Discussions around stopping the Kansas City Chiefs' offense typically start with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but one former All-Pro believes the 49ers' defense must focus elsewhere if they are to win Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
Eleven-year NFL veteran Gerald McCoy sat down with NBC Sports Bay Area's Jennifer Lee Chan on Friday at Radio Row in Las Vegas, where the former defensive tackle outlined the key to corralling the Chiefs' offense.
"First off, take away what they've been doing really good that's gotten them over the hump," McCoy told Chan. "This Chiefs' offense has been up and down, but they've found a niche that's helping them, that's opening everything up on offense -- they're running the ball.
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"Stop the run first, which the 49ers do really well. But, in the playoffs, Kansas City is running the ball really well. We've seen early on, they picked it up, they figured it out -- the [Detroit] Lions were able to run the ball.
"So they have to stop that, because the key to the chiefs offense right now, not before because they had Tyreek [Hill] who opened everything up and in years past they could do a lot of different things. What they're doing best right now is running the ball. Start there, and then work your way to everything else."
McCoy then highlighted the importance of the 49ers' defense setting the edge to allow their defensive tackles to get downhill rather than being forced to move laterally toward the sideline.
"You've got to set the edge … somebody has to set the edge, turn everything back," McCoy explained.
San Francisco 49ers
"Set the edge, force them back into the defense. Then, those dynamic linebackers can start making plays. You got two dogs in the middle in [Javon] Hargrave and [Arik] Armstead that can really destroy offenses. Allow them to be themselves.
"If they got to run sideways -- as defensive linemen we're taught never go sideways, always get vertical. So if I'm running sideways all game, I'm ineffective."
The Chiefs have generally been associated with a high-powered passing attack during the Mahomes era, but Kansas has found a new identity during the 2023 NFL postseason, leading all playoff teams in rushing attempts (90) this postseason.
Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco leads all players in the 2023 playoffs with 254 rushing yards, averaging four yards per carry behind a bruising running style that could provide a tough test for a 49ers' defense that has struggled to stop the run this postseason.
San Francisco has allowed 159 rushing yards per game during the playoffs, surrendering over 100 yards on the ground to both the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions.
If the 49ers can correct the leaks in their run defense and allow their pass rushers to tee off on Mahomes, San Francisco's chances of securing its sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy increase exponentially.
On Sunday, they'll get the chance to right their wrongs in front of millions of viewers on the NFL's biggest stage.