The Chiefs have rumbled through the AFC in the playoffs, beating two great quarterbacks on the road, but they’re still slight underdogs against the 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII. Advanced stats may give some insight as to why a loaded San Francisco team appears to have the edge from the outset.
Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Stats
- Pressure Rate: 27.8%
- QB Knockdown Rate: 10.8%
- 3rd Down Stop Rate: 62.9%
- 4th Down Stop Rate: 53.6%
- Opponent Red Zone TD%: 50.0%
The Chiefs’ secondary has largely been excellent this season, and Kansas City has generated pressure pretty consistently as well. Facing a 49ers offensive line that isn’t as strong as the offense’s prowess might indicate, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Steve Spagnuolo pressure Brock Purdy often.
Where the 49ers can attack Kansas City is with the running game. The Bills were able to do serious damage against a vulnerable Chiefs run defense, but the Ravens confusingly went away from the run in the AFC title game. The 49ers will force the Chiefs to defend the run with Christian McCaffrey and even Deebo Samuel out of the backfield.
Willie Gay Jr. has missed only 6.5% of tackles this season, while Nick Bolton has missed just 3.2%. Drue Tranquill has come on in the playoffs to give Kansas City another stout run defender. Two defensive linemen – Derrick Nnadi and Charles Omenihu – are out, however.
Only two playoff teams (Packers, Steelers) allowed more rushing yards per game than the Chiefs this season. Facing a 49ers team with the most productive running back in the league and the NFL’s best red zone conversion rate (67.2%), Kansas City likely won’t be able to just rely on its secondary.
San Francisco 49ers Defensive Stats
- Pressure Rate: 21.0%
- QB Knockdown Rate: 10.0%
- 3rd Down Stop Rate: 59.1%
- 4th Down Stop Rate: 50.0%
- Opponent Red Zone TD%: 54.5%
These two teams approach defense quite differently, and that’s reflected in the difference between blitz rates. While the Chiefs are 7th in the NFL in blitz rate, the 49ers are 30th at just 18.0%.
Does Mahomes’ excellent scrambling ability actually negate this difference? It’s no secret defenses have more success when they bring pressure, but pressure doesn’t easily throw the Chiefs offense off its game because of how easily Mahomes can just roll out and scramble for serious yardage.
It’s entirely possible that keeping Mahomes in the pocket and forcing him to throw to what’s been a shaky receiving corps is something the 49ers will accept. It’s worth noting the 49ers’ pass defense hasn’t exactly been consistent in the playoffs, however, and Mahomes with extra time to throw is an intimidating idea.
Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Stats
- Avg. Yards After Catch: 5.4
- Rush Yards After Contact: 1.5
- 3rd Down Success Rate: 43.6%
- 4th Down Success Rate: 50.0%
- Red Zone TD%: 54.1%
The Chiefs have scored on their opening drive in each of their last eight playoff games, scoring a touchdown on six of them. Teams have let Kansas City set the tone early, and a 49ers team that keeps falling behind in the playoffs would be in deep trouble if that happened again, considering the ability of the Chiefs’ defense.
Can Kansas City’s much-maligned receiving weapons make a statement against a 49ers pass defense that has hit bumps in these playoffs? The Chiefs are second in the NFL in yards after the catch (behind only the 49ers), so once they get the ball in their hands, they tend to make things happen. The 49ers finished below average in yards after the catch allowed.
Kansas City does have the NFL’s worst drop rate at 6.9%, but Mahomes has started to focus more heavily on Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce rather than risking it with other weapons.
Perhaps most interesting about these two offenses is the fact the Chiefs rank 32nd in air yards per completion (4.4) while the 49ers rank 1st (7.0) despite wildly different perceptions of both quarterbacks. Kansas City takes advantage of the short game and avoids big plays in its current form. The 49ers were the best team in the NFC when it came to limiting explosive plays this season, but they will have to be prepared for frequent check downs as well.
Final explosive plays allowed update for the 2023 season. Chiefs and Patriots finish with the least explosive plays allowed while Bengals finish with the most allowed pic.twitter.com/GyZNG2Xbsm
— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) January 10, 2024
San Francisco 49ers Offensive Stats
- Avg. Yards After Catch: 6.6
- Rush Yards After Contact: 2.0
- 3rd Down Success Rate: 47.5
- 4th Down Success Rate: 53.8
- Red Zone TD%: 67.2%
Most metrics paint the picture of a decisively better 49ers offense than Chiefs offense, though all bets are off in the playoffs.
One of the keys to this game will be third down success rate by both teams. The Chiefs’ offense has been so successful over the years that it’s often looked like they were playing with an extra down, but the 49ers’ offense has actually been better in that department this season with a 47.5% success rate on third down in the regular season – about four percent higher than the Chiefs.
The gap has stretched dramatically in the playoffs, as San Francisco has converted on 57.1% of third downs compared to Kansas City’s 39.5 percent rate. The 49ers will need that gap to hold up somewhat, but it won’t be easy against a Chiefs defense that stumped the Dolphins and Ravens on third down.