And if the Chiefs wanted to come away with back-to-back Super Bowl victories, they knew they had to make McCaffrey a focal point of their defensive game plan.
How the Chiefs Contained 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey
In the postgame media session, several Chiefs players — including safety Justin Reid, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, and linebacker Nick Bolton — spoke with Pro Football Network and other media on their defensive approach to containing McCaffrey throughout the game.
Simply, they wanted to kill the engine and be able to adjust coverages based on what the 49ers offense showed them before the snap.
“…We needed to kill the engine because the guy can break tackles,” said Reid. “…He is just such a dynamic athlete, such a versatile player. He runs routes well and runs out of the backfield well. We knew that we needed to have great gap discipline in the run game first and foremost.
“And secondly, we needed to make sure that there were situations where we could match up coverages and not try and put a linebacker or another position on him when it was 1-on-1 so we would be able to switch up and put a defensive back on him.”
McCaffrey led the NFL amongst all running backs this season with 1,459 rushing yards, averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. So the Chiefs knew that coming into this game, he would make some noise, whether on the ground or as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
And on Sunday evening, McCaffrey was effective, rushing for 80 yards and one touchdown while adding 80 yards as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
Knowing they couldn’t stop him but could only hope to contain him, the Chiefs stuck to the fundamentals.
“It was tough. He’s a hard runner,” said Jones. “They had a good offensive line, and we just tried to slow him down from making big plays. You know, we knew that if we eliminated big plays and gave him only three to four [yards] every now and then, we could contain him. We wanted to always lay big bodies on him to slow him down, and we were able to do that.”
McCaffrey averaged 3.6 yards on the ground on 22 carries, and his longest of the night went for 11 yards. Certainly, he was more effective in catching the ball out of the backfield, hauling in 8 receptions for 80 yards and averaging 10 yards per catch.
But the Chiefs knew this wouldn’t be sustainable for the 49ers’ offense, and they stayed true to their defensive game plan, looking for every opportunity to match up well and keep McCaffrey from making a big play.
“We just wanted to kill the engine. He’s a special back and a phenomenal player,” said Bolton. “San Francisco is one of those teams that even if you stack the box, they’re still going to run the ball. So, we had to minimize the yards after contact, made sure to set the edge on the outside, limit the explosive plays on the perimeter, and have good tackling by the defensive backs.”
For the Chiefs, zeroing in on McCaffrey as the focal point of their game plan — and forcing 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy to throw — proved to be part of a winning formula to walking away with a victory.
“…That was the toughest defense we’ve been against this year,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “We knew it going into the game. That’s a good group. I mean, the way they mix up the blitzes and stuff, and the two shell coverages, they’re tough against the run, and the man coverage they played was tough, but that’s why they haven’t given it up 27 or more than 27 this year…”
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