This is an excerpt from Warren Sharp’s Super Bowl 58 Report, a 67-page analysis of the 49ers vs. Chiefs that looks at the big game from every angle. The full report is available to subscribers, and you can get our Super Bowl Package for $50 off using promo code SB58.

The Importance of Early Down Success Rate

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know EDSR stands for Early Down Success Rate, an efficiency metric I created.

It isn’t simply success rate on 1st and 2nd downs, but it does look at efficiency on the early downs.

What you may remember from prior Super Bowl writeups is that EDSR is the single MOST CORRELATED STATISTIC TO WINNING IN THE POSTSEASON that has existed over the last 10 years.

The first thing we do is strip out the huge favorites and underdogs, stipulating that games must be lined within 7 points of pick. That gives a more level playing field to evaluate the teams. And that’s what we have in this game.

Next, teams with a 2+ turnover edge cover 81% of their postseason games. So to determine the efficiency of a stat, it’s best to strip them out. Let’s only focus on games where one team doesn’t have a 2+ turnover advantage.

In those games, teams with the better EDSR have covered 75% of the time in the postseason since 2007 (46-15 ATS).

Sharp Football Analysis has every angle of Chiefs vs. 49ers covered in our Super Bowl 58 Hub.

Chiefs Early Down Success Rate

Offensively, the Chiefs ranked 7th.

Defensively, the Chiefs ranked 6th.

Since Week 10:

The Chiefs offense ranks #13 and has played 2 top-10 defenses in EDSR

  • #1 Ravens
  • #4 Patriots

The Chiefs defense ranks #10 and has played 6 top-10 offenses in EDSR

  • #2 Dolphins
  • #3 Ravens
  • #4 Bills (twice)
  • #6 Eagles
  • #10 Bengals

49ers Early Down Success Rate

Offensively, the 49ers ranked 1st.

Defensively, the 49ers ranked 25th.

Since Week 10:

The 49ers offense ranks #2 and has played 1 top-10 defense in EDSR

  • #1 Ravens

The 49ers defense ranks #21 and has played 5 top-10 offenses in EDSR

  • #3 Ravens
  • #5 Lions
  • #6 Eagles
  • #8 Seahawks (twice)

The Chiefs’ three keys to winning Super Bowl 58

Three Keys to 49ers winning Super Bowl 58:

  • Running out of formations with two running backs
  • Finding success on early down passes
  • Increasing the use of play action

Running out of formations with two running backs

The modern NFL trend may be to utilize a lot of 3WR sets, but that’s not what either of these offenses likes to do. Particularly the 49ers.

The 49ers use 3+ WR sets on only 39% of offensive snaps, #31 in the NFL and well below the NFL average of 65%.

Instead, they use 2+ RB sets on 48% of offensive snaps, #1 in the NFL and nowhere near the average of 10%.

For many teams, going up against a team like the 49ers is a challenge for a variety of reasons, one of which is the personnel.

Their usage of 2+ RB sets is quite atypical and a challenge for some teams to defend from primarily a personnel perspective but also a coaching perspective.

However, it should be noted the Chiefs are uniquely prepared to face 2RB sets because they’ve tangled with them frequently this year.

There are only three teams that used 2+ RB sets on 40% or more offensive snaps. The Chiefs played two of the three in the last three weeks.

Of the 13 teams to use 2+ RB sets 9% or more often, the Chiefs have played 13 games against them this year. Based on usage rate:

  • #2 Miami x2
  • #3 Baltimore
  • #6 Raiders x2
  • #7 Bears
  • #8 Broncos x2
  • #10 Jets
  • #11 Bills x2

Their performance against these sets has not been great, however:

  • 2+ RB sets: +0.03 EPA/att (#23), 41% success (#21), 5.2 YPC (#27), 39% explosive rate (#27)
  • 3+ WR sets: -0.04 EPA/att (#24), 43% success (#29), 4.6 YPC (#26), 41% explosive rate (#29)
  • 2+ TE sets: -0.20 EPA/att (#3), 28% success (#2), 3.6 YPC (#10), 27% explosive rate (#7)

Specifically, against 21 personnel early down runs, the Chiefs defense is allowing:

  • +0.05 EPA/att (#30), 44% success (#30), 6.0 YPC (#30), and 32% explosive rate (#28)

29% of these runs gain 3+ yards before contact (#26), and 15% of them gain 12+ yards in total (#32).

The only team to run from 21 personnel on early downs more than the 49ers was the Dolphins.

When the 49ers run from 21 personnel on early downs, they produce:

  • +0.03 EPA/rush (#5), 43% success (#7), 5.3 YPC (#5), and 41% explosive rate (#5)

By all accounts, they are a top-five run offense from 21, they use it at the #2 highest rate, and they are facing the Chiefs who rank #30 against it.

The Chiefs have defended 21 personnel with 7+ man boxes at a 91% rate, so they are skewing very heavy already, and that hasn’t exactly solved the problem.

But Kansas City’s two-game sample against the Dolphins is interesting.

In the first game, the Dolphins ran 12 times on early downs from 21 personnel.

These runs gained:

  • +0.03 EPA/rush, 42% success, 5.6 YPC, and 50% explosive rate.

But in the second game, the Chiefs held these runs to:

  • -0.32 EPA/att, 29% success, 2.6 YPC, and 29% explosive rate on 7 rushes.

So they made adjustments and minimized the Dolphins rushing attack in the Wild Card Round.

For whatever reason, the Bills didn’t try to run from 21 personnel, and the Ravens decided not to run at all.

So we really don’t know if the Chiefs run defense is trending up against these formations or if they will struggle as their season averages forecast.

But I will be shocked if we do not find out early in the game.

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Finding success on early down passes

Shanahan runs the ball on early downs, and that won’t change here against the Chiefs. The 49ers run the ball at the #2 highest rate on early downs.

But on the 48% of early downs where they aren’t running the ball, they’re going deep in the passing game more than any team in the NFL.

Looking at the first three quarters to remove fourth quarter game script issues, the 49ers throw the ball 15+ yards downfield on first down at the #1 highest rate (27% of att).

They also throw deep on early downs at the #2 highest rate (24% of att).

On early downs, they rank:


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