Heading into the 2020 Super Bowl, the full story of Raheem Mostert’s journey to last week’s crescendo is a positive one. Being waived six different times by five different franchises before finally getting a real opportunity with the 49ers last season at age 26.
Opportunity is relative, however, and even his first real taste of “extended” NFL opportunity resulted in just 40 touches during the 2018 season. But opportunity knocked once again this season and this time Mostert kicked the door down. Through various injuries to Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida this season, Mostert picked up 151 touches in the regular season for 952 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns.
But when the playoffs started for the 49ers in the Divisional Round, the 49ers once incorporated Coleman back into the fold as Coleman ended up with a career-high 22 rushing attempts after having 24 touches the previous five games combined. Mostert was still effective with 12 touches in that same game for 58 yards, but the threat of a running back committee between the two backs was back in play.
That’s how last Sunday began. Coleman drew the start and he and Mostert alternated the opening the four drives of the game. On that fourth drive, Coleman spelled Mostert in the red zone and suffered a dislocated shoulder which forced him out of the game, once again creating another opportunity for Mostert. On the very next play, Mostert punched in a 9-yard touchdown run to put the 49ers up 17-0. From that point on, Mostert then rushed 22 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 29 carries for 220 yards and four scores on the day. Those 220 yards were the most by a 49ers player ever in any game in franchise history and the second-most in playoff history for any player behind Eric Dickerson in the 1985 season (248 yards). From a fantasy stance, Mostert’s 48.6 PPR points rank third in NFL postseason history behind Keith Lincoln’s 51.9 points in 1964 and Ricky Watters’ 51.4 points in the 1993 Playoffs.
Entering the game next Sunday, we still don’t have full knowledge of Coleman’s status for the game. Kyle Shanahan’s early word was that he still has “a chance to play”. If not, Breida could get some extended run — and we could see Jeff Wilson active for the first time since Week 15 — but Breida has been an afterthought in the offense. After fumbling in mop-up duty in the Divisional Round, Breida played two offensive snaps against the Packers last week despite Coleman being out and the 49ers running out the clock the entire second half. One thing we know for sure, no matter who is in the 49ers backfield, they will collectively be a focal point of the offense.
During the regular season, 49ers running backs jointly ranked third in the NFL in touches per game (31.5) and second in yards from scrimmage per game (175.3). So far through two postseason games, 49ers backs have 42 touches for 180 yards and 38 touches for 249 yards.
In the two games to begin the postseason, the 49ers have run the ball on 82.4% and 69.1% of their offensive plays. Those run rates account for the highest and third-highest run rate for a team in an NFL game this entire season. Through the past two games, the 49ers have a 49-8 run-pass split in the second half and Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown just four combined passes in the fourth quarter of those games.
This is all old news to the Chiefs. They are coming off facing a team that was operating in the same capacity in the AFC Championship game. Prior to last Sunday, Tennessee had a 77-to-33 rushing to passing play split in the playoffs. Leading at the half in each game, that mark was 49-12 in the second half of those games and 28-4 in the fourth quarter.
Derrick Henry was running on everyone entering last Sunday. Not only were the Chiefs able to script Henry out of the game in the second half (five second half touches), but they were able to limit Henry to 16 carries for 62 yards (3.9 YPC) in the first half while establishing their lead. On those 16 carries, Henry gained five or more yards on just four of them. This isn’t new for Kansas City, as ever since Henry torched the Chiefs in Week 10, their run defense has played at a respectable level over their dreadful start to the season.
Kansas City run defense DVOA
Weeks 1-11: 5.6% (31st)
Weeks 13-20: -2.8% (17th)
— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@FO_ASchatz) January 20, 2020
Since allowing 188 yards rushing to Henry in Week 10, just one back (Josh Jacobs in Week 13) has reached 70 yards rushing in a game versus the Chiefs over those eight games while allowing three rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs. Game script is in play in forcing teams out of the run, but as noted above, they’ve improved on a per play basis significantly, if still not an elite run defense. Over their past 10 games, the only offensive lines that the Chiefs have faced that rank in the bottom half of the league in adjusted line yards created rushing (San Francisco ranks eighth) are the Bears and the Texans.
That recent performance still hasn’t lifted them out of the cellar on the other side of the ball, where they rank 28th in adjusted line yards across the defensive front. The 49ers have faced six other defenses in the bottom-10 of that category in Cincinnati (36-244-3 rushing), Minnesota (42-180-2), Cleveland (34-245-2), Washington (33-117-0), Carolina (33-206-4) and Green Bay (19-111-2 and 36-243-4). The Kansas City run defense has been tested and gotten to the middle of the pack over the back half of the season, but will once again face another strong test in the Super Bowl.
When facing the Chiefs, you have to enter the game expecting to need to score a lot of points. In the eight career losses Patrick Mahomes has under center, the opposing team has needed 29 or more points scored six times with 25 or more points in seven of those games. Just once have the Chiefs lost a game with Mahomes under center in which the opposing team scored fewer than 20 points.
That one game fewer than 20 points was this season against the Colts in a 19-13 loss. The Colts ran at will on the Chiefs and kept them off the field. In that game, the Colts ran the ball 45 times for 180 yards and held the ball for 37:15. The game plan was basically to keep the Chiefs offense off the field and they executed it.
The following week, Houston beat Kansas City 31-24 with a similar game plan, rushing the ball 41 times for 192 yards and holding the ball for 39:48. After a 23-17 first half in Houston’s favor, the Texans ran 41 second half plays to just 16 second half plays for the Chiefs.
In the end, playing “keep away” is a fragile initial game plan to bank on and should be treated as a luxury, especially with the Chiefs run defense playing at an average rate over an abysmal one. The 49ers should be expected to pass more in the Super Bowl, but could attempt to do something similar along the lines of what we saw the Colts and Texans accomplish in the middle of the season given the competency of their backfield.
Raheem Moster Super Bowl Props
per DraftKings Sportsbook
- First to score (+650), To score (-155)
- o/u 77.5 rushing yards (over +100, under, -125)