NFL

Super Bowl 2020: Previewing 49ers-Chiefs using Stats Perform's advanced data

By Sports Desk February 01, 2020

This Sunday the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs will hope their gameplans can deliver the Super Bowl LIV title in Miami.

Though the Niners are viewed as the team with the vaunted defense, and the Chiefs the explosive offense, the reality is San Francisco scored more points per game during the regular season (29.9 to 28.2) while Kansas City allowed fewer (19.3 to 19.4).

To preview Super Bowl LIV, we used Stats Perform's advanced analytics and data analysis to profile the area where the game is likely to be won and lost - in the trenches.

 

SAN FRANCISCO'S FRONT FOUR v KANSAS CITY'S OFFENSIVE LINE

The Chiefs have aired the ball out on offense over the past two postseasons, and Patrick Mahomes' career playoff passer rating is 115.00 - the highest of all time among quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts.

He might be slowed down if the Niners' front four can continue their excellent pass-rushing production across the regular season and playoffs, though.

According to Stats Perform's metric for adjusted pressure on pass-rush opportunities, rookie Nick Bosa has generated pressure 26.6 per cent of time this season - way higher than his expected pressure rate of 13.1 per cent.

Former Chief Dee Ford, used almost exclusively as a situational pass rusher, also performs well (26.1 per cent compared to an expected pressure rate of 12.4 per cent), while both DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead (19.8 per cent and 18.8 per cent) also way exceeded their expected pressure rate (10.8 and 11.5 per cent).

Mahomes' two tackles will therefore be key, and while one has excelled, the other has struggled.

Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has allowed pressures on only 6.23 per cent of his 369 pass-protection opportunities, having been expected to give up pressure on 10.74 per cent of those snaps.

Schwartz has performed way better than the Niners' two bookends Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey in the allowed pressures category (10.08 per cent and 10.73 per cent).

However, where Bosa et al may have more joy is against former first-overall pick Eric Fisher. The left tackle, who only played half of the regular-season games due to injury, allowed pressure on 17.50 per cent of his 160 pass-protection opportunities - considerably higher than any offensive lineman playing on Sunday.

Look for 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to attack the weakness on that Chiefs line - Mahomes' blindside.

 

SAN FRANCISCO'S RUSHING ATTACK V KANSAS CITY'S RUN STUFFERS

This postseason the 49ers have 44.5 rushing attempts per game - the most of any team in a single postseason since 1976. The Niners clearly want to run the ball. A lot.

The men tasked with clogging up gaps and making that a less-than-appealing strategy are Kansas City's defensive tackles Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Mike Pennel.

When it comes to Stats Perform's run-disruptions metric - which measures how often a player disrupts a designed run play - Jones and Pennel excel.

From his 184 run snaps, Jones has produced disruptions 27.2 per cent of the time, considerably more than his expected disruption rate of 15.3 per cent.

Pennel, who has proven to be a nice pickup since joining in October, produced disruptions on 27.3 per cent of his 55 run snaps, with Nnadi at 19.8 per cent.

When it comes to the 49ers' rushing attack, San Francisco tend to ride the hot hand. Matt Breida led the team in yardage on the ground in September, Tevin Coleman had that honour in October and November, and Raheem Mostert has been the most productive back in December and the postseason.

Mostert has had 194 touches of the ball in the regular season and playoffs - more than any other skill-position player involved at Super Bowl LIV.

He has forced missed tackles on 24.2 per cent of those touches, the second best among running backs in the NFL.

Should he be asked to carry the load in Miami, he may be advised to run away from Jones and Pennel.

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    Liverpool may need to make a January move for a centre-back after Virgil van Dijk's serious knee injury. 

    The Premier League champions were dealt a huge blow with Van Dijk set to miss most - if not the remainder - of the season after a tackle from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby draw against Everton. 

    Liverpool have been left with just two senior centre-backs – Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – with Van Dijk's injury, although defensive midfielder Fabinho can also provide cover. 

    Unsurprisingly, there have been transfer rumours in the aftermath, with the Reds linked with RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano and Brighton and Hove Albion centre-back Ben White. 

    Having joined Leipzig from Salzburg for a reported €10million in 2017, Upamecano re-signed earlier this year, but he apparently has a €42m release clause in his contract – although that can only be triggered at season's end. 

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    Upamecano, 21, helped RB Leipzig finish third in the Bundesliga and reach the Champions League semi-finals last season.

    The France international's tackling numbers were particularly impressive when compared to Liverpool defenders Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip.

    In the Bundesliga last season, Upamecano had 1.95 tackles per 90 minutes – with Matip (1.66 per 90 in just nine Premier League games) the closest of Liverpool's trio. However, only Van Dijk (52.2) had a worse tackle success rate than Upamecano (58.8), with Gomez and Matip both above 69.

    In the Champions League, Upamecano had 3.4 tackles per 90 minutes , well above Van Dijk (1.08) and Gomez (1.59), and also at a better rate (56) than the Liverpool trio. Matip, often injured in 2019-20, played just 90 minutes in total in Europe's top club competition last season.

    Ready to do battle

    Upamecano contested the most duels (87) of the four in the Champions League, and went at a success rate of 71.26, similar to Van Dijk (70 duels and 74.29 success rate), while he also had a comparable number of headed clearances per 90 minutes (2.04 to Van Dijk's 2.28) and interceptions (1.63 to 1.08). Gomez had 2.64 interceptions per 90 minutes in the Champions League last season.

    Van Dijk's absence will also hurt Liverpool aerially, with the Dutchman an imposing figure in Jurgen Klopp's back four.

    Upamecano, who stands at 186cm, was between Van Dijk and Gomez when it came to aerial duels last season. He won 18 of 27 aerials in the 2019-20 Champions League, a rate worse than Van Dijk (33 of 47) but better than Gomez (24 of 41).

    It was a similar story in the respective leagues, although he contested fewer than Liverpool defenders. An area Upamecano fell short in, at least domestically, was in being dribbled past by an opponent, which happened 20 times in 28 Bundesliga games, a figure ranking him below both Van Dijk (seven times in 38) and Gomez (11 in 28), but ahead of Matip (seven in nine). 

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    A problem set to be exacerbated by Alisson's injury absence, Van Dijk's passing ability in defence is also important to how Liverpool function.

    In this area, Upamecano may offer the Reds the most. In the Champions League last season, his passing accuracy in the opposition half was 83.1 – higher than the Liverpool trio, including Van Dijk (82.7). When it came to passing accuracy ending in the final third, Upamecano again topped the list (74.1), ahead of Gomez (71.6), and that included averaging 11.7 passes into the final third per 90 minutes.

    In domestic action, Upamecano also topped the list in these categories, and his passing accuracy in the opposition half to begin this Bundesliga season is 84.7, while Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip have all dropped off from last season in this area.

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    "Every player who plays in this league, and it's no different on our football team, if you don't take care of the football it obviously affects your opportunities," McCarthy said in his post-game media conference.

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