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What the 49ers will do on defense in Super Bowl 54

Our Super Bowl preview continues with Stephen White telling us what to expect from San Francisco’s defense — particularly that ferocious pass rush.

Members of the 49ers defense, including pass rushers Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner, pose for the camera, with pink, teal, white lines in the background
The 49ers’ pass rush can set the tone in Super Bowl 54.

Welcome to the second piece in my five-part series previewing this year’s Super Bowl between the Chiefs and 49ers. Hopefully you’ve already checked out the first part, which breaks down what the Chiefs will try to do offensively in the Super Bowl. And if you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for?

As a reminder, here’s the schedule for the entire series:

Jan. 28: Chiefs on offense; 49ers on defense
Jan. 29: 49ers on offense; Chiefs on defense
Jan. 30: Who will win the Super Bowl

I’ve watched a lot of film on both teams. Based on that, I want to show you what I think they will try to do on offense and defense in order to come out on top Sunday.

Next up in the preview is the San Francisco defense, with an emphasis on that loaded pass rush.

What to expect when the 49ers are on defense

One major thing that surprised me when I was watching film was seeing Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz getting beat a few times. Here is a guy who made first-team All-Pro last season and second-team All-Pro three out of the last four, including this season. He did play well for the most part, but I still saw him catch a little more hell than I’m used to in pass protection this year, particularly when facing athletic power rushers.

Lions defensive lineman Trey Flowers, for instance, was a guy who gave him some trouble.

For that reason, I would have rookie edge rusher Nick Bosa rushing over on Schwartz’s side as much as possible. On passing downs that would mean Dee Ford would be rushing from the right side against Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, which I believe gives them the best chance to get to Patrick Mahomes, by far. Fisher is still the weaker of the two tackles between him and Schwartz, but styles make fights, as they say, and this would give the 49ers the most favorable matchups on the edge.

Bosa can focus on power rushing Schwartz and restricting the pocket, while Ford focuses on his specialty, speed rushes.

The effect would be Mahomes having to make a decision of whether to:

1. step up into an ever-closing pocket to try to avoid the rush and maybe end up running right into Bosa’s arms, or

2. scramble outside knowing that Ford is already flying around the corner and will be able to take him down relatively quickly from behind.

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Here’s what Bosa looks like going against a right tackle, as he did on this play against the Vikings in the Divisional Round:

On early downs, the tall and rangy Arik Armstead, who has had a fantastic season, will be just fine going against Schwartz, but I still think the 49ers are going to want Bosa over there in those situations as much as possible. While they have a ton of talent up front, there is no doubt that Bosa is “special,” and he is a guy whose approach is going to be hard for Schwartz to deal with all game.

Everyone (aside from Chiefs fans) should take a minute and just appreciate watching Armstead, Bosa, Ford, and DeForest Buckner together, because it is truly rare for any team to have that much pass-rushing talent on the field all at the same time.

The entire 49ers DL gets after Vikings QB Kirk Cousins

Don’t be surprised if they are the stars of the game on Sunday.

Coverage-wise, I don’t see the 49ers changing much of what they do. They will play a lot of Cover 3 as usual and other zones, but I do think they will mix in a tad more man as well. In fact, they may play a lot more man than most people would imagine considering the skill position players they are facing. Mahomes is too good to just let him pick you apart in zone all game.

The question is if they will be able to pull it off in those spots. Or will this be a situation where the proverbial bear eats them?