Super Bowl LIV: Formulating an Offensive Identity

This past Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, held in Miami.

This past Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, held in Miami. Though San Francisco seemed destined to win, leading the Chiefs 20-10 with only half a quarter of football to play, the Chiefs pulled off a miracle, ending the game with a 21-0 run in the final six minutes which gave the Chiefs their first Super Bowl title in 50 years by a score of 31-20. Though Kansas City came out on top, both teams proved that, regardless of circumstances, when teams play to their own strengths, they can find success in the NFL. As a result, this Super Bowl demonstrates the importance of developing an offensive identity and maintaining confidence in it through thick and thin.

The 49ers’ strengths are their stout defense and dynamic rushing attack. With 12 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, the 49ers intercepted a tipped pass from quarterback Patrick Mahomes to wide receiver Tyreek Hill which gave San Francisco 12 minutes to stall the clock while adding to its lead. However, 49ers’ Head Coach Kyle Shanahan deviated from his nearly unstoppable run-heavy scheme which allowed Kansas City to mount a comeback. This late shift in play-calling was a surprise given that the ground game is central to San Francisco’s offensive philosophy and running the ball helps teams dominate the game clock. San Francisco found continued success via its rushing attack, averaging 6.4 yards per rushing attempt in the Super Bowl. Despite the 49ers’ success on the ground, Shanahan turned to quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, a player without much playoff experience as a starter. With 6:06 left in the game, after Kansas City scored to cut its deficit to 20-17, San Francisco started a critical drive by handing the ball off to running back Raheem Mostert for five yards. Shanahan then called for back-back pass plays on second and third down. Garoppolo threw two incompletions, forcing the 49ers to give the ball back to the streaking Chiefs offense with plenty of time remaining. If San Francisco stuck to its strengths in the fourth quarter, the 49ers may have won their sixth Super Bowl title.

On the flip side, Kansas City trusted that its scheme and gameplan would eventually work and pay off. Throughout the playoffs, Head Coach Andy Reid displayed patience and trust in his quarterback: 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Despite starting the AFC Divisional game in a 24-0 deficit by the second quarter, Andy Reid trusted Mahomes would get it rolling. In the 2nd quarter, the Chiefs’ offense came to life, as Patrick Mahomes connected with tight end Travis Kelce multiple times and scrambled for first downs that shifted the game’s momentum. The Chiefs scored 28 unanswered points to take the lead by halftime and secured the 51-31 victory by continuing their offensive onslaught in the second half. Andy Reid’s trust in his quarterback also served him well in the AFC Championship against the Tennessee Titans. Again, the Chiefs started slow, with a 10-0 deficit 10 minutes into the game. Although Kansas City made a good drive to cut the lead, the Titans answered back, taking the game 17-7 with 6 minutes left in the 1st half. However, this didn’t faze Reid, who stuck with his aggressive offensive scheme. Mahomes displayed his magic again, breaking multiple tackles for a 27-yard rushing touchdown. Mahomes continually took deep shots down the field to speedsters Tyreke Hill and Sammy Watkins, who scored on 20 and 60-yard touchdown receptions respectively. Andy Reid’s persistence and continued aggression throughout the Divisional Round and the AFC Championship sent the Chiefs to the Superbowl. In Superbowl LIV, Andy Reid’s game plan was no different. Though San Francisco boasted the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense and played conservative coverages designed to prevent the deep ball all game, Reid knew Mahomes would need to connect with Hill and Watkins for big plays late in order to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy. When down 20-10 from their own 35 on third and 15, an unpressured Mahomes dropped back and flung the ball to an open Hill for a 44-yard reception. This crucial play turned the game’s tides, as Mahomes eventually connected with a wide-open Kelce for a touchdown, drawing Kansas City within three. The Chiefs did not defer to handoffs and running schemes, rather they let Mahomes’ passing style complement their quick receivers as they had done all year. With 3:43 remaining and the Chiefs trailing 20-17, Watkins burned Richard Sherman on one-on-one coverage, allowing Mahomes to float the ball right into his hands for a 38-yard catch ending at the 11-yard line.

A large collection of talent is often a prerequisite for a Super Bowl run. The 49ers wouldn’t be in the position to win without talented players like Richard Sherman, Nick Bosa, George Kittle, and Garoppolo. The Chiefs would not be Super Bowl Champions without the wizardry of Mahomes, speed of Hill, and aggressive running by Williams. However, the game’s final outcome demonstrates how impactful a team’s execution of its offensive identity is. Though adaptation in the course of a game is necessary and can pay off, Shanahan’s shift to the unreliable passing game after having dominated via the 49ers rushing attack was a costly mistake. Super Bowl LIV suggests that in the biggest moments, playing to your own strengths can prove effective, and it was ultimately a miscalculation and lack of confidence from the 49ers that cost them their season. In future years, NFL teams need to identify their strengths and weaknesses during the regular season and take advantage of what they have during the postseason. What will continue to differentiate future Super Bowl Champions from the rest of the NFL will be their ability to trust their respective schemes in crucial moments.