tackles according to Football Reference), but is going to be imperative that they stop players like Rice before he can do damage and put the Chiefs in 3rd-and-long situations, where they are significantly below-average at converting.
5. If they're running, it's up the middle.
The Chiefs are strongest running the ball between the guards because Pacheco is a north-south runner and because the Chiefs like running plays out of shotgun, where outside zone just isn't as effective. However, not only is that where the 49ers are strongest (relative to the outside), but the loss of Thuney means even that kind of run isn't as strong as before.
So with the Chiefs, we will definitely see a lot of runs up the middle to test the 49ers run defense, especially when Montgomery and Jones saw some success. However, I would expect some jet sweeps or Pacheco bouncing to the outside to punish our ends crashing down on run plays.
In total, what does this mean?
It means we're seeing a Chiefs team that's actually closer to the 2019 49ers. A team dedicated to eating up clock through short passes and lots of running. Unless you're the Bills playing 4th stringers at LB, this is not a team that's going to be airing it out deep, rather, they're going to operate on the mantra of "death by a thousand cuts".
For the 49ers, this will be interesting because the Chiefs strengths match up against the 49ers strengths. The Chiefs are best against zone, we are one of the best zone defenses. The Chiefs mostly run up the middle, we are much stronger defending runs up the middle. The Chiefs love utilizing short passes to open up YAC opportunities. The 49ers generally keep everything in front and have strong tackling to prevent big plays.
The one area to watch is personnel. Our defense has shown a consistent weakness against 11 personnel so the Chiefs might try to spread out wide and see if they can get some offensive success there.
Lastly, this is Patrick Mahomes playing arguably the best QBing of his career. He simply isn't giving defenses the opportunity to punish his mistakes because he's not making them. Steve Wilks has generally been focused on generating turnovers, especially INTs. If we want to continue that trend, we need to get him uncomfortable and press to make plays. Stop those runs and quick hitting passes and force him to rely on guys like MVS or Toney to push deep to generate chunk plays.