Everyone knows the 49ers, coming off a monstrous, 285-yard rushing effort in the NFC Championship, will try to run the ball right by Kansas City, their ground game dominant and serving to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field.
But what if they don’t?
Because the Chiefs, who so adeptly minimized Derrick Henry on Sunday — 19 carries, 69 yards — figure to be geared up to take the Raheem Mostert-led attack out of the game, which might mean loading the box and bringing a safety forward.
If that unfolds, former quarterback and current analyst Sean Salisbury thinks Kyle Shanahan could have a surprise below his hat brim.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if Kyle comes out and says, ‘OK, they want to load it up? Jimmy, if they’re playing off on the outside, you have the freedom, check to a hitch or a slant, get the ball out and let’s go,'” Salisbury said on KNBR’s “Papa & Lund” on Wednesday.
“While [the 49ers are] going to run the ball, that’s their MO, there’s no question. But what you don’t want to do is be down 21-3 at the half. You just don’t. Because Andy [Reid] will keep throwing it and attacking.”
This would qualify as a legitimate surprise for a team that passed just eight times in the NFC Championship, Shanahan almost completely shelving Jimmy Garoppolo’s arm because the 49ers were averaging 6.8 yards per run. And San Francisco would like Mahomes to be stuck to the bench, as a unit that limited Aaron Rodgers to 326 mostly garbage-time yards and picked him off twice now will be trying to stop the highest-flying offense in football.
But Shanahan is known to surprise, and the Chiefs are going to go all-in against the run, maybe the 49ers audible.
“It won’t shock me if Kyle does what Bill [Belichick] has done or Josh McDaniels and the Pats,” Salisbury said. “‘All right, you guys decide you’re going to play single-high safety and back up the corners? Let’s take the simple completion. Then when they’re tired of that, we’ll pound them with the run game’ because Kyle’s not afraid to do it.
“Both teams are going to win this way and we know it: Mahomes is going to have to play well. Jimmy doesn’t have to play spectacular. He’s gotta play solid. There’s the difference. Kansas City cannot win this game if Mahomes is average or below.”