San Francisco 49ers defense could be the team’s undoing in Super Bowl LVIII

Jan 28, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (54) reacts
Jan 28, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (54) reacts / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Led by coordinator Steve Wilks, the San Francisco 49ers boasted one of the league’s top defenses in 2023. The club finished eighth in the league in terms of fewest total yards per game allowed. Only the Bears and Lions gave up fewer yards on the ground. This season, Kyle Shanahan’s club permitted only 298 points, the third-fewest total in the NFL.

However, the NFC champions have been far from imposing on this side of the football as of late. The biggest issue appears to be that aforementioned run defense.

Wilks’ defensive unit limited 10 of its first 13 opponents below 100 yards rushing, but it’s also worth noting that Shanahan’s team owned early and big leads in many of those contests.

In Week 15 at Arizona, the Niners came away with a wild 45-29 victory. The team owned an 14-7 lead after 15 minutes of play and a 35-16 advantage entering the fourth quarter. However, Jonathan Gannon’s club stuck with the ground game and finished the afternoon with 234 yards on the ground on 30 attempts. In the late-season losses to the Ravens (102) and Rams (109), the 49ers again gave up over 100 yards on the ground.

Now consider what has happened in the playoffs, although Brock Purdy and company rallied for three-point victories over the Packers (24-21) and Lions (34-31) – the latter from a 17-point deficit. Green Bay’s Aaron Jones finished with 108 of the team’s 136 rushing yards. Eight days later, Detroit amassed 182 yards on the ground, led by David Montgomery (93).

These recent issues could come back to haunt San Francisco on Super Sunday against a Kansas City Chiefs’ team that ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing during the regular season (104.9 yards per game), but has upped the ante in the playoffs. Andy Reid’s club has run for 127.3 yards per contest in three postseason outings, rushing for 140-plus yards in the wins over the Dolphins and Bills.

You will recall what the Chiefs did to the Eagles in the second half of Super Bowl LVII. The team turned to its ground attack against a Philadelphia defense that was mediocre against the run throughout that year. All told, 119 of the club’s 158 yards on the ground came in the final two quarters. That included a huge 26-yard run by Patrick Mahomes late in the game that helped set up Kansas City’s game-winning field goal.

If the Niners are to end Kansas City’s championship run, they better do something when it comes to stopping the run on Sunday afternoon.