Head coach Kyle Shanahan has gotten the San Francisco 49ers oh-so-close to their sixth Super Bowl championship. Over the last five years, the Niners have three appearances in the NFC Championship Game, and they’ve reached the Super Bowl once. Is this the year San Francisco finally breaks through?
Shanahan made a bold bet this year that he can win with Mr. Irrelevant at the most important position in sports. Brock Purdy, the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has guided a loaded team to a 12-5 record and the top seed in the NFC. Purdy is surrounded by All-Pro players on both sides of the ball, but he’s also been one of the most efficient QBs in the league this year. The 49ers’ belief in Purdy has worked out tremendously to this point, but this Niners team was always going to be judged on if it could win the Super Bowl.
With the Detroit Lions looming in the conference title game, here are three reasons why the 49ers will go to the Super Bowl.
Christian McCaffrey is an MVP finalist for a reason.
Not only did McCaffrey lead the NFL in rushing yards with 1,459, how he came about those yards is even more impressive. According to Next Gen Stats McCaffrey faced eight-or-more defenders in the box on 36.03% of his snaps this year, the most any NFL running back faced this season.
McCaffrey also led the NFL in Rushing Yards Over Expected (RYOE) with 349, and averaged 1.32 RYOE per attempt, second only to rookie Devon Achane.
So if the Lions want to stack the box and make Brock Purdy beat them, it might not matter given what McCaffrey has done this season. He can still find ways to pick up yardage on the ground at an impressive clip, even against those stacked boxes.
Now, McCaffrey might now win MVP, but what he has done this season could put him on a path to something bigger.
A Super Bowl MVP.
Jared Goff loves to live in the middle of the field.
If you look at his “QB Grid” for this season from Next Gen Stats for the 2023 season, you can see how successful Goff has been at attacking the middle of the field. On throws between the hashmarks in the 0-10 yard range Goff has an NFL Passer Rating of 116.5, which is well above the league average of 90.5.
On throws to that area of the field in the 11-20 yard range, Goff has an NFL Passer Rating of 125.0, which is drastically above the league average of 85.7:
On Sunday, however, many of those throws will test Fred Warner, perhaps the most dynamic off-ball linebacker in the NFL today. Earlier this season we compared Warner to a “terrormorph” from Starfield, the much-anticipated video game released by Bethesda last fall. Those creatures cover grown fast and can ruin your day in an instant.
Much like Warner, who has the athleticism to not just play sideline-to-sideline against the run, but to carry receivers vertically and erase throws in the middle of the field. If Warner can take away those areas of the field from Goff, it will be a long day for the Detroit offense.
Despite being one of the biggest midseason trades of the year, it’s been a quiet season for Young as a member of the 49ers. He has 20 pressures and 2.5 sacks as a member of the vaunted San Francisco defense, but far too often it feels like he goes unnoticed when watching games. With the Lions playing as much five man protection as they do (a credit to that dominant offensive line), the 49ers defensive front is going to have to win their battles. Nick Bosa vs. Penei Sewell will be a war between two of the best in the game, but from a production standpoint, Young is going to have to win against LT Taylor Decker in order to swing this game.
Lions QB Jared Goff has been good when kept clean, but under pressure has been a different story. According to Sports Info Solutions, Goff has a 58.9% On Target Rate under pressure, 21st among 26 QBs with 100 attempts under pressure. When kept clean, however, his On Target Rate is 79.9%, 10th in the entire NFL with the same parameters. The book has always been to get pressure on Goff, and that means Young needs to play not only like the player the Niners hoped to get in the trade, but the player who was picked second overall in the 2020 NFL Draft.