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49ers mailbag: What is George Kittleā€™s injury status? Will Arik Armstead move outside on base downs? Will the 49ers win Super Bowl LVIII?

Marc Adams
Feb 7, 2024 at 7:19 AM--

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It is almost time for the San Francisco 49ers to face off with the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII. After going 5-0 in Super Bowls from 1981-1994, the 49ers have lost back-to-back heartbreakers in the big game. First, they came up five yards short against the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Then, they blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. The 49ers still led by 10 points with only 6:13 left in the game. That's how close they came to winning number six.

Now the 49ers face the Chiefs again, this time after Kansas City has won two Super Bowls, and played in a third. Can the 49ers overcome all that experience, and the championship mentality the Chiefs have shown over the past five seasons? We're only four days away from finding out.

We opened up the 49ers Webzone Mailbag to hear from you, so we could do our best to answer your questions. Again, thank you for all your questions. Let's jump in.

With the struggle at setting an edge, do you think that moving Armstead to DE in base personnel downs would be a good option? - Joe

In the NFC Championship Game, Arik Armstead spent most of his time inside, as he normally does. But he also moved out to the edge on some base downs to help in the run defense. You may recall that in 2019, Armstead played on the edge on base downs, and then moved inside on passing downs. On those plays, Dee Ford came in to play on the edge and rush the passer.

When Armstead missed the last five games of the season, many of us assumed the 49ers run defense was missing him and would improve in the playoffs when Armstead returned. But the run defense has been just as bad, if not worse.

So is Armstead the run-stopper he once was? His PFF (Pro Football Focus) run-defense grade would suggest he's not. While Armstead's pass-rush grade of 85.6 (including playoffs) this season is a career-high, his run grade is 52.4, the lowest grade he's received since 2016.

Armstead's grade in run defense doesn't match what he's done in other seasons. And it doesn't match what he's doing as a pass rusher. But it's who he was this season. Maybe it's injury-related, or maybe it's just a down year for him. Either way, I would still anticipate Armstead to move outside some in the Super Bowl, especially if the edge continues to be a trouble spot for the 49ers' defense.

In your opinion, what's gonna be the difference in whether the 49ers win or lose against the Chiefs? - Ed H.

Putting up 30 against the Chiefs' defense will not be an easy task. They are really good and well-coached. And stopping Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense will not be a cakewalk either. The 49ers will have to play the best game of the season. If they play like they have the past month, they will not win Super Bowl LVIII.

The difference on Sunday will be the 49ers running game. If Christian McCaffrey can go for over 100 yards, which he should be able to do against a suspect Kansas City run defense, they will be able to put together some nice drives, score some points, and keep Mahome off the field. To me, this is priority one.

Priority two is to get the dominant 49ers' defense back, especially the run defense. The Chiefs don't have the explosive scoring offense they once had. In 2023, Mahomes and his offense were known more for longer drives that used the clock.

So if the 49ers can establish the run, and make the Chiefs one-dimensional, that could be the difference in the game.

What's George Kittle's status, as far as injury? - Danny G.

George Kittle was asked about his toe injury. He said it's not a big deal. So I wouldn't worry too much about it. He's had extra time to rest the toe and heal up. And I can't imagine anything would keep the All-Pro tight end from playing in the Super Bowl, especially since he promised (at the end of Super Bowl LIV) to be back with a vengeance. Hopefully, Kittle's toe will be healthy enough to not slow him down any.

He doesn't seem concerned about it. Kyle Shanahan doesn't seem concerned about it. So I'm not too concerned about it.

Will Wilks run a 5-man front to help in run defense? Sitting back and letting Mahomes work seems ill-advised in pass protection, too. - B.B.

I wouldn't be surprised if Wilks uses his five-man front some in the Super Bowl. The 49ers have used it throughout the season, and at times, it's been effective. One thing is for sure, the San Francisco run defense needs to be significantly better than they have been, and the 49ers' pass rush has to make their presence known. They need to muddy the waters, so to speak, and make Mahomes feel the pressure. If they can't put pressure on the quarterback, it will be difficult to win, because Mahomes can pick you apart when given time.

Will the Niners' special teams show up and have a positive impact on the game? - Uncle Salty

The 49ers' special teams rarely have positive impacts on games. The last one I can think of was the 2021 Divisional Playoff Game in Green Bay when they blocked a field goal attempt and then the punt that turned into a touchdown. Other than that, they've mostly been mediocre at best.

The exception is punter Mitch Wishnowski, who has been excellent this season, especially at pinning teams down near their own goal line. I thought Wishnowski deserved to be named a Pro Bowler, but it didn't happen.

I expect to see Jake Moody kick the ball out of the endzone on kickoffs. That should eliminate any long kickoff returns. I trust the punt team a little more, simply because of Wishnowski. The 49ers returners probably won't do anything spectacular. All the team needs from them is to not fumble (see Bell, Ronnie and Williams, Kyle).

In the end, the 49ers' special teams performance in Super Bowl LVIII will be judged by how well Moody performs in field goal attempts and extra points. If Moody hits his kicks, or perhaps even hits a game-winner, the special teams unit will be celebrated and Shanahan and John Lynch will be called geniuses. If Moody doesn't make his kicks, or perhaps (gulp) misses a potential game-winner, it will be a long offseason filled with questions and criticisms.

Hey, Marc. What do you know about this week's Super Bowl practice field fiasco? The known facts right now are: 49ers are practicing at UNLV's field, while the Chiefs are practicing at the Raiders' facility. At UNLV's field, the NFL laid a turf field over an artificial field last week, and now feels like a "sponge." - Jordan

How much of an actual impact could the practice field condition/potential adjusted practicing schedule have on the game? - Scott B.

It certainly doesn't help get rid of the conspiracies that the NFL has already determined the Chiefs will win the game. Not that I buy into any conspiracies like that. I am not one of those who believe the NFL is scripted.

It is concerning, though, and if the field is unsafe for practice, then the 49ers may have to consider adjusting their practice schedule and practice at the Raiders facility, as well. That is an advantage for the Chiefs, who don't need any other advantages.

There was a report that the Chiefs refused to adjust their schedule and that the NFL wouldn't make them. So it seems the 49ers will work with what they have. Fortunately, Shanahan said the field looks like it's improving, and that the team isn't concerned about it.

I'm just not sure what the deal is with bad fields, and the NFL making light of the 49ers' concerns. It's been that way since 2020 when the 49ers complained about the unsafe surface of MetLife Stadium when Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas were both lost for the season while playing in a game against the New York Jets. QB Jimmy Garoppolo was also injured in that game, along with a few other players. Those injuries were a major reason the 49ers finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs that year.

As for what kind of impact "field-gate" will have on the game, I doubt it will be noticeable. If the field is getting better, as Shanahan said, then the team should be able to practice without any issues. And since they are not adjusting their schedule, that won't be an issue.

Do you think the 49ers are gonna win? - Leslie D.

Yes, I long as they play their game. This is the best team in football, and I believe this is their season. The "Quest for Six" turned 29 years old last month. It's time for that quest to end.

If the 49ers can run the ball well, and if they can slow the Chiefs run game, and not turn the ball over, the 49ers will win the game. But as I mentioned already, if they play the way they have recently, they will lose this game.

If the 49ers win the game, who do you think will be Super Bowl MVP? - Keith W.

I'm going to say it's McCaffrey. If the 49ers run game is effective, and if they run it a lot, we could see McCaffrey with a few touchdowns, 100 yards rushing, and about 40 yards receiving. If that's the case, the 49ers will win the game, and McCaffrey will be the MVP.

But it's also possible it's Purdy, simply because the quarterback will always get votes. And what a story that would be—the last pick in the draft to Super Bowl MVP in his second season. That would be an incredible story to tell.

Five yards and 6:13 have kept the 49ers from winning their sixth Super Bowl in their past two tries. Will the "Quest for Six" finally come to an end on Sunday? We'll know soon.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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