The 49ers might be most like the Seahawks from the Legion of Boom era. There was no need for those Seattle teams to hide anything. You knew where they were going to stand. Their Cover 3 defense was something passers had seen since junior high, so you always knew what they were going to do. It didn’t matter that they knew all of that because they were so bright, smart, and gifted.
It’s the defense for the San Francisco 49ers. Bosa and Warner are likely to become Hall of Famers, and Greenlaw, Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead, and Charvarius Ward are just a few of the players who play at a Pro Bowl level.
There are six defensive players on the 49ers who should win more one-on-ones than their teammates and could make a game-changing play almost every snap. That’s enough most weeks. Their bodies are different, and they don’t always play defense the same way the Seahawks did. But they do well when they’re bigger and better than the teams they play.
The word that Cody Alexander of MatchQuarters used to describe the 49ers’ defense is probably the best one: static. Sometimes they don’t follow the rules, like when they played man coverage before the snap and zone afterward on the Lions’ second failed fourth down, but most of the time they do.
The attack gets the same thing after the snap as it did before the snap. The defense will see the same things this week as they did last week.
I already said that San Francisco matches 12 and 13 players with its base defense more often than any other team in the league. The 49ers’ cornerbacks also don’t move. Ward faces the right side of the offense from the left side of the defense almost all the time.
Officer Lenoir is on the right side of the defense, facing the left side of the attack. Ambry Thomas comes off the bench to play right cornerback when the 49ers use their nickel package. Lenoir moves into the slot.
When rival coordinators know where the cornerbacks are going to line up, they can line up their receivers in the right way. Want to stay away from Ward, the best cover corner in San Francisco? Put your best wide receiver somewhere else on the field.
Want to go after Thomas, who is the weakest link? Put 11 people on the field and put the best wide receiver on the left side of the formation. Eric Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator for Washington, needed a score when the Commanders played the 49ers in December.
You can guess what he did. As a result, he sent Terry McLaurin out with two other wide receivers, put McLaurin on the left side of the field, and put his best wide receiver against Thomas. Right away, Sam Howell threw a back-shoulder pass to McLaurin that went for a score.
In the playoffs, recent stats show that Thomas has been the closest defense and given up six catches on eight targets for 86 yards. Two flags for pass interference have added 54 yards to his total. He won’t be on the field when the 49ers are in base defense, so the Chiefs won’t be able to see him in groups of 12 and 13. More than half of the time, they still play in 11 personnel, so he will get some snaps on Sunday.
More and more teams in the league try to give players one look before the snap and then change it right away after the snap. The 49ers haven’t felt the need to change things up. One way we can measure defense is by looking at the disguised dropback rate. This is when the defense uses one type of covering before the snap and then changes to a different type.
The 49ers were the third-least likely in the league to hide their coverages. The only teams less likely to hide their post-snap defense were the Giants and Jets. The Jets and 49ers show that defenders don’t have to hide very often. But Mahomes had one of the best games of the season against the Jets in Week 4.
The Chiefs had 401 yards and 24 first downs. They would have scored 30 points if Mahomes hadn’t slid down to end the play two yards short of the end zone after the two-minute warning.
There were times when the Jets controlled the Chiefs in the front seven and made Mahomes make mistakes. That’s something the 49ers can do at the line of scrimmage, especially if the Chiefs don’t have star guard Joe Thuney.
There was an injury to the All-Pro’s chest during the win over the Bills, so he missed the conference title game. Nick Allegretti stepped in and did a good job, but the longtime backup quarterback missed a couple of chances to score against the Ravens.
These included a third-and-2 turnover and a play where Kansas City couldn’t run in what was basically a four-man Baltimore box. The 49ers love taking advantage of mismatches like the one between Hargrave and Allegretti.
Bosa will mainly be playing against right tackle Jawaan Taylor today. When asked what he thought of Taylor and left tackle Donovan Smith, Bosa just said, “They hold a lot,” and then moved on to the next question.
This was his attempt to get his point across to the officials. Even though I agree with what he said, the hits have been better in the playoffs than they were during the regular season. Especially getting Smith back for the overmatched Wanya Morris has been helpful.
It’s possible that the 49ers will make a switch from Bosa. Chase Young has been the starter since the Commanders traded for him in October, but the Packers and Lions attacked him hard. There were wide receivers closing in on Young, and he looked like he was taking his time on Jahmyr Gibbs’ 15-yard score run.
The 49ers won’t have Clelin Ferrell (knee) for the Super Bowl, but they could move Randy Gregory further up the depth chart or give Armstead more early down snaps outside, which is something they’ve done in the past.
This would allow the 49ers to give Javon Kinlaw or late-season arrival Sebastian Joseph-Day, who used to play for the Rams and Chargers, bigger roles. Kris Kocurek, the defensive line coach, likes them to run the wide-nine fronts, which make the other team dare to run the ball with good box counts. If they can use five- or six-man boxes to slow down the Chiefs’ rushing threat, it will be a huge schematic chance.
There will be a lot of work for the defensive ends to do against the Chiefs, both in the rush and when they try to catch targets close to the play. Reid has been great at screens for more than 20 years, and during the regular season, the 49ers were 26th in EPA per play against screen passes.
There are still RPOs that the Chiefs use, and they have run plays that include the chance to throw a bubble or tunnel screen to the outside if the odds are in their favor.
In a pinch, the 49ers can win in the red zone and hold on. The Chiefs’ attack has gotten a lot better in the playoffs. During the regular season, they had an average of 0.00 EPA per play outside of the red zone, but in the playoffs, they have a 0.15 EPA per play. By that measure, they would have had the best attack in the league when not in the red zone.
Things have gone badly in the red zone. Mahomes and his team have only scored scores six times out of thirteen attempts. They have also missed five field goals and Mecole Hardman’s fumble in the end zone against the Bills and the Ravens’ fourth-and-1 last week.
How well a team does outside of the red zone usually shows up in the red zone as well. If the Chiefs keep moving the ball well, I think their red zone play will get better. They were 7 for 9 when they punched in from the red zone to score in their Super Bowl wins over the 49ers and Eagles.
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