LAS VEGAS (news agencies) — The Chiefs go as far as Patrick Mahomes takes them. The 49ers have Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and a star-studded group surrounding Brock Purdy.
This Super Bowl will come down to the other side of the ball.
Defense wins the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday.
Kansas City is seeking to become the NFL’s first repeat champion in 19 years. San Francisco is aiming for a record-tying sixth Super Bowl title.
Mahomes, Travis Kelce and coach Andy Reid get most of the attention on the Chiefs (14-6), but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit deserves plenty of credit for carrying the team during various points of the season when the offense was inconsistent and out of sync.
All-Pros Chris Jones and Trent McDuffie along with George Karlaftis, L’Jarius Sneed and others stepped up, giving the Chiefs their best defense of Mahomes’ era.
They’ll need to do it for one more game against a versatile, dynamic offense.
The 49ers (14-5) also have a formidable defense led by Nick Bosa, All-Pro Fred Warner, Javon Hargrave and Charvarius Ward. They’ve struggled in the postseason, especially making third-down stops.
They have to be better against Mahomes and the Chiefs to have a shot to win.
The 49ers had the league’s third-ranked rushing attack behind McCaffrey and fourth-ranked passing offense behind Purdy. The Chiefs gave up the second-fewest points (17.3), were fourth against the pass and 18th against the run.
McCaffrey, tight end Kittle, left tackle Trent Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk were All-Pros. Brandon Aiyuk was a second-team All-Pro. Samuel is a versatile, do-everything player.
The 49ers have plenty of weapons, and coach Kyle Shanahan is known for finding innovative ways to use them and keep defenses off balance. He’s facing a master tactician in Spagnuolo.
It’ll be a chess match.
Spagnuolo has a penchant for blitzing. Purdy excelled against it.
The 49ers have to block Jones, who can be a game-wrecker. McDuffie is a shutdown slot cornerback and Sneed allowed only one receiver all season to have more than 50 yards receiving in a game so Purdy has a tough task.
He led the NFL with a 113.0 passer rating on 4,280 yards, 31 TDs, 11 picks and a 69.4% completion rate. McCaffrey led the NFL with 1,459 yards rushing and had 14 rushing TDs for San Francisco. He also had 564 yards receiving for seven scores.
Kittle had 65 catches for 1,020 yards and six TDs. Aiyuk led the way with 75 receptions for 1,342 yards and seven scores. Samuel had 1,117 yards from scrimmage.
A wild card for San Francisco’s offense is Purdy’s surprising mobility. His scrambling was a major factor as he led comeback wins against the Lions and Packers in the playoffs.
The Chiefs shut down two-time MVP Lamar Jackson, the best running QB in the NFL, so they’ll be ready for Purdy.
The Chiefs had the league’s sixth-ranked passing offense behind Mahomes and 19th-ranked rushing attack. The 49ers were 14th against the pass and third against the run, but they have allowed 13 of 25 third-down conversions in the playoffs.