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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Key questions for Super Bowl LIV

Travis Kelce Chiefs

Super Bowl LIV provides us with an intriguing tactical battle between an elite Kansas City Chiefs offense and a standout San Francisco 49ers defense. That tactical battle will unfold on the field in Miami in a week, but much will be said and written about it beforehand. That’s because this is actually a very good Super Bowl matchup that presents us with a lot of intriguing storylines worth watching.

What are the keys to the game? Here are five big questions to be answered in Super Bowl LIV.

1. Can the Chiefs repeat their shutdown performance against a top running back?

The Chiefs’ run defense left a lot to be desired for the bulk of the season, but has really come on of late. That’s essentially been the difference since the team’s 6-4 start. Shutting down Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship got the Chiefs to the promised land, and now they’ll have to do an even better job against Raheem Mostert. Mostert ran for 220 yards against Green Bay, and would normally be licking his lips against the Kansas City run defense. That’s a unit that has developed a real attitude recently, so this matchup may not be as lopsided as it once looked.

2. Will Kansas City be able to keep from falling behind this time?

The Chiefs have come from behind in both their playoff games — dramatically against Houston and less so against Tennessee. That’s not really something they can afford to do against San Francisco. The 49ers are comfortably the best team the Chiefs have faced in the playoffs, and they would be well-equipped to give the Chiefs trouble if San Francisco could get out ahead. That would likely mean a lot of Mostert and an even stiffer test for that run defense. An early lead would put the ball in the hands of Jimmy Garoppolo, which the Chiefs would probably love. Who starts strongly in this game might matter a lot.

3. What will the Niners’ answer to Travis Kelce be defensively?

The 49ers face the same problem most teams do against Kelce: he’s far too good to ignore, but incredibly hard to gameplan against. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will have his work cut out with this one. Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner are both capable in coverage and could play a big role. Kelce is a matchup nightmare, much like San Francisco’s tight end, George Kittle. Perhaps the knowledge of how Kittle operates will help the Niners’ defensive gameplan, but there is no easy answer for a guy like Kelce, and that could define the game.

4. How will San Francisco gameplan against the dual threat of Patrick Mahomes?

The Titans found out the hard way that Mahomes can make even good defenses look downright foolish. The 49ers and their talented defense figure to give him problems, especially sending the dominant Nick Bosa and ex-Chief Dee Ford his way. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen. Mahomes is talented and can slip out of tackles that other quarterbacks can’t and find new ways to punish defenses. He’ll be the biggest problem the 49ers have dealt with in their entire playoff run. Yes, they largely contained Lamar Jackson, but Mahomes is a better passer than Jackson and should be able to cause even bigger problems.

5. Can Kansas City unsettle San Francisco’s dominant secondary?

Throwing Richard Sherman’s way is generally inadvisable, so the Chiefs will likely be looking for other ways to move the ball downfield in the passing game. Part of that may be using the team’s all-world speed to their advantage. The Chiefs run a creative offense with a lot of underneath routes that gets the ball to their receivers quickly and lets them run, which the likes of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman are very adept at. That would neutralize the secondary to a degree if Kansas City can get it to work consistently, and prevent them from having to throw directly at some of San Francisco’s talented secondary.

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