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Gridiron Chess Masters

Mill Woods

Posted on January 30, 2020 00:48

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We’ve heard all the player comparisons: Mahomes vs. Garoppolo. Kelce vs. Kittle. Clark vs. Bosa. Hill vs. Sanders. But the most important matchup Sunday may be Reid vs. Shanahan. The Super Bowl may look like a war at times, but it will be a fast-paced, hard-hitting chess match.

All season long, Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan stumped opposing coaches. The 49ers tended to jump out ahead of opponents and then keep their foot on the gas. The Chiefs played several games where they started slow, but in the second quarter or the second half, they suddenly were unstoppable. Both teams employ complex, fast-moving offenses. On defense, both teams get an abundance of big plays for losses and turnovers. 

I think the 49ers will want to run the ball at least 60% of their offensive plays. With Tevin Coleman hobbled, the Niners will lean heavily on RBs Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida. The Chiefs’ defense is respectable against the run, but will often need to bring players up from the secondary in order to slow the Niner running game. As a result, Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo will get some opportunities down the field and will need to connect with WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel. On third downs, the Niners will want to get the ball to TE George Kittle, but I expect to see a lot of throws to Kittle on other downs as well.
 
The Chiefs' O will need about a 50-50 mix of run and pass. They need an excellent game out of RB Damien Williams. I also expect Andy Reid to make the most of WR Tyreek Hills’ talents as a ball carrier. If the Chiefs don’t fall far behind early on, and if the running game is clicking (and the RBs don't fumble), the Chiefs will be set up for their patented play-action / RPO passing game engineered by QB Patrick Mahomes.  
 
Like the Chiefs’ defense, the Niner D will try to load the box whenever they can get away with it in order to slow the Chiefs’ running game. It is likely that Reid and Mahomes will attack that strategy by audibling deep throws when the Niner secondary is thin. I don't think CB Richard Sherman can keep up with Hill. Mahomes also has other targets, including Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman. If Mahomes regularly connects with these receivers, the result will be the kind of big plays that the Chiefs are famous for.
 
The total score in this game could go quite high, because these offenses are deadly, and both defenses will be gambling quite a bit trying to get turnovers and sacks for losses. Sometimes, that is the only way to get a red-hot offense off the field.

This NFL season has been a lot of fun to watch, partly because of high-octane offenses and action-packed chess moves like I expect to see Sunday. Now, we’re down to the best teams in each conference, and I think the strategy contest between the two coaches will be at least as exciting as the high-wire performances by those star athletes.
 
I am going with the Chiefs in what I think will be a close but high-scoring game. Enjoy!

Mill Woods

Posted on January 30, 2020 00:48

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Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid gestures during a news conference following an NFL divisional football playoff game...

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