Yardbarker's Michael Nania analyzes the biggest positional mismatches during the NFL playoffs.
DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average): A method of evaluating teams, units or players in a comparative fashion. It takes every play during the NFL season and compares each to a league-average baseline based on situation.
EPA (Estimated Points Added): The measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. It represents the difference between a team's "expected points value" (the net point value a team can expect given a particular combination of down, distance and field position) before and after a play.
49ers RBs & TE George Kittle vs. Chiefs LB Damien Wilson
Why Niners have the edge: San Francisco runs much of its passing game through backs and tight ends. In the regular season, 1,816 of San Francisco's 4,029 receiving yards (45.1 percent) and 164 out of its 331 receptions (49.5 percent) came from non-wide receivers.
The 49ers have every reason to distribute targets this way, as the non-wide receivers are highly efficient catching the football. Among the 62 backs with at least 20 targets, two 49ers ranked in the top six of yards per target — Kyle Juszczyk (1st, 10.0) and Raheem Mostert (6th, 8.2). Tevin Coleman also ranked in the top half, placing 26th (6.0). At tight end, Kittle is unstoppable, leading the position with an average of 3.1 yards per route run in the regular season.
Why Wilson will struggle: In his first season with the Chiefs after four seasons with Dallas, he struggled in coverage. Wilson ranked 81st out of 87 qualified linebackers in the regular season with an average of 1.49 yards allowed per cover snap. He particularly struggled covering speedy RBs, giving up a large portion of Kansas City's league-leading 951 receiving yards to running backs. Houston's Duke Johnson and Minnesota's Ameer Abdullah victimized Wilson for receiving scores.
How Niners do it: Juszczyk is San Francisco's unsung hero. Few teams even have a fullback on their roster, and the ones that do don't have one with Juszczyk's ability. In addition to his elite blocking skills, he has great versatility as a pass-catcher. He can handle screens, flats, short curls and even deep routes out of the slot, as seen on the following play. Shanahan frequently unleashes Juszczyk and the rest of the backfield for chain-moving plays. On this play, Juszczyk lines up slot right and releases deep down the field, going uncovered as Jimmy Garoppolo finds him for a 49-yard gain.
Chiefs DT Chris Jones vs. 49ers RG Mike Person
Why Jones has the edge: The Chiefs' defense sorely missed him when he sat because of injuries for four games this season. With Jones sidelined, Kansas City yielded 24.8 points per game and averaged a defensive EPA (estimated points added) of -6.1 (similar in quality to the 21st-ranked Seahawks defense). With a healthy Jones, the Chiefs have allowed a mere 18.2 points per game and posted an average defensive EPA of -1.6 (similar to the 11th-ranked Eagles defense).
Jones is one of the more destructive interior pass rushers in the NFL. In the regular season, he ranked second among defensive tackles in pressures per game (4.5), trailing only the Rams' Aaron Donald (5.0). He was particularly dominant rushing from the left side of the defense, where he created pressure on 17.2 percent of rushes, best among the 74 defensive tackles with at least 100 rush attempts from the left side.
Why Person will struggle: He was shaky in pass protection this season, ranking 52nd in pass-blocking efficiency (per-snap pressure rate with greater weight to sacks) out 62 qualified guards. He gave up 33 pressures over 468 snaps in protection. Person will get plenty of reps against Jones on the side of the line of scrimmage -- potentially a nightmare-inducing mismatch for Kyle Shanahan.
How Jones does it: He returned on a pitch-count against the Titans in the AFC Championship Game, playing a season-low 25 snaps, but he still made his presence felt. Jones totaled five pressures over just 21 pass-rush opportunities, tying his season best with a 23.8 percent pressure rate. Watch here as Jones (three-technique lined up over right guard's outside shoulder) blows by Nate Davis (#64) to force Ryan Tannehill into a crucial 3rd & 6 throwaway in the red zone.
49ers LT Joe Staley vs. Chiefs EDGE Tanoh Kpassagnon
Why Staley has the edge: When healthy, the 35-year old lineman has been as stout as ever in his 13th NFL season. In the regular season, Staley missed six games with a broken fibula, returned for a game, and then missed another three games with a fractured finger. Those injuries have not slowed him. This season, Staley ranked fifth in pass-blocking efficiency of 83 qualified tackles. He gave up just seven pressures (including two sacks) over 239 protection snaps, a pressure rate of 2.9 percent that ranked third best at the position.
San Francisco has not required its offensive line to do much pass-blocking in the playoffs, but Staley has been perfect over the team's postseason run, yielding no pressures over 33 protection snaps. He has also done a nice job steering clear of penalties, committing only two over 555 total snaps this season. He has gone five consecutive games without a penalty.
Why Kpassagnon will struggle: He is a core component of Kansas City's pass rush, leading the team with 535 rushing snaps over the regular season and playoffs. But he has not done much with all the opportunities. In the regular season, Kpassagnon ranked 111th of 124 qualified edge defenders in pass-rush productivity (per-snap pressure rate with greater weight to sacks). Missed tackles were another problem, as Kpassagnon missed on 21.4 percent of tackle opportunities (six missed versus 22 made), which ranked 83rd at his position. He has missed a tackle in four consecutive games entering the Super Bowl.
On the plus side, Kpassagnon has turned it up a notch in the playoffs, collecting four pressures in each of the Chiefs' two victories. Against Tennessee, Kpassagnon recorded two sacks. Kpassagnon has rushed from the right side of the defense 72.4 percent of the time in the playoffs, so he will likely engage in at least a few battles against Staley.
How Staley does it: He still has exceptional strength and athleticism at this stage of his career. Here, he gets a great jump off the ball and absorbs the bull rush attempt of Seattle end Jadeveon Clowney, sending him upfield. That clears a throwing lane for Garoppolo that is wide enough to drive a truck through. It is an incredible display of power by Staley, completely foiling the rush of an elite player with a full head of steam.
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