On Super Bowl Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers will meet in Miami to compete in what is a true treat of a match-up for skillful movers. No matter which way you cut it, NFL fans and movement skill aficionados could not ask for a better game on paper than the one that faces us on February 2nd. We can all sit back and hope that what we see materialize lives up to this hype.
If you’re here at this blog, you probably already know that the Kansas City Chiefs represent one of the NFL’s most dynamic teams from top to bottom, already equipped with the League’s most dangerous offense, now being reciprocally armed with a defense that has made its share of big plays down the stretch. They will face off with my ‘Most Masterful Moving Team of 2019’ in the San Francisco 49ers. Whereas the Chiefs were a favorite by many pundits entering the 2019 season, the 49ers were not even on most people’s radars as even a dark-horse. However, built relatively from the ground-up with some added component parts that bring extra authenticity in movement skill, the 49ers truly took the National Football League by storm.
One look at social media may give you the very false impression that this game will be about flat-out, linear speed. I mean, everyone seems to like the ‘NFL Next Gen Stats’ graphic put out there without an ounce of context regarding the ‘average speeds’ achieved of players across these rosters. But, the more educated won’t be naive to this or get it twisted: this game will actually come down to some of the league’s very best football players solving movement problems utilizing true movement skill.
Super Bowl Sunday goes beyond the best facing the best on the field in the problem-solution dynamics that are easy to see. The Super Bowl represents the greatest test of both physiology and psychology that the NFL can offer. You will hear plenty of coaches and players alike throw out cliches like “this one is just like any other game.” Don’t buy it, because it’s a lie! It’s not like any other game…it’s the game that each of these players (and coaches) have been striving their whole life to play in.
Additionally, the lights are simply brighter on Super Bowl Sunday. The stars are out. The camera flashes will go off from the time you walk out of the locker room till the time you’re walking through either your confetti or the opponent’s. The lens of the entire globe is upon you leading up to the game (media week and before it), scrutinizing your every move during each play of the game, and then waiting to see how you respond after it is all over. And even for the game’s most elite, its unlike anything that any other game will bring. Overall, it’s not just another given Sunday.
The great thing about this stage though is that this is precisely where we get to see who is in possession of true movement skill and dexterity versus those who have skill which will break under the pressure and anxiety highlighted above. Like any other Super Bowl, some unexpected hero is likely to step up and turn himself into a household name. But this game is stacked with performers who I featured from the regular season as well as over the years here at Football BTS. Thus, I wanted to take this blog piece to discuss those players who I believe are the most prominent movers that I personally will be closely dissecting the movement behaviors of on Sunday as well as some of the nuances I will be watching for from them.
Patrick Mahomes, Quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs
Our discussion for today absolutely must start with the reigning NFL MVP (till Saturday night) and my All-Movement First Team Quarterback from 2018, Patrick Mahomes. There are plenty of players with exceptional movement skill in the League, but there is probably only just over a handful or so players who have rare, truly special movement behaviors which emerge. Mahomes fits in that latter category. Capable of organizing the most creative of movement skill, the uniqueness of #15 is no matter what problem is in front of him, he morphs into whatever solution dynamics are needed from him to match it. The commentators on Sunday will almost certainly highlight his rocket arm and his skill level in being able to put balls where no other QB in the League can…and to deliver those balls in very unique fashions (various body positions, arm slots and angles)…and that should all definitely be recognized. But, its how he gets to those points of throwing the ball…evading defender pressure in authentic ways and getting himself out of threatening binds that few others can. Also, though he isn’t the dynamic mover that Lamar Jackson is in the open field by any means, he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to stay the best version of himself and that will be more than enough (as evidenced by his trademark touchdown run in the AFC Conference Championship game).
George Kittle, Tight End, San Francisco 49ers
From the Chiefs most skillful player, we now move onto the 49ers most masterful mover. As I said when I awarded George Kittle All-Movement First Team at TE at the end of the 2019 NFL season, no analysis for the Mover of the Year could be complete without including Kittle (an award that eventually went to Lamar Jackson), the dynamic tight end’s movement skill will be a sight to behold on Sunday. If you don’t have a horse in the race, I would highly recommend just finding #85 at the start of each play and you will witness a guy who can do it all at a very high level in every aspect of the game. The Chiefs defense has been playing good ball down the stretch of this season, but defending Kittle and not allowing him to beat you is a different animal. I would especially watch out for when Kittle gets the ball in his hands…a guy known as ‘Mr. YAC’ matched up against a secondary who is sometimes a bit reserved in their desire to tackle is a bad recipe for Kansas City fans.
Travis Kelce, Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs
Before George Kittle came around, Travis Kelce was the movement man to beat the tight end position. In this one, Kelce will still put on a good showing, as his movement behaviors are bred for pressure-filled moments. However, he will simply have more consistently daunting problems to solve with a 49ers defensive unit, who can bring match-up nightmares across the field and will play chess with Andy Reid’s offense, much of it coming in how they elect to defend Kelce. Still, Kelce runs routes like a wide receiver, and will be a focal point of the Chiefs operating how they desire to.
Nick Bosa, Defensive End, San Francisco 49ers
My ‘Most Impressive Rookie Mover of 2019’ is quite simply a pass rushing freak of nature. I would expect Bosa and his boys (including former Chief and All-Movement Team member from 2018, Dee Ford) to bring lots of heat on Mahomes all day long to truly test the pocket elusiveness that I bragged about with Mahomes above. 97 could wreck the game on Sunday as his relentless nature and his constantly evolving and growing arsenal of movement solutions should leave you not wanting to get up to get that next bowl of chips. He’s like a bomb waiting to go off in this way.
Frank Clark, Defensive End, Kansas City Chiefs
Like Dee Ford who I mentioned above (with Bosa), Frank Clark is another player who was on my All-Movement Team one season ago. In fact, it’s Clark who has been critical of Dee Ford for his offsides penalty in last year’s AFC Championship game. It’s Clark who also has been running his mouth saying the 49ers “haven’t seen a defensive end like me” (never-mind the fact that they have just faced the Packers and the Vikings who have more than admirable pass rushers coming off the edge). And finally, it’s Clark who talked trash about Derrick Henry two weeks ago in preparation for this year’s Championship game. Some guys just need to talk, want to talk, and thrive off the talk. But, Clark, who took some regression steps as a Chief in 2019 versus his performance last season, will need to back up every bit of that talk come Sunday because he’s going to see plenty of attention. One of the best match-ups of the game may come when the aforementioned George Kittle draws Clark’s number in blocking schemes.
Richard Sherman, Cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
I am still not overly used to focusing this much attention studying the movement skill of Richard Sherman at this point in his career. But, the confident Sherman has earned it and then some. After a career threatening Achilles Tendon injury two seasons ago, Sherman bet on himself while also adapting his game to not only his newly emergent physical constraints but also the task constraints of the game facing NFL defensive backs in 2019/2020. Sherman is as crafty and cerebral as they come so you can bet with the two weeks of preparation for the Chiefs, he will be studied up with the intentional aim to lock down the entire left side of the field in whatever receiving threat Kansas City throws his way. This doesn’t mean he can’t be beat as he was for a long one against fellow All-Movement Team performer Davante Adams two weeks ago, it’s just that any WR lined up across from #25 is going to get their own version of chess on a football field…as will Mahomes if he chooses to throw into Sherman’s coverage.
Tyreek Hill, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
Undoubtedly, Tyreek Hill will be the fastest player on the field on Sunday. And that means he will obviously be a threat throughout the game that the 49ers will aim to wipe out in any possible ways that they can. When the Chiefs want to employ him through his strengths (flat out linear speed), he’ll draw at least the perceptual attention of almost always two defenders. Though he has improved the nuances of his route running skills over the last couple years, it’s still his speed that he relies on the most to help him solve problems. However, it could be his ability to make a catch (or not) when Mahomes needs him to, in the midst of a big situation on Sunday, where Hill could have the chance to make his impact.
Raheem Mostert, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
Mostert was bounced around numerous teams before finding his way and a comfortable fit in San Francisco. In the NFC Conference Championship game, he served notice to the rest of the NFL and sent a big thank you to the 49ers front office, when he sliced through the Packer porous rushing defense at will…hitting a rare acceleration gas pedal and stopping on a dime to slash around defenders who were taken off guard by the speedster’s relatively deceptive nuanced style. For the 49ers to do what they desire on Sunday, you can bet that Mostert could be a major part of it.
Tyrann Mathieu, Safety, Kansas City Chiefs
I will be honest: when Mathieu signed a deal to become the new safety for the Chiefs, I wasn’t sure what kind of impact he was going to have. You see, the Chiefs defense, specifically on the back-end, was not much to write home to Mom about in previous seasons. However, the Honey Badger brought his authentic swagger to renew an entire unit into believing and attacking as though they have equal right to make plays on defense. Ironically enough though, as this occurred, Mathieu himself began to play with more comfort and control to match his normally fiery and instinctual ways. This new found blend of his movement skill is something to watch on Sunday as the lights get bright to see what temperature he’s burning at and how the organization of his movement skill follows this.
Fred Warner, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers man in the middle will possibly be the most skillful mover on the field on Sunday that no one will be talking about. Equally as adept at playing both the run and the pass, Warner is a highly perceptual and instinctual mover at the position on the field where it will be needed most. Warner will be responsible for doing it all for the 49er defense and how much success he realizes in achieving this, could be the key factor in determining who comes out with the Lombardi.
Mecole Hardman, Returner, Kansas City Chiefs
This isn’t just a battle of offenses and defenses. It seems as though many Super Bowls come down to that other crucial interacting component sub-system part of American Football; special teams. If and when it does, I could easily see the All-Movement Third Team returner from 2019 being that guy. Though just a rookie, when Hardman sees a slight gap, he knows how to exploit it. He trusts what his visual perception is detecting and doesn’t hesitate to act. The 49ers are sound on special teams and will present problems towards him finding his groove, but if they miss a single assignment, Hardman will make them pay and could be off to the races in a hiccup.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers
Where our Super Bowl ‘Movers to Watch’ started with the Chief’s signal-caller, we will end it with the man under center for the 49ers. Jimmy G has done more than ‘just enough’ in the 49ers playoff run. But, he hasn’t been counted on yet to truly deliver under the highest of pressure and anxiety as he almost certainly will need to on Sunday if San Francisco hopes to come out of this one victorious. There will probably be at least three to five instances, where #10 will have to put his crew on his back, where he will need to simply make a special throw or find a crease for a crucial 1st down indicative of what makes a QB legendary at the highest of levels.