SANTA CLARA – It’s easy to see Patrick Mahomes has elite talent. The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback is shifty and quick. He can throw it a country mile and drop it on a dime.
The 49ers are aware he doesn’t get by on raw talent alone. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh knows that all too well. He has faced Mahomes before and spent most of this week watching him on film and can pinpoint exactly what makes him a troubling matchup when the 49ers and Chiefs clash in Super Bowl LIV.
“His mobility is unique. His arm strength is ridiculous. He’s really, really accurate. What I don’t think people give him credit for is that he actually plays quarterback,” Saleh said Wednesday. “There are a lot of quarterbacks where, if they say no to the first read, it becomes streetball. Mahomes gets rid of the ball on time. He gets it where it needs to be. He hits a lot of throws in rhythm, and when he needs to take his shot, he knows how to bide time and do it.”
Elite talent and expert quarterbacking all wrapped into one. All that comes just three years into his career NFL tenure and just in his second as starter. The 49ers have faced some excellent quarterbacks this season. They beat Russell Wilson for the NFC West title and Aaron Rodger for the conference championship.
The reigning NFL MVP might be the toughest challenge yet. The 49ers are so good defensively they just might be up for it.
“He’s a superstar in every way you can possibly imagine,” Saleh said. “He’s going to be tough to deal with.”
The 49ers believe facing Wilson, in particular, can help prep for Mahomes. The key in these games, against these quarterbacks, is a consistent and disciplined rush.
“It’ll be a pretty big factor,” edge rusher Nick Bosa said. “They’re very similar with mobility and an ability to turn seemingly broken plays into long touchdowns. You watch Tennessee’s second half and they didn't get much of a rush. You saw what he did there [consistently beating the Titans with deep shots]. That’s obviously a big focus.”
Mahomes' mobility is a difference-maker, especially when it’s a threat in addition to great passing talent. He proved that against the Tennessee Titans, scrambling for a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Chiefs' AFC Championship Game win.
The 49ers have the NFL’s best defensive line, with massive humans on the interior and quick, yet powerful players coming off the edge. They’ve done well against Wilson and Arizona Cardinals rookie phenom Kyle Murray and understand the importance of containing a quick quarterback.
“Whether you’re playing Mahomes or a statue, you have to have respect for where he is in the pocket,” Saleh said. “The pass rush has to tie in together so you’re not carelessly rush the passer where any quarterback can buy time, escape the pocket and create an explosive play while off schedule.”