Hello again, NFL fans. Let’s get you ready for Super Bowl 54 with part three of my five-piece preview. We’ve already examined what the Chiefs will do on offense and what the 49ers will do on defense when they meet in Miami. Now it’s time to focus on the San Francisco offense.
Before we get to that, I wanted to remind y’all about of what else is in this series, and when it all publishes:
Jan. 28: Chiefs on offense; 49ers on defense
Jan. 29: 49ers on offense; Chiefs on defense
Jan. 30: Who will win the Super Bowl
One more reminder: My main priority here is to explain to you how I think both teams will try to beat each other and which plays they might use to do it. With that, here’s what I’d expect when the 49ers are on offense in the Super Bowl.
What will happen when the 49ers run the ball
All season, and particularly in the last few weeks, the 49ers have shown us what they can do on offense when they get their running game going. They just got done physically dominating two very good defenses in a row (Vikings, Packers), and the rushing statistics weren’t even as brutal as the film. It’s time we all start putting some respect on their names!
As much as the injury to Tevin Coleman is concerning, the thing to understand about the San Francisco running game is that the holes are going to be there for whomever lines up in the backfield. Raheem Mostert probably is the best of the bunch right now, anyway. If Coleman can’t play, the 49ers still have a helluva third-string guy in Matt Breida, a dude who is also cold-blooded with the ball in his hands.
Let’s not forget that Breida had over 600 yards rushing this season too, and he even started five games. As far as I can tell, the only reason Breida hadn’t been playing much lately is because he had some fumbling issues toward the end of the season (three fumbles, two lost since Week 15). But what better way to redeem himself than on the NFL’s biggest stage?
As an aside, let me say this: you can make fun of San Francisco for leaning heavily on its running game so far in the playoffs and not asking quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to do too much. All I know is that the easiest thing to do in a football game is to turn around and hand the ball off when you are getting 5+ yards a pop. If you can do that so effectively, why in the hell wouldn’t you keep doing it?
Do you want to win, or do you just want to look cool?
Obviously, what the 49ers are doing is working. For that matter, if or when the Chiefs are able to stop the run, Garoppolo is more than capable of making plays in the passing game. But I personally don’t think the 49ers should throw a single more pass than they have to if they really want to bring the hardware back to the Bay Area.
Having said that, I see an intersection between the Chiefs having some struggles trying to stop counter plays and the 49ers showing the ability to run the hell out of them all season. I mean, basically any play with a pulling guard seemed to give the Chiefs fits in the games I watched. And it just so happens that the 49ers are pretty good at running all kinds of plays with pulling guards, including some punishing Power Os. So it’s highly likely that we see all of the above Sunday.
The scariest part of the 49ers’ running game is their versatility. What makes them so hard to match up against is they can run a Power O to perfection on one play, then turn around and run a wide zone with precision on the next. That isn’t necessarily “normal.” And they can run all those different kinds of plays from all kinds of formations and with all kinds of personnel.
You will probably see all manner of blocking schemes from them throughout the game, too. Their bread and butter, regardless of the defense they are facing, seems to be fullback-led plays. But they can run different belly blocking schemes, so the Chiefs should be on the lookout for that as well.
The 49ers also run what is sometimes called a “Ram” belly, which I think we will see several times in the Super Bowl. It’s a play that takes advantage of an opposing defense’s aggressiveness by having the offensive line, fullback, and tailback all start in one direction — either right or left — to get the defense flowing that way, only to have the fullback bend back in the opposite direction just before he makes it to his offensive linemen.
That wing man is heading to try to kick out the end man on the line of scrimmage to help create a cutback lane for the running back. The offensive tackle in that direction leaves the end man on the line alone for the wing man and instead that tackle tries to seal the rest of the defense inside to widen that cutback lane. The running back then has a choice between sticking his foot in the ground and hitting the obvious cutback lane, or keep his run frontside behind the offensive linemen who are still blocking like a belly play.
This is a perfect play to use if you want to set up a bootleg later on. A Ram belly could also take advantage of a Chiefs’ defense overly fired up to stop the run, and it might end up being one of San Francisco’s most productive running plays all night.
Another thing that I like about the 49ers’ running game is that Kyle Shanahan, their head coach/offensive coordinator, is f’ing savage. He’s not afraid to make the same running call on back-to-back plays. Hell, he might even hit you with the same play three times in a row if the spirit moves him.
If you can’t stop the bleeding, the 49ers aren’t about to switch up what they’re doing and essentially hand you a tourniquet. Nah, they just keep cutting you until you bleed to death.
The Chiefs defenders better eat their Wheaties all week if they don’t want to end up as involuntary blood donors is what I’m saying.
What will happen when the 49ers pass
With the 49ers’ passing game, I can’t tell you all the specific plays they will run, but there are a few I would look for.
For one, the 49ers like to try to hit an over route off of play-action on early downs. They usually try to target all-world tight end George Kittle on those plays.
But sometimes it might be a wide receiver like Emmanuel Sanders or Deebo Samuel running from the slot, too.
They like to get the ball to Kittle in a variety of ways, so you might see him motion out to the trips side and then catch a screen out there, or see him screaming up the seam. For some reason, I have a feeling the 49ers are going to try to revive that old shovel pass they used to throw to him in short-yardage and goal-line situations this week.
Sanders is the No. 1 option at wide receiver, and he will get his, but Samuel is the guy you will see on end-arounds and jet sweeps.
I’ve been a big fan of his ever since I did his pre-draft breakdown, and I think he’s one of the most exciting guys with the ball in his hands. He’s fast, but what makes him so dangerous is his wrecking ball running style. If he gets the ball in space, and is able to work up a good head of steam, somebody on the Chiefs is getting run over on Sunday.
You can bet that.