Super Bowl 54: Who will raise the Lombardi trophy? (OSM Preview)

Who will raise the Lombardi trophy and be named the 2019 NFL Champion at this year's Super Bowl? Using PFN's OSM, in conjunction with NFL Next Gen Stats, we preview the Super Bowl 54 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers.

It seems like ions ago when the Green Bay Packers faced the Chicago Bears to kick off the 2019 NFL season. Now, 4 months, 27 days, 22 hours, and 10 minutes later, the season’s final battle culminates with the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in 50 years, facing the five-time Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers. In this preview, we’ll take a look at PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), in conjunction with NFL Next Gen Stats, to tell us what we may expect to see come this Sunday when Super Bowl LIV (54) kicks off at 6:30 p.m. EST.

Quarterbacks

Although he only passed the ball eight times in the NFC Championship, Jimmy Garoppolo has been a big part of the San Francisco 49ers success on offense this season, especially in the latter half. Since Week 10, he posted above average OSM grades in all but two games, including against every playoff team the 49ers faced in the regular season. In the divisional round of the playoffs, he ranked as the top quarterback per OSM when the 49ers defeated the Minnesota Vikings to move on to the conference championship.

What has allowed him to be more successful as the season progressed? A large part is how aggressive he’s become with his throws. Garoppolo increased how often he threw into tight coverage, 5% more on average since Week 10. Granted, the strength of schedule was a lot harder during that time, including games against the Ravens, Packers, Saints, and Seahawks, but his completion % actually increased slightly (~1%) to 69% while it was expected to decrease.

Also, while Garoppolo’s intended air yards stayed relatively consistent, at 6.6 yards per attempt, his completed air yards increased by almost 30%. For Week 10 and prior, his completed air yards were an average of 5.0 yards per game, compared to nearly 6.5 yards on average per game after Week 10.

With that said, he’s also been rather pedestrian. He’s ranked 5th overall in touchdown passes and completion % for 2019, but is in the middle of the pack in most other statistics, including OSM where his overall grade of 23.9 turned in at 15th among all qualifying quarterbacks this year.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs defense in Super Bowl 54, Garoppolo will have to keep that completion rate high. The Chiefs have won all but one game when a quarterback failed to complete 68% of his passes.

A quarterback’s aggressiveness, throwing into tight coverage, isn’t as much of a factor against the Chiefs. Similarly, completed air yards or intended air yards aren’t either. However, winning quarterbacks have made seven less attempts on average. Ideally, Garoppolo should have less than 30 pass attempts with a 68% or higher completion rate.

It goes without saying that Patrick Mahomes is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL at the moment. Yet, his completion rate has fallen below 65% in more games this season than those in which he’s had an above average OSM.

On the other side of the field, the 49ers allowed just two quarterbacks to obtain an above average OSM during the regular season – Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. They also allowed Aaron Rodgers to score an above average OSM of 26.4 in last week’s NFC Championship game, Rodgers’ 3rd best grade for the season.

Brees, Wilson and Rodgers are all considered top-tier quarterbacks. So, what made them successful against the 49ers defense? Looking at just the regular season, Brees’ and Wilson’s intended air yards were about one yard less per game than others, at around 6.0, but their average completions were 4.9 yards through the air, compared to just 3.7 for everyone else. They were also about 50% more aggressive with their attempts, throwing into tight coverage on more than 26% of their passes. All other quarterbacks averaged just 18% per game. One would assume being more aggressive would lead to a lower completion rate, yet Brees and Wilson completed 10% more of their passes on average against the 49ers.

Brees is used to throwing short passes but he had tighter coverage against the 49ers than he was used to and had to be more aggressive than normal. Wilson tends to be a little more aggressive than most quarterbacks, but he also makes more attempts further downfield. Against the 49ers, he had to adjust and throw shorter passes since the deep threat was taken away.

In 2019, Patrick Mahomes fell right between Brees and Wilson for intended air yards and completed air yards per attempt. He was also one of the least aggressive quarterbacks in the league and ranked 12th overall for completion rate.

Mahomes will have to be very aggressive with his throws in order to have any success against the top passing defense in the 49ers per OSM. If there’s ever a time for him to prove he belongs in the same ranks as Brees and Wilson, this is it.

Running backs

If Tevin Coleman is unable to go this weekend, is Raheem Mostert a good fit against the Kansas City Chiefs defense? Or, does it matter who runs the ball for the San Francisco 49ers?

The Chiefs run defense is above average per OSM, but not exactly stellar.  They gave up an average OSM of 12.6 to opposing running backs during the season, ranking them 14th overall. When running backs have been successful (higher than average OSM) against the Chiefs, they’ve averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry compared to just 4.0 yards per carry, otherwise.

Why are some backs able to get an extra 2.0 yards per carry than others? A lot of it has to do with their efficiency running the ball. Excluding the playoffs, running backs with an above average OSM against the Chiefs were nearly 30% more efficient than those who fell below average. The Chiefs worst games defending the run were against two of the top three most efficient runners in the NFL this season – Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram.

All of the 49ers running backs, including Matt Breida (17.3) had above average OSM grades overall, with both Mostert (20.2) and Coleman (19.5) ranking in the top 10 for the season. But considering Mostert is the 6th most efficient back in the league, expect to see a lot more of him on Sunday regardless of who else is available. His ability to run downhill, and Kansas City’s attempt to stop him from doing so, will certainly be a factor in Super Bowl 54.

As for the Chiefs, they’re up against a run defense that’s just slightly better than their own, with the 49ers allowing an average OSM of 12.4. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bode well for the Kansas City running game. Damien Williams is the clear starter for the Chiefs, but it’s not due to his running attack.

In seven games in which he qualified for OSM, Williams fell below an OSM of 10.0 in five of them, including both playoff games. One might argue that he was a big part of the comeback win in the divisional round against the Houston Texans since he scored three times, including two on the ground. But he averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry and his efficiency rating of 5.3 was poor, despite only facing eight men in the box 16.7% of the time.

In fact, Williams has been the least efficient back in the playoffs to date (outside of the Seattle Seahawks’ Travis Homer during the wild card round). He’s also faced the least resistance in the box, outside of Devin Singletary of the Buffalo Bills and Carlos Hyde of the Houston Texans.

For Williams to be successful on the ground, he’ll have to take advantage of a 49ers defense that plays eight men in the box less than 20% of the time. There’s room to be had up the middle but the 49ers defense is too fast to gain yardage running laterally. In Williams’ two best outings, his efficiency ratings (yards ran in order to gain 1.0 yard from scrimmage) were under 3.0 and he gashed the Minnesota Vikings (Week 9) and Los Angeles Chargers (Week 17), averaging over 10.0 yards per carry in both games.

Wide Receivers

In Super Bowl 54, the wide receivers appear to be evenly matched. Wide receivers on both teams, on average, have an OSM of 35.2, with a very slight edge in favor of the 49ers. This ranks them as the 3rd and 4th best receiving corps in the NFL this season. However, it is worth noting the Chiefs receivers have had a greater impact in the playoffs, with an average OSM of 37.6 to the 49ers’ 27.8.

Defensively, the Chiefs are much better defending receivers than the 49ers. They allowed an average OSM of just 30.8 during the regular season – 7th best in the league – versus 33.7 for the 49ers, which ranks 22nd overall. Both the Chiefs and 49ers have given up more during the post-season, 32.2 and 36.0, respectively.

The 49ers defense plays best against receivers who are targeted more downfield. Those who have caught at least two-thirds of their targets have been targeted, on average, only 7.4 yards downfield. Wide receivers who fall below a 67% completion rate are targeted 11.5 yards downfield on average.

For the Chiefs wide receivers, their targeted air yards aren’t so much a factor as is their ability to separate from the defender. When their individual OSM grades have been above 35.2, Chiefs receivers have obtained nearly 3.7 yards of separation on average, allowing them to complete more than 72% of their targets and 7.6 yards after catch. When their individual OSM grades have fallen below 35.2, they average just 2.7 yards of separation, their catch rate drops to 54% and they’re only able to obtain 3.3 yards after catch.

What’s interesting is the top five OSM grades for Kansas City wide receivers belong to five separate individuals. Obviously, Tyreek Hill’s speed should give him opportunities to obtain that necessary separation against the 49ers’ defense but the Chiefs also have many weapons they can rely on if needed.

However, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins may not receive many targets. Both tend to be targeted more downfield, which can be disastrous against this 49ers defense. Expect Demarcus Robinson to receive a few extra looks in this game, though. His best games, per OSM, came when his average targeted air yards were low.

Similarly, for the 49ers, the more separation their wide receivers can get, the better chance they’ll have. On average, when they’ve obtained 2.5 yards of separation, they’ve caught 71% of their targets and obtained 7.9 yards after catch, two yards more than expected. When they’ve fallen below 2.5 yards of separation, the catch rate drops to an average of 63% and 2.3 yards after catch, about one yard less than expected.

Against the Chiefs though, that might not matter. Regardless of how much separation they allow, the Chiefs defense is allowing the 3rd lowest catch rate in the league to opposing wide receivers. There is also minimal difference in yards after catch.

Don’t expect the 49ers wide receivers to be major factors in this game, in part due to Shanahan limiting Garoppolo’s attempts. Of course, things could change if they fall behind early, but only Deebo Samuel has seen 10 or more targets in a single game this season.

The Chiefs allow a slightly higher OSM of 33.0 when the average targeted air yards are 10 or less, compared to just 29.7 when greater than 10, as well as a 7% increase in catch rate – though, still holding well at 62%. Samuel should see the most targets of any wide receiver for the 49ers, either way. His average targeted air yards are lowest on the 49ers at 7.8 overall, and he has a team best 70% catch rate.

Tight ends

In the previous fifty-three Super Bowls, there has not been a single tight end to be named the game’s MVP. Yet, Super Bowl 54 will feature two of the best tight ends to ever face each other in recent memory and it begs the question – will this be the year?

In 2019, George Kittle was one of only four tight ends to finish the regular season with an overall OSM over 41.0. In the thirteen games in which he qualified for OSM, he ranked in the top 5 of all tight ends a total of eight times, and never fell below 12th during the season.

Travis Kelce, on the other hand, comes in at 14th overall with an OSM of 36.9. However, his best games have come later in the season. Prior to Patrick Mahomes getting hurt in Week 7, Kelce’s was averaging an OSM of 35.2. Since Mahomes returned healthy in Week 10, Kelce’s OSM has jumped to an average of 40.3 per game.

The main reasons Kelce has been more successful the second half of the season is he’s being targeted about three yards less on average (7.9), than before Mahome’s injury (10.8), allowing him to increase his catch rate from 66% to 78% on average per game.

Keep an eye on how much cushion the 49ers defense gives to Kelce at the line of scrimmage. During the regular season, tight ends who had an above average OSM against the 49ers were given a minimum of 7.5 yards of cushion and were targeted just 5.0 yards downfield on average. Tight ends that were given less than 7.5 yards of cushion were targeted 8.3 yards downfield, on average, resulting in an average OSM of 27.3.

In other words, the San Francisco 49ers defense is really good at limiting tight ends. In fact, the average allowed OSM of 30.6 during the regular season makes them the second-best defense against the tight end position, behind only the New Orleans Saints (30.1).

Similarly, against the Chiefs’ defense, tight ends play best when targeted closer to the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs aren’t giving any extra cushion to tight ends having a higher than average OSM. However, in those games, the average targeted air yards were 5.7, versus 10.7 otherwise. Shorter passes resulted in a higher catch rate allowed as well, increasing from 55% to 77%.

Most of George Kittle’s touchdowns (all but one) have come in games in which he’s been targeted more than 5.7 yards downfield. However, he gets about two more targets on average when it’s under 5.7 yards. Regardless of where he’s targeted, whether it’s above or below 5.7 yards, his catch rate is averaging at least 76%.

It will be interesting to see how the 49ers utilize him in Super Bowl LIV. If they’re throwing a lot of short passes his way between the 20’s, they may look to run or pass to wide receivers in the red zone. However, if his targets are minimal, look for him to get some looks when in scoring position.

Prediction

Super Bowl LIV has all the makings of a classic: a five-time champion pitted against one of the first Super Bowl combatants; Kyle Shanahan attempting to make up for that 28-3 debacle in Super Bowl LI as the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator; Andy Reid making it to the big show for just the second time, despite seven conference championship appearances; Patrick Mahomes vs. the 49ers defense; George Kittle vs. Travis Kelce. The list goes on.

This OSM preview of Super Bowl 54 suggests a very tight game. The San Francisco 49ers have an expected average OSM of 25.5 for the game. Similarly, the Kansas City Chiefs have an expected average OSM of 25.1. Based on points scored throughout the entire 2019 season, weighted against OSM grades, we should have our first ever Super Bowl tie – 29 to 29.

Obviously, that can’t happen and the likelihood of going into overtime is slim. So, in a league which relies on the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality, let’s only consider how these teams have fared since Week 11 in determining expected average OSM grades. If you remember, from above, Garoppolo began throwing a little more aggressively after Week 10, which was also Mahomes first week back from injury.

For the San Francisco 49ers, their expected average OSM drops to 24.7, while the Kansas City Chiefs expected average OSM increases to 27.6. How does that impact the final score?

Kansas City Chiefs 24, San Francisco 49ers 21

Be sure to check out the PFN Betting Crew’s picks as well, and follow Pro Football Network on Facebook and on Twitter @pfn365.

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