This is an excerpt from Warren Sharp’s Super Bowl 58 Report, a 67-page analysis of the Chiefs vs. 49ers 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 49ers’ three keys to winning Super Bowl 58

Three Keys to Chiefs winning Super Bowl 58:

  • Exploiting the 49ers run defense
  • Increasing the use of play action
  • Avoiding a slow start

Exploiting the 49ers run defense

On early downs including the playoffs, the 49ers defense has allowed as follows against various personnel groupings:

11 personnel: -0.06 EPA/play (#16), 5.2 yds/play (#10), 41% success (#17)
12 personnel: -0.02 EPA/play (#20), 5.0 yds/play (#9), 41% success (#24)

Against 11 personnel on early downs, by play type:

Passes: -0.13 EPA/att (#4), 5.7 YPA (#5), 42% success (#13)
Runs: +0.03 EPA/att (#29), 5.1 YPC (#27), 39% success (#22)

Against 12 personnel on early downs, by play type:

Passes: +0.01 EPA/att (#12), 6.7 YPA (#5), 46% success (#14)
Runs: -0.09 EPA/att (#19), 4.1 YPC (#17), 35% success (#23)

So when the Chiefs look to run the ball on early downs, they should look to do so from 11 personnel more frequently.

And that has been their trend. Of their 258 early down RB runs this year, 134 of them have come from 11 personnel, 85 have come from 12 personnel, and an additional 39 have come from 13 personnel.

The Chiefs’ efficiency is better running RBs out of 11 personnel, as well.

On these early downs in the first three quarters:

11 personnel: -0.04 EPA/att, 34% success, 4.5 YPC
12 personnel: -0.21 EPA/att, 31% success, 3.9 YPC
13 personnel: -0.13 EPA/att, 31% success, 4.4 YPC

They should lean more into 11 personnel runs on early downs and attack the 49ers’ weakness.

The Chiefs also need to attack the edges in the running game.

Looking at runs between left guard and right guard in the first three quarters of games, the 49ers allow:

  • -0.13 EPA/att (#14), 37% success (#22), and 3.8 YPC (#4)

However, on runs to the edges of the line, behind either tackle or outside the tackles, the 49ers allow:

  • +0.01 EPA/att (#26), 43% success (#27), and 4.4 YPC (#17)

Looking full season, the 49ers are at their worst defending these perimeter runs against 11 personnel:

  • +0.15 EPA/att (#32), 48% success (#29), and 5.4 YPC (#27)

This is the key liability for the 49ers run defense.

It just so happens that the Chiefs have been unlocking a ton of efficiency in the playoffs by attacking these very areas.

Look at the Chiefs offense in the playoffs based on run direction (similarly in the first three quarters):

  • Guard-to-Guard: -0.42 EPA/att, 27% success, 3.0 YPC on 26 rushes
  • Perimeter runs: +0.12 EPA/att, 42% success, 5.8 YPC on 24 rushes

This is a true strength-on-weakness matchup favoring the Chiefs.

During the regular season, here is how the Chiefs’ splits looked:

  • Guard-to-Guard: -0.03 EPA/att (#6), 34% success (#20), 4.0 YPC (#20) on 151 att (#13 most in NFL)
  • Perimeter runs: +0.02 EPA/att (#7), 42% success (#10), 5.6 YPC (#1) on 77 attempts (fewest in NFL)

If you scratch out the success the Chiefs at times gained on third- and fourth-down runs in short yardage and only look at early down runs now:

  • Guard-to-Guard: -0.13 EPA/att (#20), 28% success (#28), 3.8 YPC (#26) on 136 att (#13 most in NFL)
  • Perimeter runs: -0.01 EPA/att (#5), 40% success (#10), 5.1 YPC (#4) on 73 attempts (#31 most in NFL)

The Chiefs ran only 35% of their early down runs to the perimeter during the season.

But here in the playoffs, they have been running way more to the perimeter.

24 of their 47 early down runs (51%) were to the perimeter, substantially higher than the 35% during the regular season.

Half of these runs (12) in the playoffs came from 11 personnel, and look at what they delivered when running to the perimeter with 3 WRs compared to a TE-heavy grouping on these early downs:

  • 11 personnel perimeter runs: +0.17 EPA/att, 42% success, 6.8 YPC
  • 2+ TE perimeter runs: +0.08 EPA/att, 42% success, 4.9 YPC

Both are solid results, but the 11 personnel runs were more explosive.

They would also be optimal considering the 49ers are at their absolute worst defending perimeter runs from 11 personnel.

The fact the Chiefs have leaned into these runs more in the playoffs with great success, the fact that Joe Thuney is likely out, which would hurt the efficiency on interior runs even further, and the fact that the 49ers are so terrible at defending them are all reasons why Kansas City absolutely must lean even further into these runs in the Super Bowl.

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Increasing the use of play action

Using play action against the 49ers, especially in the first three quarters, is absolutely massive for an offense.

Looking from Week 14 onward, here are the splits vs the 49ers defense:

  • No play action: -0.24 EPA/att (#5), 36% success (#6), 4.7 YPA (#3)
  • With play action: +0.40 EPA/att (#28), 53% success (#24), 10.4 YPA (#28)

The 49ers were the most sensitive defense to play action down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs.

And think of the passing attacks they’ve gone up against.

During this stretch, from Week 14 onward, they faced:

  • Kyler Murray
  • Lamar Jackson
  • Sam Howell
  • Carson Wentz
  • Jordan Love
  • Jared Goff

We’re not talking about a slew of passing assassins here.

Looking at their full season splits:


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