Like most NFL games, what happens in the trenches Sunday will go a long way toward determining the outcome. It’s an under-analyzed area of the sport, particularly when compared to the over-saturation of other analysis. The main objective of this article is to project QB pressure through film study, injuries, scheme, coaching and talent.
49ERS DL vs. CHIEFS OL
Key matchups: 49ers DT DeForest Buckner vs. Chiefs LG Stefan Wisniewski, 49ers DE Nick Bosa vs. Chiefs LT Eric Fisher
The Chiefs offensive line is a solid unit taking on a 49ers defensive line that is an elite group and best in the NFL based on my tape study. In a vacuum Kansas City’s OL is outmatched across the board minus right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who is firmly entrenched as an elite player, matching up well with basically any rusher in the league.
The 49ers DL finished the season as one of the most productive units in the NFL by most metrics available including 2nd in adjusted sack rate, 2nd in pressure percentage, 1st in QB hurry percentage, and 3rd in sacks per pass attempt.
When you study this group on film they are reminiscent of the 2007 New York Giants DL in that they are the strongest single unit on the team and one of the few front fours that can pressure the quarterback on a consistent basis without blitzing. This was a key factor in the Giants group slowing down one of the most prolific offenses of all-time (2007 Patriots) to just 14 points in the Super Bowl and the 49ers best hope of slowing down this potent Chiefs offense resides on their shoulders as well.
The 49ers DL is (incredibly) led by rookie 2nd overall pick Nick Bosa, who is an absolute technician capable of stringing multiple moves together on a single rep with a devastating bull-rush as a change-up that gave Packers All-Pro LT David Bakhtiari fits in the NFC Title Game. Bosa’s matchup vs. LT Eric Fisher is the biggest mismatch of the entire Super Bowl in the trenches and one that should result in Fisher getting extra help throughout the game.
Inside of Fisher is Stefan Wisniewski who took over in Week 15 and has admirably played 97% of the snaps since, but will have to block one of the more rare physical specimens in the league in DT DeForest Buckner. Buckner is an enormous mismatch for Wisniewski due to his length, power, and vaunted club-swim move that leaves blockers routinely grasping at air.
The Chiefs OL gets more stout on the right side led by arguably the best in the NFL at his position in RT Mitchell Schwartz and a solid guard in Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (LDT). On that side Arik Armstead and Dee Ford combine to form dramatically different body types and styles that can take advantage of LDT on stunts and twists due to his propensity to get on different levels with Schwartz, particularly on the man-side of protection schemes.
While the individual matchups slant heavily in the 49ers’ favor the Chiefs offensive system is probably the most OL-friendly in the NFL and does a masterful job at easing the burden on the blockers up front due to a shrewd use of motions, RPOs, misdirection, and chips that create hesitation in defenders. Along with QB Patrick Mahomes doing an excellent job of not dropping past 9-9.5 yards behind the line of scrimmage and throwing on time, the job of the OL in this system is aided by the scheme and QB on a level unmatched minus maybe Drew Brees in Sean Payton’s offense in New Orleans.
This is a fascinating matchup that the Chiefs OL will have built in help to cover up some warts, but being outgunned at four of the five positions up front will significantly decrease their margin for error. Expect the 49ers DL to create disruption and pressure in this game at a fairly high rate, especially off the left side of the OL.
CHIEFS DL vs. 49ERS OL
Key matchup: DT Chris Jones vs. San Francisco’s interior OL
Chris Jones was used sparingly on just 42% of snaps in the conference championship due to a nagging calf injury but should be closer to 100% with the extra week of rest leading up to this game. In a vacuum, that spells serious trouble for the 49ers interior OL based purely off of their individual ability to pass-protect against an elite interior rusher likes Jones.
The 49ers OL is a good group led by their tackles with an average interior group that all benefit from the scheme doing a masterful job at putting them in advantageous positions by achieving optimal leverage and angles for them, limiting opportunities for rushers to gain the upperhand in the process. With so much pre-snap motion and an array of formations to account for, opposing DL don’t have the same opportunities to pin their ears back and rush as often as they would against the vast majority of offenses in the league.
Taking that into account means Jones and Frank Clark will have to take their games up a notch in order to generate pressure and get home on the quarterback. Jones has an easier path at disrupting this offense due to the disparity in ability between him and the competition whereas Clark faces his best competition since Week 8 (David Bakhtiari) taking on Joe Staley.
Clark will have a better chance at generating pressure and beating RT Mike McGlinchey, which I would expect him to have even more chances at doing than the roughly 30% of snaps he lined up over that side this season.
Jones is the key to the Chiefs defense being able to slow down this 49ers offense and assuming he is closer to 100%, is likely to be a force in this game and is the primary reason to expect this DL to generate pressure.