Moments before the snap of a fourth-quarter play in the NFC Championship Game, coach Kyle Shanahan gave the side judge near the 49ers’ bench a heads-up to get his flag ready.
Shanahan might have plenty of opportunities to do the same thing during Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday.
After all, no team in the NFL was called for more penalties on pass plays during the regular season than the Kansas City Chiefs.
And the consistency with which referee Bill Vinovich’s crew calls those plays when the Chiefs are in man coverage against Kittle, as well as wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel, could be a factor in which team leaves Miami with the Lombardi Trophy.
Most of Kansas City’s pass-play infractions during the regular season were defensive holding infractions, on which the Chiefs topped the league with 21 penalties called against them with three being declined.
Meanwhile, the 49ers were called for defensive holding just eight times with two of those penalties being declined.
The Chiefs’ biggest culprits were starting cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward. Breeland was called for seven holding penalties, four for pass interference and one illegal use of hands, according to NFL statistics. Ward had eight flags thrown against him – seven holdings and one pass interference.
The 49ers faced an important third-and-3 play in the fourth quarter last week against the Green Bay Packers when Shanahan alerted side judge Eugene Hall that Kittle would run a 5-yard “out” route. On a segment on Inside the NFL, Shanahan can be heard telling the official that Kittle would make a move inside, and Green Bay defensive back Will Redmond would not let him break back to the outside.
That is exactly what happened, and official threw the flag. The 49ers picked up the first down and were able to drive into position for Robbie Gould’s field goal that gave them a commanding 17-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
Kittle said Shanahan told him the defensive back would play outside leverage. Shanahan told Kittle he would either make the reception or he would draw a penalty on the Packers defensive back.
“That's how he installed the play, too,” Kittle said. "So, yeah, that's what happened."
Shanahan said it is not uncommon for him to provide an official on his sideline with a pre-snap idea of what to expect.
“You just hope, when it's man-to-man coverage, you hope the play is on your sidelines so you can alert guys to stuff,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes it's tough for those guys, especially when you have switch releases and receivers moving in and out.
“So you just try to give them a heads-up where we're looking. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Usually it has to do with whether they (call) PI or not.”
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The Chiefs and 49ers were called for the same number of pass-interference penalties during the regular season. They tied for 17th in the league with 10 apiece. But the Chiefs gave up more yardage (227 yards) on those infractions than other team except the New York Jets (254).
Kansas City was called for two more pass-interference penalties in their first two playoff games – one apiece by Breeland and safety Tyrann Mathieu. The only 49ers’ penalty on a defensive back in the postseason came against cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon for pass interference.