Sun Jan 26 12:28pm ET
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes holds the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the NFL AFC Championship football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, MO. The Chiefs won 35-24 to advance to Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Dee Ford (55) gestures next to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the first half of the NFL NFC Championship football game Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) practices at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh speaks during a news conference at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman speaks to reporters after a practice at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) With a fearsome front four capable of pressuring quarterbacks without blitzes, a lockdown cornerback in Richard Sherman and the speed at linebacker and safety to limit big plays, the San Francisco 49ers had the league's stingiest pass defense in a decade.
Shutting down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs' passing game in the Super Bowl will be a far tougher challenge than anything the Niners have faced this season.
''His mobility is unique. His arm strength is ridiculous. He's very, very accurate,'' defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. ''But what I don't think people give him enough credit for is that he actually plays quarterback. There's a lot of people, there's a lot of quarterbacks in this league that will say no to number one and then it just becomes street ball. He gets rid of the ball on time. He puts it where it needs to be. He hits a lot of throws in rhythm. And when he needs to take his shot, he knows how to buy time in the pocket and do it. So he's a superstar in every way you can possibly imagine and he's going to be tough to deal with.''
The 49ers had to deal with Mahomes already in his brief but brilliant career. Back in Week 3 of the 2018 season in Mahomes' first year as starter in Kansas City, he threw for 314 yards and three TDs and led touchdown drives on all five possessions in the first half of the Chiefs' 38-27 win.
That marked the only time in the past 20 seasons that the Niners allowed five straight TD drives to open a game. They had no answer for Mahomes' play-making ability.
In the rematch next Sunday in the Super Bowl in Miami, San Francisco should be better equipped at least to try to slow Mahomes down.
It added a dynamic edge rushing duo in the offseason, acquiring Dee Ford in a trade with the Chiefs and drafting Nick Bosa second overall. That led to the team allowing the fewest yards in a season since the 2009 New York Jets.
''When you have edge rushers it speeds up the process of the quarterback, and, not that he needs speeding up, he already gets rid of it pretty quick. But it changes the game,'' Saleh said. ''It unlocks the offensive line so it creates a little bit more space and it gives the guys inside more space to operate. So having those guys out there, having them at full speed, will do nothing but help.''
Bosa and Ford transformed the entire defense as the added pressure helped San Francisco create more turnovers after having a record-low seven takeaways in 2018.
The Niners have 57 sacks including the playoffs, with Ford, Bosa, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner all recording at least 7 1/2, making it difficult for offenses to key on one spot.
''If we're covering and that guy takes two or three hitches most likely he'll be laying on his back,'' safety Jimmie Ward said. ''But Patrick Mahomes is a mover in the pocket. I'm pretty sure he'll make some guys miss and he'll make some plays. We just have to make more plays than he does.''
San Francisco got a league-best 40 of those sacks without bringing in extra pass rushers, which will be especially important against Mahomes, who has 22 TD passes, zero interceptions and a 118.3 passer rating in his career when defenses rush five or more players.
But not getting pressure with four creates its own problems, giving Mahomes the extra times he needs to generate big plays downfield to speedsters like Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins.
Mahomes leads the NFL with 76 completions the past two seasons on throws at least 20 yards downfield, an aspect San Francisco's defense is designed to stop.
It allowed the second fewest deep completions in the regular season, with only eight on 48 attempts, thanks in large part to Sherman's coverage skills and Ward's ability as a free safety to cover ground deep downfield.
''We believe in each other,'' Sherman said. ''We believe in the scheme. We believe in what we've done all year, and we plan on going out there and putting a good product on tape and seeing how it goes.''
When San Francisco has struggled defensively this season it has often come against more mobile quarterbacks, with Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson all having more success than QBs less apt to run like Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins.
That's just another reason why Mahomes is so tough. He has scrambled 10 times this postseason for 112 yards, taking advantage of undisciplined rush lanes and defensive backs who drop too deep into coverage.
The quarterback who exploited that the most against the Niners this season was Wilson, who scrambled 12 times for 79 yards in two games, compared with just 20 scrambles for 82 yards against San Francisco in the other 16 games.
''Every week, whether you're playing a guy like Mahomes or a statue, it doesn't matter,'' Saleh said. ''You have to have respect for where he is in the pocket. And your pass rush has to tie in with one another so that way you're just not carelessly rushing the passer to where even a statue can buy time and escape the pocket and create an explosive play through an off-schedule play. But that goes every single week.''
Five Waiver Wire Adds: Week 8
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson gets a juicy matchup against the Falcons in Week 8. Anderson torched their secondary in their first meeting back in Week 5, turning 12 targets into eight catches for 112 yards. The 27-year-old has taken a bit of a backseat to fellow wideout D.J. Moore the past couple of weeks, as Moore owns 16 targets to Anderson's 13. Still, Anderson is being targeted more as the receiver on the intermediate routes, which gives him a safer floor than Moore. Expect more targets to go Anderson's way in Week 8, giving him high-end WR2 value.
Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis is in a great spot to redeem himself in Week 8 against the Falcons after last week's dud. Christian McCaffrey (ankle) is back practicing, though he is a long shot to play, particularly on a short week. That would leave Davis as the lead back for one more contest against a Falcons' defense that has allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to running backs. Oh, and Davis himself picked up 149 scrimmage yards and a touchdown against Atlanta in Week 5. Start the veteran back for one more week as a high-end RB1.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gets a great matchup in Week 8 against the Falcons. Bridgewater had arguably his best game of the year against Atlanta back in Week 5, as it's the only game where he's thrown for at least 300 yards and multiple touchdown scores this season. The Falcons Defense has been the most giving unit in the league to opposing signal-callers, making Bridgewater a good bet for strong numbers on Thursday Night Football. Treat him as a back-end QB1 this week.
New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook is a low-end TE1 this week against Chicago. Cook has been an integral part of this offense this season and with the WR unit banged up right now, he could see more targets this week. The TE has now scored a touchdown in the past two games as well. The Bears Defense, though stingy, has been middle-of-the-pack in covering tight ends, so Cook would be one of the best players to start from this Saints offense.
The New Orleans Saints Defense is a streaming option this week against the Bears. This unit hasn't been consistent or potent at all this season, but the Bears do not have an explosive offense and have struggled to even put up points at times, as evidence of their losses to the Rams and Colts. Add in the fact that top WR Allen Robinson II is injured and Nick Foles could always have turnovers and you have a defense that is in the streaming tier this week.
New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz is a solid play this week against a Bears team allowing the seventh-most points to fantasy kickers. Lutz has gone 11-for-11 in field goals and 21-for-21 in extra points this season, meaning he is one of the most reliable players at his position. The kicker is a great play this week.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas would be a solid play this week even against a tough Bears Defense due to his talent and predicted high volume in the passing game. Nevertheless, the WR is dealing with a hamstring and ankle injury and it's important to monitor his status heading into Sunday's clash to see if he will play.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre' Quan Smith is not an ideal play this week against a stingy Bears Defense that is allowing the third-fewest points to fantasy wideouts. Smith would be in line for an elevated role if Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are out again this week, and he had four catches for 54 yards on four targets last week. Nevertheless, the tough matchup and the fact that guys such as Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway are seeing more targets means Smith is better left on the bench.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is not a strong option at QB in Week 8 against the Bears. Chicago allows the fewest fantasy points to QBs and Brees may be without Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders once again this week. Therefore, this week will pose a stiff challenge for Brees if he doesn't have a strong receiving corp against a top defense. If there are better options, it's best to go forth with them for this week.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara is an RB1 this week against a tough Bears Defense. Kamara posted 14 carries for 83 yards and eight catches for 65 yards last week, displaying his versatility and importance in both the rushing and passing game. The Bears present a tough matchup for RBs generally, but Kamara's volume should keep him as a strong play, and his value would only escalate if Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders don't suit up.
Atlanta Falcons WR Russell Gage Jr. (knee) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 28, but is not on the injury report for Week 8.
Fantasy Spin: Gage has been targeted 16 times over the last three games and has posted at least 50 yards in each of the last two games. He should see a handful of targets against the Carolina Panthers and can be a flex option in deeper leagues.
Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt (ribs) was a limited participant in practice Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Fantasy Spin: Hunt played 90 percent of the offensive snaps in the Browns' Week 7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and totaled 102 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. He'll continue to be an RB1 in Week 8 against the Las Vegas Raiders with Nick Chubb still sidelined.
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (hamstring) fully participated in practice Wednesday, Oct. 28, and is not on the injury report for Week 8.
Fantasy Spin: Jones appears to have recovered from his injury and remains one of the top receivers in the NFL. He is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues this week.
Cleveland Browns WR Jarvis Landry (hip, ribs) was a limited participant at practice Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Fantasy Spin: Landry threw another 19-yard pass and rushed twice for four yards to go with his five catches for 48 yards in Week 7. He'll likely pick up more work in the passing game with WR Odell Beckham Jr. on the Reserve/Injured list and needs to be in lineups once again.
Chicago Bears TE Jimmy Graham (non-injury) received a veteran rest day and didn't practice Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Fantasy Spin: Graham caught another five of six targets in the Bears' Week 7 loss and is a very safe-floor TE1 play. He'll have a chance to return to the end zone in Week 8 against a New Orleans Saints team struggling against tight ends.
Chicago Bears LB Khalil Mack (ankle), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (non-injury) and C Cody Whitehair (calf) didn't practice Wednesday, Oct. 28. TE Cole Kmet (back), S Eddie Jackson (knee) and S Sherrick McManis (hamstring) were limited. OL Rashaad Coward (finger) and OL Jason Spriggs (back) practiced in full.
Cleveland Browns TE Austin Hooper (abdomen) didn't participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Fantasy Spin: Hooper will likely need to split work with Week 7 breakout star Harrison Bryant upon his return. Fantasy managers can drop him and look to stream tight ends until he's expected to play.
Green Bay Packers PK Mason Crosby (back, calf) and CB Kevin King (quadriceps) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 28. OT David Bakhtiari (chest), LB Krys Barnes (biceps, shoulder), LS Hunter Bradley (groin), RB Tyler Ervin (wrist), LB Rashan Gary (ankle), S Raven Greene (oblique), DT Tyler Lancaster (shoulder), TE Marcedes Lewis (knee), TE John Lovett (knee), LB Kamal Martin (knee), S Darnell Savage (quadriceps), LB Preston Smith (shoulder), LB Za'Darius Smith (ankle) and WR Equanimeous St. Brown (knee) were limited during practice. CB Jaire Alexander (hand, knee) fully participated in practice.
Updating a previous story, Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson (concussion) didn't practice Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson caught all four of his targets for 70 yards but was again held out of the end zone in Week 7. He'll need to be in lineups if active for Week 8 as the unchallenged top weapon in the Bears' struggling passing game.
Chicago Bears WR Cordarrelle Patterson (quadriceps) didn't participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Fantasy Spin: Patterson is coming off one of his quietest games of the season. He retains FLEX appeal in deeper leagues due to his moderate floor helped by his usage out of the backfield, but he isn't a high-ceiling play.