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Ask a former NFL player: Who can be the secret X-factor in Super Bowl 54?

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In his pre-Super Bowl Week mailbag, Geoff Schwartz picks one player we should be talking more about and how to limit the damage Patrick Mahomes can do.

49ers LB Fred Warner holds his right arm up while looking at the crowd, with his teammates huddled behind him
49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner will play a key role in Super Bowl 54.

It’s time for the Friday mailbag, a week ahead of the Super Bowl 54. I’ll be in Miami starting Monday and then be staying through the game. It’s going to be a wild week, and we at SB Nation will have plenty of coverage on the big game.

It should be awesome. But before Super Bowl Week begins, let’s get to the mailbag. And, as always, if you have a question, you can shoot me a note on Twitter or Instagram.

If you had to pick a “dark horse” player to make an impact in the Super Bowl that no one is talking about, who would you pick, and why? — @D2k112k

Fred Warner, the 49ers’ middle linebacker. He will be a key for their defense trying to stop the Chiefs’ lateral speed attack. The Chiefs love to run side to side, whether in the run game (I’m including those “passes” that are fly sweeps), or the pass game.

Warner can fly and he’s going to be busy going sideline to sideline. Plus, he’s got to travel with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and make sure he’s taken care so he doesn’t go off like he did last time these two teams played in 2018 (eight catches, 114 yards).

Why don’t teams play Patrick Mahomes like the Patriots do? Two safeties over the top and make Mahomes have to settle for small passes the whole game and drive down the field? — @Coopsage

This is a great question and one that I’ve seen a bunch.

The Patriots built their defense to face the Chiefs. Starting up front, they have multiple players who can attack the pass protection unit, keeping Mahomes guessing. They have mobile linebackers who can play in space. And, lastly, they have man-coverage corners, or at least one in Stephon Gilmore, who can lock down one side of the field. Then, the Patriots can play their two-high safety look behind it.

The Patriots mix up coverages against the Chiefs, but they loved playing two man (man coverage with two high safeties). With man coverage, you can be physical at the line of scrimmage and attack the smaller Chiefs receivers. You hope to hound them during their route. Then, the Patriots double-team a receiver, most often Tyreek Hill. The Patriots’ favorite way to defend anyone is this: They take Gilmore, put him on the No. 2 receiver, and then double the No. 1. Now, both WRs are covered. This is why Kelce always puts up numbers against the Patriots.

Back to the question: Teams have tried to run this style of defense, but they just don’t have the personnel to make it happen. When you play two man, you need a pass rush to get home, or at least get close to Mahomes. Otherwise, the speed of the Chiefs’ wide receivers will make the defenders pay. Well, the Pats can make that happen.

The Niners can as well, but they are a zone-coverage team, so I don’t expect man coverage. What I do expect is laid out perfectly in this thread. It’s well worth your time.

The key is to limit the big plays in the middle of the field, hope to harass Mahomes, and keep the damage at a minimum.

Will Kansas City provide help for Eric Fisher on Nick Bosa, or will they try to test Fisher and see if he can hold his own? — @Tra4Duce

I assume the Chiefs will use a running back to help either Fisher or Mitchell Schwartz for pass protection, but that’s about it. The reason why you wouldn’t pack the box to help the pass protection unit is because you want those offensive players, either the running back or the tight end, working into the route concept.

Ideally, the players you trust to pass protect, especially at tackle for the Chiefs, have to get the job done. Also, what makes the Niners’ pass rush so tough to scheme against is they have four guys who can beat you. If you help the right tackle, well, the other three rushers can win. There are going to be plenty of opportunities for the 49ers to win up front.