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5 burning questions the 49ers must answer to win Super Bowl LVIII

Marc Adams
Feb 10, 2024 at 9:00 AM--

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What are the key questions that will determine the winner of Super Bowl LVIII?

While the San Francisco 49ers are preparing to face the Kansas City Chiefs, we have been busy trying to get a handle on what is most important for the 49ers to win the game and become Super Bowl Champions for the sixth time. The two teams met, as you may have heard, in Super Bowl LIV. I'll spare you the details, but it didn't go the way 49ers fans wanted it to go.

And now the 49ers are in the Super Bowl once again. After winning five titles in 13 years, the 49ers have been searching for the elusive number six for 29 years. In that time, they've come close, but have lost the previous two times they competed in the Super Bowl.

Will the 49ers win their sixth? They have a great chance. This may be Kyle Shanahan's best team and best opportunity. Here are five burning questions that the 49ers must answer to win Super Bowl LVIII:

1. Will the 49ers establish, and stay with, the run game?

The Chiefs have the 29th-ranked run defense in the league. And the 49ers have the top-ranked rushing offense (per play). So this should be a run-heavy game, and it should be one that the 49ers can have some success in.

In Super Bowl LIV, with a 10-point lead midway through the 4th quarter, Kyle Shanahan, who seemingly lacked trust in quarterback Jimmy Garopplo, stopped running the ball. Running back Raheem Mostert, who had rushed for over 200 yards two weeks earlier in the NFC Championship Game, barely touched the ball in the final quarter of the Super Bowl. The 49ers ran 17 offensive plays in the 4th quarter. Only four of those plays were runs. The 49ers gained only 49 total yards in the final quarter, and they used up very little clock while trying to protect a small lead.

The 49ers can't make that mistake again. They need to run the ball early and often. If the 49ers are going to win the Super Bowl, Christian McCaffrey needs to have over 100 yards rushing, and a touchdown or two. In the last Super Bowl, the 49ers ran the ball well. But they didn't stay with it in the second half. This time, San Francisco needs to establish a strong running game and keep doing it.

2. Can the dominant defense make its return?

Since 2019, the 49ers success and deep postseason runs have been made possible by a dominant defense. They've lost two defensive coordinators to head coaching positions, and they've lost several key players to free agency or trade. So the defense has gone through some changes, but the core of Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Fred Warner, and Dre Greenlaw are still there. And they've added some key pieces like Javon Hargrave and Chase Young.

But the defense, especially the run defense, has not been as good lately. In 2023, the 49ers' offense took a giant leap forward and has carried the defense, at times. The defense has shown some flashes it its former self, though, like in the game against the Dallas Cowboys. For the 49ers to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, the 49ers' defense that we all know and love, needs to return. That suffocating defense that got after the quarterback and didn't miss tackles has to show up.

The 49ers may need a dominant defensive game more than ever. Even though the Kansas City offense does not have the speed they once possessed, they are still very good. And Mahomes can lull you to sleep, thinking you have him beat. And then, at the last minute, he can rip your heart out.

The 49ers defense needs to play their best game of the season. And they need to do it for all four quarters.

3. Can the 49ers offense play keep away with Patrick Mahomes?

In 2023, the 49ers' offense became more explosive and scored more quickly than in seasons past. But I'm still not sure you want to get into a shootout with Mahomes, even if his offense isn't as deadly as it's been before. So the plan should be to keep Mahomes off the field as much as possible. And that starts with establishing the run and sticking with the run (see question number one).

If the 49ers answer the first question, they will be able to more effectively answer this question. In this game, perhaps the best weapon for the 49ers defense is to have an offense that plays keep away from Mahomes. That said, you don't want to change who you are and become conservative. You can still be an attacking offense, moving the ball, and scoring points, while running the ball and using the clock.

The 49ers need to control the time of possession and keep Mahomes on the sideline. The Chiefs have shown this season that they can be frustrated, and when they have been, they haven't always stayed poised.

4. Can the 49ers defensive front get pressure on Mahomes?

The 49ers' defense is at their best when they are shutting down their opponent's run game. But when they can do that and get consistent pressure on the quarterback, the defense becomes frightening for opposing offenses. Pressure creates sacks, which can ruin an offensive drive. But pressure does much more than that. It forces penalties and creates turnovers, which can make a game get out of hand quickly.

All the attention has been on the 49ers' offense this season, and for good reason. QB Brock Purdy is an MVP candidate. So is McCaffrey. Brandon Aiyuk has become one of the league's best wide receivers. And Deebo Samuel and George Kittle both had excellent seasons. But when the 49ers' defense has made opposing QBs uncomfortable, we've seen this team dominate its competition.

In the past, the 49ers' pass rush has taken over games. They'll need to do that on Sunday for the 49ers to beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

5. Can Jake Moody handle the pressure when he's called on?

Jake Moody had a good rookie season. That's notable because rookie kickers tend to struggle. It's not easy adjusting from college to the NFL, even if you played in big games at a big university, as Moody did. The pressure is completely different.

For the most part, however, Moody has handled himself well. In the regular season, the rookie kicker made 21 of the 25 field goals he attempted (84%) and went 60 of 61 in extra points (98.4%). That's a good season, especially for a rookie playing on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. In the postseason, Moody dipped a little, going three for five in FG attempts (60%), but is a perfect seven for seven on PATs.

The reason Moody makes so many 49ers fans nervous is because the team experienced their first loss of the season when Moody missed a potential game-winning field goal attempt in Cleveland. He missed another one earlier in that game, as well. The next week, in another loss, Moody missed one of his two field goal attempts in Minnesota.

Can Moody handle the pressure in the Super Bowl when he's called on? More importantly, if the game is on the line, can he be "Money Moody?" The 49ers will need Moody to come through when he's called upon.

Can Moody do it? Can the defense get pressure on the Kansas City QB? Can the offense keep Mahomes off the field? Can the dominant defense we know so well make a return? And can the 49ers establish the run and stay with it?

These are the five questions the 49ers must answer to win Super Bowl LVIII. How they are answered will determine if the 49ers get to add another Lombardi Trophy to their legacy.
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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