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49ers' Sherman: Chiefs' speedsters, Mahomes not greatest challenge of season

49ers' Sherman: Chiefs' speedsters, Mahomes not greatest challenge of season
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman was one of the best coverage defenders in the NFL this season, resulting in a second-team All-Pro selection.  Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- San Francisco 49ers star Richard Sherman counts Patrick Mahomes among the NFL's elite, but says he's up for the challenge of taking on the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and his speedy weapons in Super Bowl LIV Sunday in Miami.

"It'll be a great challenge for sure, but to say it's the greatest challenge would almost be a disrespect to some of the great passing games we've played, because we've played some outstanding passing teams this year," Sherman said Wednesday. "We've played the New Orleans Saints and everything that Drew Brees had to bring.

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"We played Tampa Bay and early on in the season with their two 1,000-yard receivers and everything that they brought. We played the Los Angeles Rams and Sean [McVay] and his system and how they get things done and played them twice.

"We played some teams that can sling it around pretty good, some quarterbacks that can sling it, some receivers that are really talented. We also played Atlanta with Matt [Ryan] and Julio [Jones] and they're outstanding. But [the Saints] are fast and they're talented, so it'll be a great challenge."

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Sherman always has been known for trash talk, but his performance in the 2019 supported his words. He was Pro Football Focus' top coverage defender and top cornerback overall in 2019. He also was the cornerstone of the best pass defense in the NFL. He earned second-team All-Pro honors for his stellar season.

Stratege counts

Sherman doesn't always defend the best wide receivers from other teams during San Francisco 49ers games, as he plays almost exclusively on the left side of the field, but his team's formational strategy has yielded elite results.

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Sherman mostly covered Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen in his first game this postseason. He had an interception and gave up one catch for nine yards, while being thrown at just three times. Sherman wasn't quite as productive in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.

Packers star Davante Adams torched the veteran cornerback on a 65-yard catch in that game, the only completion against Sherman this season to travel at least 20 yards through the air. Adams finished the game with 138 yards on nine receptions.

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Jones had 134 yards and two scores against the 49ers. The Saints' Michael Thomas erupted for 134 yards and scored against San Francisco.

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But while the NFL's best have had success against Sherman's squad this season, the 49ers have also excelled against other stars, surrendering a combined five catches for 81 yards to the Buccaneers' duo of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, and six catches for 101 yards to the Cleveland Browns' Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.

Hill arguably is the fastest player in the NFL, with speeds often eclipsing 22 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The Chiefs also have rookie Mecole Hardman, who ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL scouting combine. Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins also are very capable of burning defensive backs for big plays.

"It almost looks like they got their roster from the Olympic relay team and threw them all on the football field," 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night. "Not to say they can't run routes and catch either, because they can do that."

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The Chiefs have the advantage of having All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, who helped them rally from a 24-point deficit by scoring three touchdowns in their first game this postseason. Kelce led all NFL tight ends with 97 catches and 1,229 receiving yards in 2019.

Quickness and speed

"It's not just the fact that [Hill] can go vertical, but with his quickness and speed he can get across the formation very quickly," said Ron Rivera, new Washington Redskins coach and longtime NFL defensive guru.

"You have to always worry about the threat of run."

The Chiefs often put Hill in motion before snaps, having him run behind the line of scrimmage before he takes a handoff or toss from Mahomes. The threat of Hill running with the ball out of the backfield makes opposing defenses play with more awareness, as they need to cover the field horizontally as well as vertically.

"He [Hill] really does create a lot of problems, but not just him," Rivera said. "They have a heck of a receiving core, then you add the tight end [Kelce] to the mix, another guy who can threaten through the vertical part of the defense, and you've got to be on your game."

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Yolanda Adams performs at the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration in Miami on Thursday. Photo By Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

The option for Hill to run can create mismatches all over the field, as defensive coordinators might opt to put two defenders on Hill to stop him from having success on deep routes. If Hill doesn't run a deep route, those defenders are taken out of the play, opening up the field for Hill's teammates.

"We just gotta continue doing what we've been doing all year, with the mental and physical aspects of the approach of the game. They have a tremendous defense, but I feel like no defensive in the league can stop our offense with the weapons we have."

The 49ers take on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl at 6:30 p.m. EST Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

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