Just because the Bengals didn’t play in Super Bowl LIV, doesn’t mean they can’t learn anything from it. The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers were two of the best teams in the league, and the whole world got to witness how each team dominated the other in certain points of the night with their specific brands of football.
There was a bit of overlap with how each squad achieved success during the course of the game. It’s these aspects that the Bengals should’ve been notes about.
Get to the Quarterback
It was no accident that Patrick Mahomes had struggled early in the game. The 49ers’ pass rush got after him early and often. This effected his accuracy, left him without enough time to strike deep, and was ultimately why the Chiefs were only able to score 10 points in the first half.
They also did as well as anybody has at containing Mahomes; not allowing him to use his feet to make plays.
For a while, at least.
Nick Bosa was credited with 12 pressures by PFF.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) February 3, 2020
In the Super Bowl. As a rookie.
What a monster.
Contain the Quarterback
Quarterbacks who make plays by scrambling need to be contained. As I stated above, the 49ers did better at this than most, but they obviously had let downs. Like the one below that set up the team’s first touchdown.
Patrick Mahomes doing Patrick Mahomes stuff pic.twitter.com/qTtBcbBBI1— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) February 3, 2020
The Bengals’ path to the Super Bowl will go through Mahomes for the foreseeable future. They have got to figure this out. Having a deep, talented group of defensive linemen has never been more important.
The 49ers have an excellent defense, but the Chiefs were able to manipulate it. One example is the speed option.
This is the option play where the quarterback runs towards the end man of the line of scrimmage and forces him to make a decision. If the defender makes a move to tackle the quarterback, he pitches the ball to the running back on the outside.
The still pics below show that there is only one player on the edge. That means he has to choose between the playing the quarterback or playing the pitch.
Either way, he is wrong. That is the point of running the option.
Every defense must have a quarterback play and pitch player (not to mention a dive player). They must do their job and get to their responsibility, especially when you play Lamar Jackson twice a year.
What happens when your defense doesn’t have a QB player and a Pitch player on the edge pic.twitter.com/MD6WP5ZUW9— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) February 3, 2020
Build Off of Plays
The play above was their first touchdown.
Their second touchdown wasn’t directly related to the first, but because it put Mahomes on the edge where he was a threat to run again, it put pressure on the defense who had been beaten by him on the edge earlier.
This is a big part of game planning. It is not just about how you effect the defense with one play, it is about how running one play will effect the defense on future plays.
Understanding this allows you to manipulate the defense.
The Bengals didn’t do a great job of doing this last season, particularly in the red zone.
Win the Middle
The 49ers won the toss and deferred to the second half. The point of deferring isn’t just to get the ball after halftime. The point is to try to score just before the half and then score again to start the second half.
The 49ers had a chance to do just that, but they didn’t take advantage of it.
The Chiefs completed a short pass on third and forever with under two minutes to play. The 49ers rallied and made the tackle, with 1:47 on the clock. Inexplicably they didn’t call a time out. Instead the Chiefs were able to let the clock roll before punting and the 49ers got the ball with less than a minute to play.
Then they ran the ball... twice.
They finally completed a pass on third down and picked up a big chunk of yardage. Jimmy Garoppolo then completed a 42-yard pass to George Kittle that could have set up a field goal if it was not called back.
Clearly they were capable of completing a few passes and getting into scoring position, so why did they let the clock run? Were they originally content with being tied at half? Did they not trust their quarterback to get them in scoring range with such little time left?
Whatever the reason, it was a huge mistake.
The 49ers failed to score on the last drive before the half and came away with only a field goal on the first possession of the second half. A lack of scoring then proceeded to follow in the fourth quarter and a loss on the biggest stage of the game became a reality.
The 49ers deserved to be in this game for how they handled the 18 games that came before it, but it was the Chiefs who ultimately executed their brand of football better when it counted. If a few plays go differently, it would’ve been Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan holding up the Lombardi Trophy after the game. Their game plan didn’t doom them, it just came down to who handled the moment best.
This is a lesson the Bengals haven’t seemed to learn in what feels like forever, but it’s one that will stand in the way of where they want to go until they do.