MIAMI -- Free safety Jimmie Ward thought he’d heard questions from everyone about the challenge the 49ers will face in Super Bowl LIV.
Then Ward's Pop Warner coach checked in.
“My old football coach wrote on my social media, something about, ‘Are you going to be able to catch Tyreek Hill?' His speed, this and that,” Ward said on Tuesday. “That’s the crazy thing about it, I was like, 'Dang, you too?' ”
The 49ers have the challenge of facing the Kansas City Chiefs, an explosive offense that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh believes is the fastest team he has seen -- “by far,” he said.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a talented group of wide receivers from which to choose, including Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman. The 49ers' ability to handle the speed of the Kansas City will be one of the key factors Sunday in Super Bowl LIV.
“We respect that,” Ward said. “They have speed. They have guys who can catch really well and one of the best quarterbacks. Mahomes is cool. Would you rather play a team that you know you’re going to win? I’d rather play a team that a lot of people think we’re going to lose against.”
Ward hopes to answer the question for Tony Powell, his old youth football coach from Mobile, Alabama. In order for the 49ers to slow down the Chiefs, they have to be win their one-on-one matchups while also playing together as a team to rally to the ball and deliver big hits, Ward said.
“If we do line up for a relay, they probably win,” Ward said. “But one thing about it, this is football. There’s such thing as a helmet and shoulder pads. And we hit, and we are very physical with how we hit.
“If you’re fast and you’re running heads-up, and we can run and we collide, you’re going to feel it because you’re so fast. We’re fast, too. I’m pretty sure they see how fast our defense is, too.”
The 49ers were tied in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills in allowing the fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more during the regular season (34). The 49ers’ allowed just 169.2 yards passing per game, the lowest total in the NFL since the 2009 season.
Ward generally plays the deep middle in the 49ers’ defense, which means it’s his job to keep the play in front of him to prevent game-changing types of plays. There will be times when the Chiefs' wideouts get into the open field, then it's imperative that Ward and his fellow defensive backs do not allow a track meet to break out.
“I feel like we do a great job of taking angles,” Ward said. “When we have that angle, we shoot, then somebody else is coming. As long as you make a guy stop his feet, it takes time to restart.”
Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).
Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.