The road to Super Bowl LIV has not been easy for both the 49ers and the Chiefs despite the two teams combining for a 29-7 record. Typically, one or both teams playing in the big game have run on the fortunate side of facing injury adversity, but both of these teams have dealt with a plethora of injuries during the 2019 season.
NFL end of regular season injury plot. Games missed to injuries versus team wins. Bubble size represents cumulative quality of players lost (Lost-av metric) https://t.co/C6QQXA8jke pic.twitter.com/IV27DIey1U
— Man Games Lost NFL (@ManGamesLostNFL) January 2, 2020
On the Chiefs side, they have defensive players Emmanuel Ogbah, Alex Okafor, and Juan Thornhill all on injured reserve while they also had multiple game absences from star defensive tackle Chris Jones (four games missed) and defensive back Kendall Fuller (five games missed) this season.
Those defensive injuries have pressed the Chiefs into adding Terrell Suggs after his release in Week 14 and altering their approach in shuffling up their secondary use to end the season while the Chiefs pass defense has been one of the more underrated units in the league this season.
The real battle the Chiefs had to play through on the injury front came on the offensive side of the ball.
Kansas City had significant injuries to core offensive skill players this season. Patrick Mahomes missed two full games and played 20 snaps in another game as he dealt with a dislocated kneecap. Tyreek Hill missed four full games with shoulder and hamstring injuries while playing 12 snaps and seven snaps in the two games in which he suffered those injuries. Sammy Watkins missed two games and played just two snaps in another. Damien Williams also missed five games due to injury. Those absences allowed the Chiefs to get significant contributions this season from their depth chart in rookie wideout Mecole Hardman (26-538-6) and Demarcus Robinson (32-449-4) who both will play meaningful snaps in the Super Bowl.
To go along with that, the Chiefs had to deal with a rotating availability along their offensive line this season. Left tackle Eric Fisher missed eight games this season while left guard Andrew Wylie (five) and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (two) also missed multiple games due to injury. Wylie is unlikely to regain his starting job back from Stefen Wisniewski for the Super Bowl, but the Chiefs have had Fisher, Duvernay-Tardif, and starting center Austin Reiter and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz all fully active together for just nine full games this season, eight of which have been over their current eight-game winning streak entering the Super Bowl.
The 49ers enter the Super Bowl with fewer Week 1 starting players in injured reserve than the Chiefs, but San Francisco was no stranger to the injury bug this season. Defensively, the 49ers had missed games from major contributors in Kwon Alexander (eight games missed), Dee Ford (five), Jaquiski Tartt (four), Jimmie Ward (three), Ahkello Witherspoon (seven), and Richard Sherman (one). Those injuries forced the 49ers to get significant playing time from rookie Dre Greenlaw and second-year cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who has reclaimed the starting RCB spot for the Super Bowl.
The biggest factors here are the differences that having Ford and Tartt on the field have made for the 49ers defense this season. With Ford on the field, the 49ers defense has posted a 16.2% sack rate as opposed to a 5.4% sack rate with him off the field. Playing limited snaps all season attempting to manage a hamstring injury, Ford is a major reason why the 49ers led the NFL with a 14.0% sack rate on third and fourth downs this season. With Tartt on the field, the 49ers allowed a 40.5% success rate passing and 8.4% explosive pass play rate compared to a 48.0% success rate and 11.6% explosive rate on pass plays with him sidelined.
Offensively, the 49ers didn’t have the brand name injuries the Chiefs had this year to their skill players, but George Kittle did miss two games, while Kyle Juszczyk missed four games. Given that those two players are arguably the most versatile contributors in the league at their respective positions, it’s not surprising that there is a massive difference for the 49er offense with both of them on the field.
49ers EPA/play during regular season, win probability between 20% and 80%:
Kittle + Juszczyk on field: 0.23 (n = 189)
Juszczyk on, Kittle off: 0.10 (n = 69)
Kittle on, Juszczyk off: 0.05 (n = 328)
Both off: -0.01 (n = 92)
— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) January 24, 2020
San Francisco also had backfield injuries to Tevin Coleman (two games missed) and Matt Breida (three) to go along with placing Jerick McKinnon on injured reserve over the summer. Those events led to the ascension of Raheem Mostert while Coleman’s status for the Super Bowl remains in doubt due to a shoulder injury that he suffered in the NFC Championship game. San Francisco also dealt with their share of offensive issues, losing tackles Joe Staley for nine games and Mike McGlinchey (four games), right guard Mike Person (two games) to go along with losing starting center Weston Richburg for the season in Week 13.
Despite all of the injuries that both teams suffered this season, they both do enter the Super Bowl with fairly clean injury issues. The 49ers stand missing only Richburg as a primary starting player this season while Coleman is on shaky ground. Kansas City of course still won’t have Thornhill, Ogbah, and Okafor on defense for the Super Bowl while they are on IR, but have no other major players in question heading into the game.