MIAMI – The gridiron mathematicians say 2.8 seconds from the time a ball is snapped until the big fellas come knocking is ample time to throw a football comfortably for the gentlemen who get paid millions of dollars to do so.
So how big a difference is having 0.37 to 0.22 fewer seconds in which to accomplish this task?
Ask Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers. That’s how long the 49ers’ first two playoff victims had to throw, on average, respectively, in a pair of 17-point beatdowns of the Vikings and Packers.
Next up is a Super Bowl LIV showdown that many believe will be won by whichever side prevails in the marquee matchup between Kansas City’s blistering speed on offense and San Francisco’s quickness to the quarterback on defense.
“Everybody has been trying to scheme up on us with different defenses for two years,” Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins said. “But we don’t fear what anyone brings at us. If we play the way we know we can play, we should be fine.
“When you have this many track guys out there running full speed and you also have Patrick Mahomes, one of the most prolific quarterbacks, scrambling and getting out of the pocket, it’s usually five guys out there and maybe four of them are open.”
Cousins was sacked six times by five linemen drafted in the first round. Rodgers was felled three times, twice while trailing 27-0 at the half.
“The fact that we have the ability to rush [effectively] with only four guys is a big advantage,” said defensive end Dee Ford, who was traded from the Chiefs to the 49ers last March. “Then we can sprinkle in some blitzes that will confuse the play-caller and the thrower of the ball.”
According to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers rank second in defensive passer rating when the enemy passer has 2.5 seconds or fewer to throw. But PFF also notes that, in Sunday’s case, the enemy passer is reigning league MVP Mahomes, whose passer rating with 2.5 seconds or fewer is 120.3 over the past two years.
“You can’t run as deep a routes as they run unless you have a quarterback who can throw it on a rope,” said 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “The quarterback is special. The targets are special. [Coach] Andy [Reid] and [offensive coordinator] Eric Bieniemy are special in terms of the route designs. So it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Facing the Chiefs could make the Packers game look like it was played in slow motion. Green Bay’s receivers run in the 4.55-4.67 range.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, can put two of the fastest players in the league — Tyreek Hill (4.34) and Mecole Hardman (4.33) — side by side in the slot. Watkins clocks in at 4.43, while running back Damien Williams runs a 4.45 and tight end Travis Kelce a mid-4.6.
“I wouldn’t call us ‘The Greatest Show on Turf,’ because that was someone else’s deal,” said former Viking receiver and current Chiefs receiver coach Greg Lewis, referring to the Rams offense that was instrumental in winning Super Bowl XXXIV. “But from a defensive perspective, I think it’s hard to account for that much speed out there at all times. All of our receivers are fast and, of course, Tyreek is on his own level at like a four point zero.”
No weapon in football is more feared than Hill.
“The difference between Tyreek and other guys who have been track fast is he’s able to run the whole route tree and get in and out of his cuts when he’s going 100 mph,” Lewis said. “He’s up on you so quick that when you blink, he’s gone.”
Key assistants in Saleh’s game-planning are former Vikings assistant Joe Woods and Chris Kiffin, the son of former Vikings assistant Monte Kiffin. Woods is defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator. Kiffin helps coach the defensive line with an emphasis on coordinating the pass rush.
“Joe Woods has been an unbelievable technician and teacher,” Saleh said. “As for Kiff, he’s helped us get those guys to rush as one cohesive unit. Everyone talks about the individuals and how much talent we have. But they still have to be taught how to rush together.”
Getting to Mahomes quickly doesn’t guarantee success. But the alternative leaves no chance.
Asked to compare Kansas City’s speed to any other team he’s faced, Saleh just smiled.
“I wouldn’t be doing them justice if I compared them to anyone else, to be honest with you,” he said. “They’re ridiculous.”