SIS VP of Football (and former NFL scout) Matt Manocherian took the time to answer some matchup-specific and scheme-specific questions on the AFC and NFC Championship Games.
We’ve given you two options — you can read some of Matt’s thoughts below, or you can listen to this week’s Off The Charts podcast linked above.
If you choose to read, here’s his analysis:
What from the first Bengals-Chiefs matchup will you be paying close attention to in this game?
What the Chiefs do to match up defensively.
In that meeting a few weeks ago was mostly short dropbacks out of 11 personnel. Out of 3-WR sets, they were 90% pass, and of those passes, they used 95% short dropbacks. This is what Joe Burrow likes to do, so we’ll see if Steve Spagnuolo comes with a different strategy to get them out of it.
The Chiefs for their part were mixing up their pre-snap looks between 1- and 2-high, but they rolled mostly into MOFO (middle of the field open) coverages. However, it was mostly when they rolled to single-high that they got punished, so I expect more 3-man rushes dropping 8 guys into zone, a look that gave Cincinnati a bit more trouble that day.
Burrow is a QB you can win a Super Bowl with. I don’t think he’s a QB you win the Super Bowl because of just yet.
What about what Kansas City does with motion and with its use of shotgun (both usage rates rank No. 1 in the NFL) with such high effectiveness and how the Bengals match up with that?
We saw this in Week 17, too. The Chiefs went 81% shotgun and 66% motion in that game, and they had a positive EPA on 66% of plays with Motion.
The Bengals have struggled all year playing zone coverage when their opponents use motion.
They play more zone than man across the board, but it’s really been the snaps where they stayed in their zone against offensive motion. It will be interesting to see if they check to a bit more man to counter those looks.
I’ll add that Mahomes is playing as well as anyone who has ever played. He’s the reason why the Chiefs are the Super Bowl favorite this year, next year, and in the immediate future.
Tyrann Mathieu is hopeful of coming back from a concussion to play. How impactful can he be in this game?
I think he’s irreplaceable.
The Chiefs made changes up front earlier in the season, bringing in Melvin Ingram. What they couldn’t do was replace people on the back end, because what Spagnuolo does is so complicated and requires such communication. There was evidence of it when the Bills scored their last TD (with Mathieu out) on Sunday when DeAndre Baker wasn’t aligned properly against Gabriel Davis.
Mathieu is the guy that orchestrates everything on the back end for the Chiefs. His absence was part of why they fell apart last week and he’s their best chance for the defense to keep up with this high-powered offense.
The 49ers beat the Rams twice during the regular season. What can be gleaned from those two games that could come into play on Sunday?
Tons of things that go back way before this meeting.
Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay know each other well. I think that part of the reason why San Francisco was able to immunize Rodgers from the playoffs was because of Shanahan’s understanding of what LaFleur wants to do offensively, and I think it’s a big part of the reason why San Francisco has had the Rams’ number lately.
That said, I think it’s more than familiarity, and it’s the matchup.
Okay, so let’s touch on the matchup. The 49ers use 21 personnel the most in the NFL and use motion a lot. High volume with both at a good quality of performance. How will this factor into the game?
The Rams have shown an extreme preference in terms of both usage and efficiency in showing a light box and rolling into lots of different zone looks.
They show mostly 2-high, but they will roll into Cover 3 variants a good chunk of the time.
That actually feeds into what the 49ers are trying to do. Expect a lot of heavy personnel groups, motion, and zone running from the 49ers, trying to slow down and control the game. They want to make the Rams play left-handed.
And what about the Rams offense against the 49ers D?
The Rams use 11 personnel the most often, and they rank top 3 in usage of no-huddle, play actions, and zone runs.
Again, I think the Rams are better offensively than the 49ers are defensively. But I think the 49ers cause a matchup problem that is difficult for the Rams to overcome.
The 49ers give the Rams a lot of problems if they can control the game. Over the 2nd half of the season, they consistently stay in their 4-man front with a light box, rarely blitz, and dominate out of MOFO zone.
Can the oft-maligned Cam Akers can get them out of that? I think … maybe…but Sean McVay certainly would’ve loved to have Robert Woods for this game.
Andrew Whitworth is coming back from injury. Trent Williams is dealing with one. How does their presence impact the game?
By Expected Points Added, the Rams are a MUCH better passing team when Whitworth is on the field (the difference in the run game isn’t as great). The trustworthiness of knowing what he brings is key.
With Williams, there’s a small sample of him being out, but he’s been hugely impactful. They’re much better with him on the field. When you turn on the film, he’s playing the best football of his career.
The Chiefs, Bengals, and Rams are division winners. The 49ers were 10-7 and barely made the playoffs.
How do we divvy up the credit for what they’ve done?
You can credit Kyle Shanahan, (GM) John Lynch, all the people on the coaching, scouting, and analytics side who are doing the work behind the scenes.
One thing of many that Bill Belichick has taught us is that you want to zig when others zag. There is an advantage in football to be doing things that other teams are not, because you’re prepared for what you’re doing every week. Your opponent is only preparing when they see you every now and then.
Another advantage is that you can find players who fit your scheme because you’re not competing with everybody else for the same type of players that you need to fit into whatever the NFL scheme du jour is.
This is a decision by the 49ers to be built this way. It’s informed a lot by Kyle’s dad, Mike Shanahan and the way he’d want to build a team – from the zone running game out. It’s been a very coherent strategy for them. They’ve taken the strategy of being a heavy personnel run team at a time when the NFL is trying to figure out how to spread things out.
For more of Matt’s thoughts, check out this week’s Off The Charts podcast.