MIAMI, Fla. -- Two weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were preparing to go against a rushing attack that already had decimated them earlier that season and had been a runaway train the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry rushed for 182 yards in their wild-card-round win over the New England Patriots, following it up with a 195-yard effort in their upset victory over the No. 1-seeded Baltimore Ravens. Henry crammed it down the Chiefs' throat during their first matchup in Week 10, romping for 188 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-32 win.
Most thought the Chiefs, owners of the 29th ranked rushing defense by DVOA, would be a runaway for Henry again in the AFC Championship Game, but the Chiefs held him to 69 yards (7 in the second half) in the Chiefs' 35-24 win.
Now, the Chiefs face the 49ers' vaunted rushing attack, which has been going nuts in the playoffs, in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday. But they don't think they can hang their hats on stopping Henry when looking forward to their challenge on the biggest stage in sports.
“At the end of the day, I feel like that’s in the past," defensive end Frank Clark said Tuesday. "Derrick Henry, he was a tough opponent. He had ran all over us early in the year and I just wanted to prove a point. People were believing they were going to run the ball on us. As a defender that’s one thing I take pride in ... As a defense that’s first a foremost, it's 'stop the run,' and then you can have fun on third downs. I take that personally.”
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has designed an offensive attack that has baffled most opponents, but Clark thinks he has a good grasp on what the 49ers try to do.
“Don’t let the eye candy distract you," Clark said of defending the 49ers. "Just not letting the eye candy distract you. We understand they are a high-powered, confusing offense, but it’s typical of Mike Shanahan. If you understand coaches, where they come from, their lineage, you know, you understand football kinda well and you understand what you are going to get with them."
Safety Tyrann Mathieu, who played for the Arizona Cardinals for several years, has seen the growth in the 49ers under Shanahan and knows how tough it will be to slow them down.
“It’s a challenge," Mathieu said. "We watched the same tape everybody else watch. We understand how dynamic they are. It’s really a three-headed monster back there. Even the fullback he can get it done as well. They do a lot of different things, a lot of motions, a lot of adjustments, so we got to be on our toes. We got to anticipate certain things, be aware of certain formations. I think Kyle Shanahan is doing a great job of what he’s trying to get done. I used to play in that division when I played for Arizona and I think those guys are light years ahead of where they were a couple years ago.”
Most expect the South Beach Showdown to come down to whether or not the 49ers' physical defense can stop reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' high-flying offense. Mathieu and the Chiefs' defense doesn't take that as disrespect, though: They are used to being counted out.
“People are going to say what they want," Mathieu said. "There’s no doubt about it, we have a top-flight offense. I believe their defense plays really well together. But we just let people talk. We accept the challenge, I think we’ve been doing that all year long defensively. We've been playing against the best rushing attacks since Week 1, right? We faced Leonard Fournette, had Dalvin Cook, we played against Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry twice.
"I think we are prepared. We are ready. We’ll show up and be the defense that we know we are."
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was the man responsible for bottling up Tom Brady and the Patriots' record-breaking offense in Super Bowl XLII. There's little doubt he, Mathieu, Clark and the rest of the Chiefs have been in the lab for two weeks trying to diagnose how to attack Shanahan's offense.
Clark was brimming with confidence when discussing his defense's preparation all season.
"We study hard man. We work hard," Clark said. "At the end of the day, teams are going to study and game plan but they gotta understand this man: You can game plan all you want, but at the end of the day we are going to game plan a little bit harder.”
Whether that will be enough to slow down Raheem Mostert, Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of the 49ers' offensive arsenal will be determined Sunday under the bright lights of Hard Rock Stadium.
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.