For the better part of the last six seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs offense has been the headliner, not only for their team, but for the entire league. Since Patrick Mahomes took over, he, Andy Reid, Travis Kelce and previously Tyreek Hill, have simply devastated opposing defenses, to the point where Kansas City’s own defense was mostly an afterthought. All the Chiefs really needed from Steve Spagnuolo’s unit was to not screw things up.
But after their last Super Bowl victory – a 25-22 overtime classic – it’s remarkably clear that that’s no longer the case. While Mahomes, Kelce and, in the end, Mecole Hardman had the chance to put together spectacular tie-win streaks at the end of regulation and overtime, Kansas City’s defense was the better unit all throughout this season and played his own unit. major role in the defeat of the San Francisco 49ers.
Kansas City finished the season ranked second in the NFL in yards and points allowed, seventh in FTN’s defensive DVOA, and fifth in Tru Media’s EPA/play version. In the Super Bowl, they ran into a San Francisco offense that finished second in yards and third in points, as well as first in DVOA and EPA/play.
The 49ers averaged a league-best 6.6 yards per game during the regular season. They limped to 5.3 per play in the Super Bowl. The Niners have been the fourth-best third-down offense in the league this year, converting 47.5 percent of their opportunities. They only went 3 of 12 on Sunday, a conversion rate of 25.0%. They were also the best red zone team in the NFL this season, scoring touchdowns on 67.2 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line. But they went just 1 of 2 on Sunday, the Chiefs buckled down and held them to a field goal on the first drive of overtime, setting the stage for Mahomes’ heroics.
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All season long, the Chiefs have stifled opposing passing plays, and they largely did the same against San Francisco. Brock Purdy completed 69.2% of his passes and led the NFL with an average of 9.6 yards per attempt during the regular season. He completed just 23 of 38 (60.5%) and averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt against the Chiefs on Sunday night. Purdy led the NFL in explosive completion rate during the regular season, with nearly 15 percent of his passes gaining 20 yards or more. On Sunday evening, that figure fell below 10%. He averaged 9.8 yards per attempt on throws over the middle of the field during the regular season, according to Tru Media. But the Super Bowl Chiefs limited him to 8.5 per attempt on those throws.
Christian McCaffrey led the NFL in rushing during the regular season, averaging 91.2 yards per game and 5.4 yards per rushing attempt. Kansas City’s much-maligned run defense has strengthened considerably, and on Sunday night its 22 carries gained just 80 yards, an average of 3.9 yards per attempt. Of the 53 players who have had at least 100 carries this season, only one has created an explosive gain on a greater share of his carries than McCaffrey. Sunday night, he didn’t have any explosive rushes.
All-Pro corner Trent McDuffie got his hands on the ball several times. So does safety Mike Edwards. L’Jarius Sneed tangled with Brandon Aiyuk all night and limited him to just 3 catches for 49 yards. Aiyuk, a second-team All-Pro, averaged more than 89 yards per game this season. Deebo Samuel’s 11 targets resulted in just 3 catches for 33 yards. He averaged over 10 yards per target during the regular season, but was just 3.0 on Sunday. George Kittle was rarely targeted and ended up with 2 grabs for just 4 yards. 49ers pass catchers averaged a league-high 6.6 yards after catch per reception during the regular season, according to Tru Media. In the Super Bowl, they were limited to half a yard less than that.
Time and time again, Chris Jones broke through the line of scrimmage and made sure Purdy couldn’t throw the ball on time and on target. Kansas City hit Purdy 11 times on 42 dropbacks. George Karlaftis, Mike Pennel and Leo Chenal combined for one of the biggest plays of the game, forcing then recovering a fumble on the first possession of the night. Nick Bolton was flying around the field and he racked up an incredible 13 tackles. Rookie Felix Anudike-Uzomah, replacing the injured Charles Omenihu, made a huge play in the backfield.
After the game, from the podium, Reid said his defense played “crazy” Sunday night. In previous years, with previous versions of this defense, this might have been accurate. But this year, with this defense, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This group simply did what they had been doing all year: standard operating procedure. In the biggest game, in the biggest spots, Kansas City’s defense came out on top again and again, and it paid off like it should have.