(KPIX)- With a little under two weeks before we see the San Francisco 49ers on the field again, there will be plenty of analysis breaking down the matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. The biggest question facing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, however, is already well known. How does one stop a K.C. offense that has put up 86 points through two playoff games and scored on 13 of 20 postseason possessions not including end-of-game kneel-downs?
The Chiefs, thanks to their drafting and free-agent signings in recent years, have a slew of play-makers who can erupt at any given time. Wide receivers Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins and DeMarcus Robinson all had big days at various points this season. Tight end Travis Kelce, a wrecking ball in the middle of the field, is arguably the best tight end in the league (though George Kittle may have something to say about that). Then, of course, there is the conundrum of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who, despite lower numbers than during last year’s MVP romp through the league, produces multiple ‘wow’ moments every game. According to Inside The NFL analyst and former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the biggest key for the Niners to slow down the Chiefs is to keep Mahomes rooted in the pocket.READ MORE: Passenger Killed In Crash On Highway 680 In Milpitas; Driver Arrested For DUI
“When a play breaks down, he still finds a way. It’s unbelievable, the vision when this guy gets outside the pocket, he’s able to buy time and find the open man. He can throw it from any different way,” said Marshall. “You have to stop this guy, you have to keep him in the pocket. It sounds weird, because he’s a pocket-passer. But you have to keep him in the pocket, because if he gets outside of the pocket, big plays happen.”
Both the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans learned that lesson the hard way in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The 49ers do seem equipped for the task of keeping Mahomes in the pocket, as athletic defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford patrol either side of the line of scrimmage. But, rush-lane discipline will come into play. If any of the pass rushers get too far upfield, that is when Mahomes is most likely to scramble outside and strike. If the Niners are able to force the Chiefs into situations where they need to consistently convert on third down, there may be an opportunity to slow K.C. But, even then, there is a big question to answer as Marshall explains.READ MORE: Optimism Soaring In San Francisco Bay Area As COVID Pandemic Woes And Worries Ease
“Another thing that we’re not even talking about is Kelce. This guy goes out there, he doesn’t even have a route. When it’s third-and-short or fourth-and-short, the game is on the line, he literally lines up in the slot and just runs to get open,” said Marshall. “Their chemistry is unbelievable. When the game is on the line, you best believe he’s going to Kelce.”
Kelce had 65 receiving first downs this season (though not all of them came on third downs), but he has proven particularly adept at finding the soft spot in third-down coverage and presenting Mahomes with a big target. As the Niners gear up for their first Super Bowl appearance since 2012, the solutions that Robert Saleh and company come up with for these questions will go a long way in determining the outcome.MORE NEWS: 'This Is Not Just Any Usual Recovery': Economist Explains Rash Of Price Hikes, Product Shortages
You can catch Brandon Marshall along with Phil Simms, Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin, and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.