Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


Super Bowl LIV: A Crazy Idea on How the 49ers Can Contain Tyreek Hill

Jan 31, 2020 at 11:03 AM


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The Chiefs offense is a perfect match of scheme and personnel. It's an offensive coordinator's fever dream made a reality, and conversely, a defensive coordinator's nightmare.

It all starts, obviously, with Patrick Mahomes. As is evident to everyone who has watched him, Mahomes has elite arm strength. But a common misconception about arm strength is that its value is in how far a quarterback can throw the ball. Its real value is in with what velocity a quarterback can throw. The less time the ball spends in the air, the less time defenders have to react and make a play on the pass.

It seems to be a popular line of thinking among analysts in the media that arm strength is an overrated attribute; it's not. It's why Mahomes has been able to be remarkably turnover averse while still regularly creating big plays.

Mahomes only threw five interceptions all season, for an interception rate (number of interceptions per pass attempt) of 1.03%, while averaging 8.33 yards per attempt. Those numbers do not belong in the same stat line. For some context, the only quarterback to start at least 14 games with a higher yards-per-attempt is Jimmy Garropolo at 8.36, but he did so while throwing 13 picks for a 2.73% interception rate. Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston were 3rd and 4th in yards per attempt in 2019, with interception rates of 1.85% and 4.79,% respectively.

There isn't another quarterback in the league like Mahomes, and that's before even taking into account his above-average running ability.

In order to maximize Mahomes' unique skill set, you need receivers with the speed to get downfield and stretch the defense vertically, and the Chiefs have that in spades, most notably Tyreek Hill. Even in a league of outlier athletes, Hill is an outlier. He makes some of the fastest players in the sport look slow. It's incredible that the most useful comparison for him is not other football players, but Olympic sprinters.



It seems like he has springs in his legs.



Containing Hill should be the primary focus of the 49ers' defensive game plan, which is easier said than done. You almost need a safety over the top of him at all times, but that opens up space underneath. Just simple 5- to 10-yard stop routes from Hill are devastating. Defensive backs need to turn their hips so early that as soon as they do so, he can just sit down in the space in front of them for easy completions, and he's dangerous once he has the ball in his hands in space.

This clip is from a couple of years ago but shows how the Chiefs like to get Hill open out of the slot.



The 49ers like to run a lot of cover 3 zone on defense, and scrapping that game plan completely to try to contain Hill is too drastic of a countermeasure, and wouldn't be an effective one. The 49ers' best corner, Richard Sherman, doesn't have nearly the speed to keep up with Hill in man coverage, and his best attributes, positioning, instinct, and ball skills, are compromised if he can't play his usual deep zone. The best deployment of his talent is not to have him chase Hill around all game.

What the 49ers can do, however, is have a different corner man up on Hill while still playing their base defense they've become so comfortable and effective in. Think of it as the quarterback "spy" defenses often use against running quarterbacks, except in this instance, the 49ers would be spying Hill; trying to jam him at the line and disrupt option/stop routes underneath while still playing cover 3 over the top.

Pressing Hill and delaying his release would allow the 49ers' formidable pass rush to pressure Mahomes before Hill can get on the backline of the 49ers defense. It's a high-risk, high-reward strategy to be sure.

It sounds crazy, but the recently demoted Ahkello Witherspoon may be the best option for this role. Witherspoon has struggled of late, but he has the ideal physical skill set to at least attempt to disrupt Hill's and Mahomes' timing.

Standing at 6'2" and with long arms, Witherspoon has a significant reach advantage to jam Hill at the line. His speed (Witherspoon ran a 4.45 40 yard dash) should at least allow him to stay in the vicinity of Hill as he trails him. The 49ers can also use Witherspoon as a blitzer when the Chiefs line up Hill in the slot, as they often do, to get Mahomes to roll away from Hill's side of the field.

Witherspoon has become a much more physical player since coming out of Colorado, where he was, at times, an ambivalent tackler and liability in the run game. Employing Witherspoon in this way would also allow the rest of the defensive backfield to remain in its current roles, for the most part.

This strategy would mean taking a linebacker off the field in favor of Witherspoon, but I think that's a trade-off the 49ers should be willing to make. If the Chiefs want to run the ball, have at it. Even if they're effective, at least the ball is out of Mahomes' hands. I expect the 49ers to be in their nickel or dime packages for the majority of the game anyway. The Chiefs offense has been so explosive in these playoffs that it requires the 49ers employ some novel ideas to slow it down.

Of course, this tactic would only address one aspect of the Chiefs high powered attack. You still have to worry about Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and the dynamic screen game to their running backs, but you have to try to take away something, and Hill should be where that focus is.
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.


1 Comment

  • Sixth
    Is K'Waun Williams dead or something?
    Jan 31, 2020 at 12:49 PM
    2


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