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By the Numbers

NFL Super Bowl Mismatch Manifesto

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: February 2, 2020, 10:06 am ET

We’re breaking down key matchups for Super Bowl 54 between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.

This manifesto includes analysis on:

  • Directional Passer Rating
  • Yards Per Attempt by Position
  • Directional Adjusted Line Yards per Rush
  • WR/CB + TE Snap Rates and Physical Profiles
  • WR/CB + TE Combined Yards Per Route Run and Targets per Game

The following charts display matchup-specific information meant to highlight the largest mismatches in ever-important facets of football to ultimately gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways. And, of course, to have fun.

Note: This data is based on what has happened in Weeks 1-17.

Quarterbacks

You may have heard that Patrick Mahomes is a borderline god when it comes to creating big plays out of thin air.

Still, don't let Jimmy Garoppolo's low pass-game volume in the playoffs fool you. Overall, the 49ers (58%) edged out the Chiefs (54%) as the league's best offense in catchable balls on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield (PFF).

We can calculate how well Mahomes and Jimmy G are set up when throwing to different areas of the field with help from Sharp Football StatsPro Football Reference also provides enough information to calculate each offense’s and defense’s yards per attempt to each position.

  • Combined Directional Passer Rating: The sum of each QB's passer rating to each area of the field and the opposing defense’s passer rating allowed to the same area. A higher number is better for the QB (green), while a lower number is good news for the defense (red).
  • Combined Position-Specific Yards per Attempt: The sum of each QB's average yards per attempt to each position with the opposing defense’s yards per attempt allowed to the same position. A higher number is better for that position and QB (green), while a lower number could lead to a more definitive defensive advantage (red).
QBs

    • The 49ers (No. 1) and Chiefs (No. 8) ranked among the league's top-eight offenses in explosive pass play rate. They were nearly just as good on the other side of the ball, as the 49ers (No. 3) and Chiefs (No. 7) again ranked among the league's top units in explosive pass play rate allowed.
    • Garoppolo might not be the same type of gunslinger as some of the league's other signal callers, but he's certainly been efficient when asked to throw downfield. Overall, Garoppolo surprisingly averaged a league-high 21 yards per attempt on deep balls this season (PFF), but he also threw passes at least 20 yards downfield on a league-low 6.5% of his attempts.
    • Meanwhile, nobody posted a better QB Rating than Mahomes on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield among 23 qualified signal callers. Mahomes has thrown 28 TDs against eight interceptions on deep balls over the past two seasons.
    • Jimmy G joined Drew Brees, Derek Carr, Joe Flacco and Case Keenum as the league's only QBs to average fewer than seven intended air yards per pass attempt (Pro Football Reference). Additionally, the 49ers averaged a league-high 6.6 yards after the catch per completion. Yes, Garoppolo deserves credit for efficiently commanding the league's second-ranked scoring offense. Also yes, he was consistently set up brilliantly from a scheme perspective and often wasn't asked to complete tough throws down the field.
    • Check out my breakdown on every QB to ever win the Super Bowl for more information on how Jimmy G fits in with past winners.
    • However, Mahomes also benefited plenty from a heavy dose of "easy throws." Only Devlin Hodges attempted a lower percentage of tight window passes than Mahomes (Next-Gen Stats), while only Jimmy G (6.6) and Ryan Tannehill (6.2) averaged more yards after the catch per completion than Mahomes (6.1) this season.
    • Both passing games were most effective when attacking the seams of opposing defenses. A large part of this is obviously thanks to consistently incredible play from George Kittle and Travis Kelce, who are the perfect TEs to have in the first Super Bowl in a while that won't feature Rob Gronkowski.
    • The RB position appears to be the potential x-factor when comparing how these passing games might perform. The Chiefs were a bottom-four defense in targets, receptions, yards and TDs allowed to opposing backfields this season, whereas the 49ers were a top-four defense in each of these categories.
    • Mahomes usually feeds Damien Williams at least one target per game off of a wheel route, so the likes of Kwon Alexander (PFF's No. 9 LB in coverage) and Fred Warner (No. 11) will need to continue to play at an elite level.
    • None of the 49ers' talented RBs were overly brilliant as receivers this season when it came to winning one-on-one matchups. Rather, Shanahan consistently dialed up a number of well-designed screens and routes into the flat that routinely left defenses outnumbered. This strategy fits right in with the 49ers' quick-hitting passing game; Garoppolo was one of just seven QBs to average fewer than 2.5 seconds to release.
    • The Chiefs certainly benefited from getting DL Chris Jones (calf) back in action. Overall, he finished the regular season as PFF's No. 6 overall interior defender among 83 qualified players. DE Frank Clark (4 sacks in the playoffs) will also need to continue to wreck havoc in order to disrupt the timing of the 49ers' quick-throw passing game.
    • Mahomes (No. 4) posted a top-five QB Rating while under pressure among 38 qualified signal callers. Garoppolo (No. 14) wasn't quite as efficient.
    • Further complicating matters is the reality that shutting down the Chiefs' plethora of talented receivers is only the first step in containing Mahomes. Only Lamar Jackson (11) and Tannehill (11) averaged more yards per rush on scrambles than Mahomes (9.3) among all QBs with at least 10 rush attempts on non-designed runs this season (Pro Football Reference).
    • It remains to be seen if Tyreek Hill and company will be able to take the top off of this secondary. The lack of a deep-ball threat was fairly common against the 49ers this season. No defense posted a lower average depth of target when targeted as a defender (Pro Football Reference).
    • Both the 49ers (No. 3) and Chiefs (No. 9) boasted a top-10 defense in pressures per dropback this season.
    • "Havoc" is mostly a college football stat, but it can still be applied to the NFL. The metric is compiled by: (TFL + FF + INT + PD + Pressures)/Plays. The 49ers (No. 2) graded out significantly better in this metric than the Chiefs (No. 22).
    • The 49ers defensive line boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to top-tier pass rushers. Each of DeForest Buckner (No. 10), Dee Ford (No. 3), Nick Bosa (No. 6) and Arik Armstead (No. 29) received favorable rankings at their respective positions from PFF when it came to pass-rushing productivity this season.
    • Bosa was the clear leader of the group. The No. 2 overall pick from the 2019 NFL draft didn't waste anytime in establishing himself as one of the league's best pass rushers, as only Za'Darius Smith (93), Danielle Hunter (88), Cameron Jordan (83), Shaq Barrett (82) and T.J. Watt (81) finished the season with more pressures than Bosa (80).
    • What makes their dominance even more special is the reality that the 49ers rarely need to send extra help in order to get to the QB. Overall, San Fran blitzed on just 20.9% of their opponent's dropbacks -- the fourth-lowest mark in the league. Mahomes has been much more dangerous against the blitz (10.36 AY/A, 119 QB Rating) than against normal rushes (9 AY/A, 107.5 QB Rating) throughout his career (Pro Football Reference).

    Running Backs

    49ers RB Tevin Coleman (dislocated shoulder) wasn't able to practice last week, but Shanahan hasn't ruled out the RB just yet. Either way, Coleman figures to be functioning at less than 100% come Sunday, meaning Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida could be relied on more than ever. Jeff Wilson could be active if Coleman is ultimately unable to suit up.

    Be sure to monitor our Super Bowl Injury Dashboard for daily practice participation along with estimated and official game statuses for every injured player.

    And then we have the Chiefs, who have allowed Damien Williams to simply dominate usage in recent weeks. Overall, Williams (120 snaps) has easily out snapped both Darwin Thompson (12) and LeSean McCoy (1).

    We can calculate where the 49ers’ and Chiefs’ offensive lines hold the best advantages against their opponent’s defensive line with help from the fine folks at Football Outsiders — specifically, their adjusted line yards per rush metric, which takes all RB carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on an opponent-adjusted set of variables.

    • Combined Directional Adjusted Line Yards per Rush: The sum of an offensive line’s adjusted line yards per rush to a certain area of the line and the opposing defense’s adjusted line yards allowed per rush to the same area. A higher number (green) is good for RBs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble running the ball.
    SB AJDLY

    • Much like these passing games, every RB on either offense benefits mightily from consistently well-designed plays. Both the 49ers (No. 6) and Chiefs (No. 7) were among the league's best offenses in yards before contact per rush.
    • Only the Ravens (56% run-play rate) were more reliant on the ground game than the 49ers (49%) during the regular season. They're set up brilliantly against a Chiefs Defense that allowed the fourth-most yards per carry and ranked 28th in adjusted line yards allowed per rush.
    • Still, most of the league's better defenses were stronger against the pass than the run. This holds true for the 49ers (No. 2 in DVOA vs. the pass, No. 11 vs. the run) as well as the Chiefs (No. 6 and No. 29).
    • Defenses that are 'better' against the pass than the run tend to also be superior overall units compared to the opposite. The correlation between a defense's pass DVOA rank with overall DVOA rank (+0.88) and yards per play rank (+0.73) is much stronger than their run rank (+0.62 and +0.65).
    • The 49ers rank 10th in adjusted line yards over both right tackle and right end; the Chiefs Defense ranks 32nd and 27th against those respective runs. Still, adding Terrell Suggs to the front-seven has been a godsend for this rush defense. The likes of David Montgomery (13-57-0), Melvin Gordon (14-46-1), Carlos Hyde (13-44-0) and Derrick Henry (19-69-1) have each largely been shut down over the Chiefs' last four games.
    • Coach Kyle Shanahan has enabled each of the team's backs to explosive seasons thanks to his RB-friendly scheme. PFF's Breakaway % metric denotes which runners earn the highest (and lowest) percentage of their yardage on big plays. Among 60 RBs: Matt Breida (No. 2), Raheem Mostert (No. 8) and Tevin Coleman (No. 11) each rank highly.
    • The question is who will be featured this Sunday. It's been a bit of a hot-hand approach all season, with Mostert (82% snaps) most recently playing a near every-down role on his way to racking up 226 total yards and four TDs in the NFC Championship. Things were a bit more split up when Coleman was out in Weeks 2-3, as Mostert (56 snaps) just narrowly out played Breida (53).
    • Look for Mostert to work as the offense's clear-cut RB1. Still, Breida is too good to be fully relegated to the bench. Expect the 49ers to give their talented backup RB at least a touch or two in order to give Mostert a breather.
    • The 49ers allowed at least 100 rushing yards in 12-of-16 regular season games, but have since won consecutive battles against Dalvin Cook (9-18-0) and Aaron Jones (12-56-1). Part of the success is undoubtedly due to the defense getting healthier, as difference-makers like S Jaquiski Tartt, LB Kwon Alexander and DE Dee Ford have all been back in action and playing at a high level in recent weeks.
    • The only real weakness of this 49ers defense is tackling ability, as they ranked just 21st in missed tackle rate during the regular season.  Meanwhile, this was largely the strength of the Chiefs (No. 7).
    • Damien Williams will need to expose this potential issue if the Chiefs want to #EstablishTheRun with any sort of success. The good news is Williams certainly seems qualified to get the job done; he posted the fourth-best Elusive Rating among 61 qualified RBs this season (PFF).
    • It wouldn't be surprising to see most of Kansas City's success come behind stud RT Mitchell Schwartz. Overall, he's ranked No. 7 and No. 8 in run blocking among all full-time tackles over the past two seasons (PFF).

    Continue to the next page for information on the Super Bowl's WRs and TEs.

    Ian Hartitz

    All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.