Kyle Shanahan's play-calling in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday prompted plenty of questions on the Monday morning sports-talk circuit.
The 49ers coach called just five running plays in the fourth quarter of San Francisco's 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, as the Niners blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. On ESPN's "Get Up," analyst Dan Orlovsky was a lone dissenter on set defending Shanahan's fourth-quarter play-calling.
"Who's on the other sideline playing quarterback?" Orlovsky asked host Mike Greenberg and fellow analysts Bart Scott and Marcus Spears, referring to Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes. "The worst thing that you can do is go 'Run, run, pass' in that situation. ... You don't think Kansas City's thinking run? Why do you think the play action was wide-open?"
Scott and Spears argued that passing so much functionally gave Mahomes plenty of time to orchestrate a comeback after the 49ers punted for just the second time with just over five minutes remaining in regulation. Chiefs coach Andy Reid didn't have to use any of his timeouts on Kansas City's defensive stand, nor on their go-ahead drive. Considering the latter, it's probable that the Chiefs would have had a similar amount of time left if they had forced a three-and-out after a series of two runs and a pass.
The 49ers had success running the ball up to that point, and Spears and Scott felt they would've done so again late in the fourth quarter. Orlovsky pointed to most of the 49ers' rushing gains coming on chunk plays, particularly on Deebo Samuel's carries, which he felt wouldn't have guaranteed San Francisco's rushing attack getting it done down the stretch.
"I think Kyle was being aggressive, and they gotta make a play," Orlovsky said.
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There will be nearly seven months' worth of time to play Monday Morning
Quarterback Offensive Play-Caller and second-guess Shanahan's decision-making in the 49ers' season-ending loss.
If the day after the Super Bowl is any indication, opinions echoing Orlovsky are going to be hard to find this offseason.
The "Defense wins championships" adage didn't arise out of nowhere. It's a tried and true method tested over multiple decades of different eras of the NFL, and one that bodes well for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV against the Kanas City Chiefs.
San Francisco finished the regular season with the No. 2-ranked defense in the league behind only the New England Patriots. The Niners have been even better on that side of the ball through two playoff contests, where they've held their opponents to nearly 30 fewer total yards per game. That defense will face arguably its toughest test all year long in Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but based on history, there is reason to believe it will hold up.
As ESPN's Dan Orlovsky discussed on Tuesday morning's episode of "Get Up", teams with a top-two ranked defense have a very good track record in the Super Bowl. In fact, it has usually taken a Hall of Fame quarterback to overcome that defense.
Kansas City ranked fifth in the NFL during the regular season with an average of 28.2 points per game, but it's worth noting that Mahomes missed two games due to injury, and likely wasn't at full strength for several other contests. He appears to be fully healthy now, as the Chiefs have exploded for an average of 43.0 points per game in the playoffs. For comparison, the 49ers rank second among all postseason teams with an average of 32.0 points per game. While those previous top-two ranked defenses have given up an average of 18 points per game in the Super Bowl, it's unlikely San Francisco will be able to limit the Chiefs' high-flying offense to that degree, but even if they can get close, that might be enough to prove victorious.
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As great as the historical track record is for the 49ers, that Hall of Fame QB exception to the rule likely will keep the team from puffing its chest too much before the Big Game. Mahomes is only in his third professional season and second as a starting quarterback, but it sure looks like he'll eventually wind up in Canton.
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).