Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark confident in Chiefs' plan to slow 49ers

Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark confident in Chiefs' plan to slow 49ers

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."

[RELATED: How Alex Smith helped develop Patrick Mahomes during rookie season]

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.

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks is not shy about reaching out to his former NFL team to provide tips on college prospects he knows well.

Hanks, who played eight seasons with the 49ers (1991-98) and won a Super Bowl, is the Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, which consists of 14 football-playing universities.

“We want to make sure and give our young men every opportunity to be viewed by NFL clubs,” Hanks said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “So I tend to call my peer group around the NFL to make sure they’re paying attention to our players.

“Oh, I bug everybody, (including) the 49ers with John Lynch and Martin Mayhew, that whole staff. They do a great job of sourcing talent from Division III all the way up to the (power five). They go to where the good players are, and we have some good players in the conference.”

The 49ers have six players from Conference USA on their roster, including such draft picks as safety Tarvarius Moore (Southern Mississippi), and receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Richie James (Middle Tennessee State).

The 49ers signed quarterback Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) as an undrafted rookie in 2017, and he started eight games for the club in 2018.

One of the top prospects from Conference USA this year is Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who undoubtedly is on the 49ers’ radar.

The 49ers will be looking to add a tight end in the draft to pair with George Kittle. Bryant was the 2019 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football.

“He reminds me of Brent Jones,” Hanks said, “a good pass-catching tight end and a willing blocker.”

Hanks also mentioned defensive back Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech. Hanks envisions Robertson overcoming his less-than-ideal size (5-foot-8, 187 pounds) to carve out a 10-year NFL career with a playing style that reminds some of Tyrann Mathieu.

With the restrictions on private workouts and pro days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks said he believes the college athletes from Conference USA or from any college program who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine are at an inherent disadvantage this year.

“Those players are in a bit of a tough spot, in the sense that teams won’t be able to circle back and get on campus and really take a look at them,” Hanks said.

[RELATED49ers Mailbag: Could Frank Gore or Delanie Walker return to franchise?]

One Conference USA prospect who might not suffer from not being invited to the combine is Middle Tennessee defensive end Tyshun Render.

New England coach Bill Belichick went to campus in late-February to pace Render through a workout while most of his NFL peers were in Indianapolis for the combine.

“Conference USA has been fortunate,” Hanks said. “We’re a football-playing conference in every sense. We put a lot of resources toward football and NFL clubs understand that they can come get good players.”

LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee State
S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
RB Jeff Wilson Jr., North Texas

Jerry Rice still holds three major NFL records, but will they ever be broken?


Jerry Rice still holds three major NFL records, but will they ever be broken?

When Jerry Rice retired before the 2005 season, he was the unquestioned greatest receiver in NFL history. Many even viewed him as the greatest player of all time. 

Rice certainly still holds that title for receivers and is in the debate among all players. The question now is, will anyone break Rice's three major receiving records?

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio and NBC Sports' Peter King recently asked that exact question, so it's time for us to do the same.

The former 49ers star -- yes, he also played for the Raiders -- finished his career with the most receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197) in NFL history. If you include his rushing touchdowns, Rice actually had 207 total TDs. 

Let's start with career receptions, which has a real chance of being broken. It all depends on how long Larry Fitzgerald continues to play. 

Fitzgerald is No. 2 on the all-time list with 1,378, putting him 171 receptions behind Rice. The 36-year-old signed a one-year contract in January to come back for his 17th season with the Arizona Cardinals. He had 75 receptions last season in quarterback Kyler Murray's rookie year last season. 

Fitzgerald actually might be in line for a bigger season this year -- if the NFL even has a season. Murray will be in his second season under coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense, and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins could free up Fitzgerald.

If Fitzgerald continues to sign one-year deals with Arizona, there's a real chance he could surpass Rice's record. But that's a big if. Rice should hold onto the record for years to come if Fitzgerald only has another year or two in his tank.

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To no surprise, Fitzgerald is second in career receiving yards but is 5,812 yards behind Rice. Yeah, that's not going to happen. 

Julio Jones, 31, already has 12,125 receiving yards and has averaged 1,347 through his first nine years. Hopkins, 27, has 8,602 yards through seven seasons and has averaged 1,229 receiving yards per year.

For comparison, Rice averaged 1,090 receiving yards but that was over 20 years. If anyone has a chance, however small it might be, it's Julio. Good luck on maintaining that pace for another 10 years.

[RELATED: Vernon Davis explains his emotions after 'The Catch III']

And finally, there are the touchdowns. That record isn't going anywhere. Jones has 57 career receiving TDs and Hopkins has 54. Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans have 48. From 1986 to '96, Rice averaged 13.7 receiving touchdowns. He scored nine at 39 years old with the Raiders. 

Rice simply was a machine. A 17-game schedule could help players like Fitzgerald, Jones and Hopkins get within range of Rice, but don't expect the greatest receiver of all time see his records fall.