Robert Saleh’s defensive unit has been outstanding in consecutive playoff victories over the Vikings and Packers, but Saleh knows the Chiefs offer a totally different threat.
When the 49ers play Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Feb. 2, they’ll face an offense with tremendous team speed.
One mistake on defense – one missed coverage, one slip, one broken tackle or one wrong pursuit angle taken – will enable a huge Kansas City play and a score.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is one of the NFL’s best deep-ball passers, and wide receivers such as Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman can simply outrun one-on-one coverage. As Jon Becker of the Bay Area News Group noted this week, those top three Chiefs wideouts have been clocked at running 21.3 mph (or better) on pass routes this season, the only trio in the league to break that barrier. Hill ranks as the league’s consistently fastest wideout with 59 plays running at least 20 mph.
Becker has labeled the Chiefs offense, "The Legion of Zoom."
Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz says team speed gives Kansas City an edge going into any game.
"It’s hard to stop," Schwartz recently told a reporter. "We’ve got the best quarterback in the world, the fastest NFL player in the world and a couple other guys who are right there behind him."
As Saleh prepares his players for the Super Bowl, he pointed to the Chiefs and compared them to an Olympic relay team.
"They’re the fastest team by far," said Saleh. "To try to compare it to another team would not do them justice, to be honest with you. But, anytime you have speed like that, it naturally will stress the defense."
Mahomes threw for 26 touchdowns this season with just five interceptions. He’s also hard to sack, with an ability to roll away from pressure or run for a first down. He went down just 17 times this season.
While Kansas City’s best pass catcher, tight end Travis Kelce – 97 catches, 1,229 yards, five TDs – is not an Olympic sprinter, Hill, Watkins and Hardman could be track standouts. Hill is No. 2 in receiving for K.C. with 58 catches for 860 yards and seven TDs. Watkins (52, 673, three TDs) and Hardman (26, 538, six TDs) are the ones who will stretch the 49ers’ secondary.
Hill is in a league of his own. He has a best of 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash – one of the best ever recorded by an NFL player – and has had multiple touchdown plays that have stretched 50, 60 and 70 yards, as well as a 91-yard punt return.
One of the best ways to combat the Chiefs speed is for the 49ers pass rush to put enough pressure on Mahomes to keep him from throwing long.
"We just need to be on our Ps and Qs and also just contain the speed they have at receiver," San Francisco defensive lineman DeForest Buckner told the NFL Network. "Obviously they have a lot of weapons on the outside and at running back. We have to do a really good overall job of containing their speed."
Kickoff for the Super Bowl is set for 3:30 p.m. (Bay Area time).