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49ers Offense vs. Chiefs Defense Is The Important Matchup That No One Is Talking About

San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert | Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

Of all the attractive draws to Super Bowl LIV since the matchup was set, two stand out. One is that both teams are wearing red and white. (Okay, that one's kinda minor in the grand scheme of things, but still...)

The other is the clash between the top-five ranked offense of the Kansas City Chiefs and the top-five ranked defense of the San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs, riding the arm of Patrick Mahomes and their stellar receiver corps, are ranked fifth in the league in points scored, and only one team during the regular season scored on a higher percentage of drives. Meanwhile, the 49ers gave up fewer yards than anyone in the league except for New England.

But those two sides of the ball will only face off for half of the game. The battle between the unheralded units of each team - the Chiefs' defense and the 49ers' offense - will make the difference.

In the past two weeks, the 49ers' "running back-by-committee system" has run over both the Vikings and Packers for 186 and 285 rushing yards, respectively. With three talented running backs at their disposal -- Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida -- the 49ers can cover yardage without stopping to catch their breath or relying to heavily on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

At first glance, the 49ers' run-first offense matches up well against the Chiefs' run defense, which finished the season ranked 25th in yards allowed. However, history can be deceiving. Even though the pillar of their defensive line, Chris Jones, played through a calf injury, the Chiefs found a way to contain the NFL's leading rusher, Derrick Henry, in last week's AFC Championship Game against the Titans, holding him to 69 yards on 19 carries.

The Chiefs' opening two playoff games exposed some red flags in the Chiefs' defense. Two weeks in a row, they forced their offense to engineer comebacks from first-quarter double-digit deficits, as the secondary left receivers wide open for huge catches. In both games, however, after Kansas City's offense took control, their defense followed suit and clamped down, allowing only one touchdown in the second half of each game.

If they commit more early slip-ups against the 49ers, however, they may not be so lucky.

Houston and Tennessee had bottom-tier defenses that could hardly keep up with the pace of Mahomes' attack. Meanwhile, the 49ers' defense easily smothered Aaron Rodgers and the Packers twice this season and have proven more than capable of silencing an offense of the Chiefs' caliber. If the Kansas City defense doesn't pull their weight and falters early as they have in the previous two games, this Super Bowl might be over before it starts.