49ers

Super Bowl 54: Five key 49ers-Chiefs matchups that could decide winner

Super Bowl 54: Five key 49ers-Chiefs matchups that could decide winner

The matchup is set. And what a great matchup it is.

The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 2, and all eyes will be on Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

On the other side, nobody seems quite sure where to look. That’s because the 49ers’ winning formula this season has been that there is no winning formula.

The 49ers have gotten it done this season with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the ball around the field. They’ve won games with Garoppolo doing nothing more than handing it off, as was the case Sunday in the 49ers’ 37-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

And the 49ers certainly have gotten it done repeatedly with their defense.

We look ahead two weeks to some of the big matchups that could determine which team places the Lombardi Trophy in a glass case:

DE Nick Bosa vs. QB Patrick Mahomes

You want star power? This is your matchup.

Mahomes won the NFL MVP in 2018 in his first season as the starter. And there was no fall-off this season, other than an injury that kept him out of two games.

Mahomes is a big-play guy with a big arm. He likes to let plays develop down the field. On Sunday in Kansas City’s 35-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Mahomes held onto the ball in order to make things happen. Pro Football Focus held him responsible for two sacks, a hit and five hurries. He also threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns, so his mindset generally pays off.

San Francisco rookie defensive end Nick Bosa is an exceptional talent who always seems to be breathing down the necks of quarterbacks. After registering nine sacks in the regular season, Bosa dropped the quarterback three times in his first two postseason games.

If Bosa can bring down Mahomes whenever he gets him in his sights, the 49ers’ defense should have a good day.

NB K’Waun Williams vs. WR Tyreek Hill

There might not be a better nickel back in the NFL than K’Waun Williams. There might not be a more speedy, explosive playmaker in the NFL than Tyreek Hill.

Williams is the 49ers’ most underrated player. But he is as good as it gets with his combination of man and zone coverage skills, blitzing off the slot and tackling. For a guy who is listed at only 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Williams is a powerful, steady tackler.

Hill works out of the slot for a sizable portion of games, so Williams will see plenty of him on Super Bowl Sunday. Hill caught 58 passes for 860 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. He is a big play waiting to happen, and it will be Williams’ job to prevent it.

LG Laken Tomlinson vs. DT Chris Jones

The 49ers’ offensive line took center stage against the Packers, opening the holes through which Raheem Mostert blasted. Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns.

It is doubtful the 49ers will have anything approaching their margin of 42 run plays and nine passes. Left guard Laken Tomlinson will have the huge responsibility of going up against Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones, who is equally adept at stopping the run and getting after the quarterback.

Tomlinson, acquired in a trade just before the start of the 2017 regular season, has played very well in the 49ers’ system with his blend of strength, athleticism and smarts. Jones is a load, and he did not appear at all slowed by a calf injury that kept him out of the divisional round. Jones had one quarterback hit and four hurries against the Titans, according to PFF.

DE Dee Ford vs. RT Mitchell Schwartz

Kansas City selected Dee Ford in the first round of the 2014 draft. Ford made it to the AFC Championship Game with the Chiefs last season. He came to the 49ers in an offseason trade for a second-round draft pick.

Ford is looking forward to this one. He will be matched, mostly, against second-team All-Pro right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who had a phenomenal year in pass protection. On 782 pass-blocking snaps, Schwartz did not allow a sack, according to PFF.

Ford made it through the past two games healthy and should be as strong as he’s been all season for the Super Bowl. His ability to hit the edge will be key -- not only for the possibility of sacking Mahomes, but also allowing defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead enough room inside to operate.

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SS Jaquiski Tartt vs. TE Travis Kelce

Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce is his team’s version of George Kittle ... except Kelce has been doing it longer and he posted better raw receiving stats this season.

Kelce was a second-team All-Pro selection behind Kittle. Kelce had 97 receptions for 1,229 yards and five touchdowns. The responsibility for covering Kelce will not just fall onto one person on the 49ers’ defense. But strong safety Jaquiski Tartt better be ready to hold up his end of the bargain.

Tartt is the 49ers’ eighth run defender in the box. He also has the coverage skills to match up on tight ends. Tartt was beaten on Sunday for a 42-yard pass play from Packers tight end Jimmy Graham. Those are the kinds of big plays the 49ers must avoid against an explosive Kansas City offense.

Tartt was in his second game back from missing more than a month with fractured ribs. His all-around play in Miami is vital to the 49ers’ success.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)

49ers' Laken Tomlinson excited for additions of Trent Williams, Javon Kinlaw

49ers' Laken Tomlinson excited for additions of Trent Williams, Javon Kinlaw

He lines up next to 49ers left tackle Trent Williams.

And he’ll be lined up across from rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw once practices begin.

Left guard Laken Tomlinson is looking forward to taking his game to another level this season in his third year with the 49ers. Williams and Kinlaw can help him get there.

After two years of working alongside All-Decade left tackle Joe Staley, Tomlinson has the luxury of now being teammates with Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection.

The 49ers acquired Williams in a trade with Washington in the offseason.

“It’s been amazing, just going out there for the walk-throughs we had and going into Phase 2,” Tomlinson said Wednesday in a video call with Bay Area reporters. “It’s been awesome. Credit goes to, obviously, (Kyle) Shanahan and (John) Lynch, getting Trent in the building and getting solid guys like that is amazing for our offense.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The 49ers might have lost the team MVP when they traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts, but Kinlaw is expected to step into the team’s starting lineup. Nick Bosa says Kinlaw (6-foot-5, 319 pounds) is “one of the biggest humans I’ve ever seen in person.”

[RELATED: No agreement but 49ers, George Kittle making 'healthy progress']

Tomlinson figures going up against Kinlaw in practices will be good work for the demands of the regular season.

“Oh, man, he’s just a specimen,” Tomlinson said of Kinlaw, whom the 49ers selected with the No. 14 overall pick.

“I can’t wait to go against him live in camp. I’m sure a lot of guys are excited to see him go. We’re all excited that he’s here in the building. We’re just trying to get some solid work with each other.”

Sources: George Kittle, 49ers making 'healthy progress' on contract

Sources: George Kittle, 49ers making 'healthy progress' on contract

The 49ers and All-Pro tight end George Kittle reach a couple of key junctures in their negotiations toward a contract extension in the coming days.

The sides have not reached any agreement, league sources indicated Wednesday to NBC Sports Bay Area, but they appear to be making “healthier progress” toward a deal that is expected to make Kittle the highest-paid tight end in the NFL by a wide margin.

Earlier this week, Mike Silver of the NFL Network quoted agent Jack Bechta as saying “progress has been minimal” in negotiations.

Kittle reported to training camp on time in late-July. He and his teammates have been taking part in meetings, workouts and walk-throughs at the team's practice facility in Santa Clara. The 49ers are scheduled to hold their first non-padded practices Saturday and Sunday before engaging in their first padded practice on Monday.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The practices represent the first set of risks for players as they return to the field. Kittle is scheduled to make $2.133 million this season on the final year of his original four-year contract after the 49ers selected him in the fifth-round of the 2017 draft.

In addition to being a major factor in the 49ers’ run game as a blocker, Kittle had more receiving than any tight end in NFL history through three seasons. He has 216 catches for 2,945 yards and 12 touchdowns in 45 games.

[RELATED: 49ers reportedly hosting Tavon Austin for visit]

Kittle set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season from a tight end with 1,377 yards in 2018.

The Cleveland Browns made Austin Hooper the highest-paid tight end in free agency with a four-year deal that averages $10.5 million a season.