Let’s get right to the point: What’s the most important thing for each team going into Super Bowl LVIII?
Chiefs: Catch the ball!
As a preface, let’s talk about Brock Purdy a bit (and this is Chiefs-related).
Perhaps the biggest reason the 49ers are in this game is that Brock Purdy delivered four interceptable passes that the Lions got their hands (or faces) on, but they only converted one into a turnover.
Purdy has been a revelation for the 49ers, but he has lived a charmed life, for sure. Ignoring the embarrassment of riches available to him at the skill positions, he has delivered quite a few turnover-worthy throws that have fallen for (relatively) harmless incompletions.
Of the top 10 quarterbacks in EPA per pass attempt this year (minimum 300 attempts including playoffs), he’s the only one to have more than 4 percent interceptable throws—and he’s at 5 percent. Purdy has also been intercepted less than half those times, which puts him among the more fortunate passers in this regard.
Let’s compare with a noted gunslinger, Josh Allen.
Turnover-worthy throws in 2023
|Turnover Worthy %
Our own Bryce Rossler has driven this home on our podcast multiple times over the last month: as a defense facing the 49ers, Brock Purdy is going to throw you the ball. You just need to catch it.
Unsurprisingly, the hands thing matters for the offense as well. The Lions pass catchers dropped multiple late-down attempts themselves, not wanting their defense to have all the fun.
The Chiefs are as likely as any team to have hands issues. Only the Browns dropped more passes during the regular season, and Chiefs pass catchers were in the bottom ten in On-Target Catch Rate, wasting some good throws by Patrick Mahomes. The group has been better overall as the season has gone on, but they still have dropped multiple passes in four of the last seven games, and they don’t have as much margin for error as an offense as they did a few years ago.
49ers: Run with your advantage in the run game
If the Lions showed the blueprint for how not to beat the 49ers, the Ravens might have shown how not to beat the Chiefs.
Kansas City was in the bottom group of teams in both EPA and Success Rate allowed against the run through 20 weeks, and despite having a 50% success rate on eight designed runs in the first half, Baltimore called just 3 in the second half in a winnable game.
So here come the 49ers, who rank in the top 2 in both EPA and Success Rate on designed runs. Their reliability as an offense as a whole hinges on their ability to make hay on the ground, in part because of that note above about Brock Purdy’s penchant for pickable passes.
|Success Rate (Rank)
They have the most consistent running back in the league in Christian McCaffrey, who had some workload concerns in Carolina but combined top-of-the-league efficiency with top-of-the-league volume in his first full year in San Francisco.
If this team gets away from the run in this spot, something has gone horribly wrong.
And if we like building narratives about establishing the run and using play action alongside it, the Chiefs offer a real opportunity. They saw as much play action on defense as anyone and ranked in the middle of the pack in EPA per play allowed, while they ranked as the best defense in the NFL on other pass attempts.
San Francisco (somewhat surprisingly) doesn’t rely on play fakes much, but whether the 49ers actually hand it off or not it makes sense for them to show run quite a bit in this matchup.