by John Unrein
Miami, here we come. Fifty years of being displaced from professional football’s top game is over for the Kansas City Chiefs. Super Bowl LIV (54) will be played at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on February 2nd at 5:30pm.
The last time the Chiefs were in the Super Bowl was on January 11th, 1970 during the fourth installment of the game named by Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt. Kansas City would defeat the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 23-7 to be world champions. Chiefs head coach Hank Stram’s offense was able to successfully matriculate the ball down the field under the guidance of “Lenny the Cool”, otherwise known as Len Dawson.
Fast forward to 2020, and the Chiefs have their work cut out for them against the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. They are led by head coach Kyle Shanahan.
You are not alone if the last name Shanahan rings a bell. Kyle is the son of former Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. The elder Shanahan has two Super Bowl rings on his hand from consecutive victories in Super Bowl’s XXXII and XXXIII (32 and 33).
Mike Shanahan has passed more on to his son Kyle than just being a winner. Kyle has learned from his father and mastered the art of the zone running scheme.
Anyone who watched the NFC Championship game witnessed the San Francisco 49ers shred the Green Bay Packers front seven on defense with inside and outside zone runs. Shanahan’s team got off the ball up front with purpose as his offensive line shredded the Packers defensive line and got to the second level against Green Bay’s linebackers with ease.
The 49ers would amass 285 rushing yards on 42 carries, leading to a robust 6.8 yards per carry average on their way to a 37-20 win over the Packers. San Francisco’s rushing performance was not far off their season average of 235.5 yards a game. Good for best in the NFL during the 2019 season.
The Chiefs, under the leadership of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, will likely be working on bringing an eighth man into the box during game preparation in the form of strong safety Tryann Mathieu to solidify themselves against the run. This worked against the Tennessee Titans during the AFC Championship game as the Chiefs defense held Derrick Henry, the 2019 NFL season rushing champion, to just 69 yards.
San Francisco has countered against loaded eight man boxes by passing the ball in space to rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel and All-Pro tight end George Kittle. The chess game of the Chiefs implementing their defensive game plan and making adjustments as the game unfolds would be aided by Patrick Mahomes and the offense scoring an abundance of points.
Mahomes shared his thoughts after the AFC Championship game on the Chiefs making the Super Bowl and what it will take to win.
“Being able to win the Lamar Hunt AFC Championship Trophy here and do it for the fans of Chiefs Kingdom was awesome. Last year we fell short and we learned from it and have built every single day. Now we have the chance to go Miami and get the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl,” Mahomes said.
“If teams are going to put their attention on Tyreek (Hill) or (Travis) Kelce, we have a guy in Sammy Watkins (at wide receiver) that can beat your best corner. It’s huge to have Coach Reid. Being in the game and knowing that there’s going to be adjustments made matters because we have coaches who have been there before.”
Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid will be leading a team in the Super Bowl for the second time in his career. The last time Reid was at the summit of his sport was the 2004 season, when he took the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX (39), losing to the New England Patriots 24-21.
Reid has since adopted and implemented vast characteristics of the spread offense that make his team a matchup nightmare. The Chiefs were third in total offense and second in passing yards per game during the 2019 regular season. Kansas City averaged 419 yards a game on offense while heaving the football through the air for a 304 yard per game average.
Reid has indicated that the team will treat the week of January 20th as a full 49ers prep week and is looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.
“We know that San Francisco is a heck of a football team. With all the distractions that present themselves (with the Super Bowl), we have to focus in and get ready to play against a good football team. That starts here with getting most of the game plan in this week (the first of the two weeks leading up the Super Bowl) while you’re in your own environment and keep things as normal as possible prior to getting down there (Miami) and all the different media obligations you have and things going on,” Reid said.
“Patrick’s legs help. They (defenses) have the ultimate respect for him. We are seeing one or two of our guys doubled as receivers on every down. If the defensive line misses or gets out of their lane a bit, then it opens up running space for number 15. I have confidence that our guys up front on the offensive line will rise up to the challenge this week with the quality of players they will be facing along San Francisco’s defensive front.”
The defensive line of the 49ers boasts five former first round draft picks. They are loaded with talent. The group includes former Chief Dee Ford, along with Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Solomon Thomas.
The quintet has afforded San Francisco to have the number one overall defense in yards per game allowed this season in the NFL at 252.5. Furthermore, they have been stout against the run only allowing a paltry 41.5 yards a game, good for best in the league this season as well.
The offensive arsenal that will attack the 49ers defense for the Chiefs is full of draft picks and acquisitions from the team’s former general manager. The same goes for the defensive side of the football.
Somewhere, John Dorsey is smiling. The list of current players that become Chiefs under Dorsey’s watch as general manager is impressive.
Starters Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz, Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Tanoh Kpassagnon, and Chris Jones round out the list. Dorsey definitely has an eye for the type of talent it takes to play in the National Football League. Hiring Brett Veach to work in the Chiefs front office also was not a bad move by Dorsey.
Veach has added to Dorsey’s shrewd roster moves as the current general manager of the team. Trading for Frank Clark along with the free agent signings of Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, and Tyrann Mathieu have fueled a quick turnaround for a team that has transitioned to a 4-3 defensive scheme this season under Spagnuolo.
The Chiefs have shored up what use to be an Achilles Heel. Kansas City was ranked third in the league in rushing defense this season at 89.5 yards a game. Such seamless transitions are rare in the National Football League and typically take longer than one season; especially with the memory of Rex Burkhead of the New England Patriots running the ball across the goal line last year in overtime to end the Chiefs season in the AFC Championship game.
The United States has seen nine Presidents since the last time the Chiefs appeared in a Super Bowl. Cell phones, Homeland Security, DVD’s, space shuttles, iPads, ATM’s, and American Idol have become a part of the American fabric since 1970. Kansas City will be the home team in this year’s Super Bowl and will get to dawn the same red jerseys they wore in Super Bowl IV (4). Las Vegas has pegged the Chiefs as 1.5 point favorites in the game. The team has an awesome opportunity to bring the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy back to Kansas City.
Photo credit: Lee’s Summit Tribune | Joey Hedges, photographer.
The Kansas City Chiefs have come a long way since their training camp preparation on the campus of Missouri Western University.
Photo credit: Valley News staff