One of the key storylines entering Super Bowl LVIII is the matchup between San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense and Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve “Spags” Spagnuolo.
As 49ers broadcaster Greg Papa explained to Laura Britt at Radio Row on Tuesday in Las Vegas, the interplay between Spagnuolo and Shanahan will determine the outcome of the game, with Papa praising the veteran defensive coordinator who was able to beat the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
“Yeah that’s really the matchup, Kyle against Spags,” Papa said. “Spags is a great defensive coordinator, look at what he did with the New York Giants to take a ring away from Tom Brady and the Patriots, Spags has been doing it forever.”
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Papa then went on to express his opinion that this is the best Chiefs defense in decades, matching the team’s best all-time units.
However, Papa also pointed out that a critical focal point for Spagnuolo will be whether he plays two high safeties in his defensive alignments, and how that decision could change not only the outcome of the game but who will win Super Bowl MVP.
“The one weakness to their team is their safeties, they play a lot of 2-safety high,” Papa told Britt. “I think the bottom line is if Spags plays with two safeties high then do the math, he’s got two outside corners, so that’s four, he’s going to try to stop the run with seven in the box. If he does that, Kyle is going to run it.
“So, if they keep two safeties high, it’s going to be a run play. Now, what Kansas City does is they bring that second safety down in the box late when the ball gets snapped or they have a safety close to the line of scrimmage and they rock-n-roll out of it and get into a 2-shell.
San Francisco 49ers
“But if Kyle sees two safeties deep, Christian McCaffrey could be the MVP of this game.”
Given how well the Chiefs' defense has been playing during these playoffs, having shut down the likes of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, Kansas City’s approach to containing San Francisco’s offense could be the deciding factor in the game.
While much of the discourse heading into the Super Bowl has been around quarterback Brock Purdy, it’s the 49ers' run game that will play a huge role in San Francisco controlling the clock and scoring points. McCaffrey has been on fire all season, putting together one of the best all-around performances by a running back in years.
The matchup with the Chiefs will be difficult for the 49ers' ground game considering how fearsome the Kansas City defensive line has been. During the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Chiefs were able to get to Jackson and take away his ability to make explosive plays.
Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator during the last Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl in 2020, shutting down San Francisco’s offense in the fourth quarter and forcing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to make a series of poor throws as Kansas City scored 21 unanswered points to win 31-20.