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 Hot Plays: Week 8
Carolina Panthers kicker Joey Slye made one field goal and a pair of extra points in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Slye didn't get many opportunities in this one, as Carolina made just one trip to the red zone against a surprisingly resurgent Falcons' defense. There's not much that a kicker can do when he's simply not seeing the opportunities. With that said, Slye may be needed more in Week 9 against Kansas City, as the Panthers will probably have to put up a lot of points to win.
The Carolina Panthers Defense had an average day in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Carolina registered two sacks and an interception, holding strong on Atlanta's first two trips to the red zone. However, they couldn't stop the Falcons from marching down the field, ultimately surrendering 25 points to their division rival. At this point, there's nothing to suggest that the Panthers' defense is worthy of streaming for fantasy purposes. Don't even think about starting them in Week 9, as they face the Chiefs.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel enjoyed his most productive game of the season in a losing effort against Atlanta. Samuel caught four of five targets for 31 receiving yards and carried the ball three times for 23 rushing yards. The 24-year-old made a nice run in the red zone to start the scoring for the Panthers, then hauled in a deep pass from Teddy Bridgewater on a flea-flicker. It's Samuel's second straight game with a rushing touchdown. This was an encouraging performance from the former Buckeye, though it's worth noting that he was held under 50 receiving yards for the seventh time in eight games. He'll be a low-end flex at best in Week 9 against the Chiefs.
Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas caught all three targets for 28 receiving yards in a 25-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. It was a juicy matchup for Thomas, but he certainly didn't exploit it, as his modest stat-line will support. His three targets were the most he's seen in weeks, though he seemed to surrender some playing time to fellow tight end Chris Manhertz. It's best to avoid Thomas completely until he picks up his production.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore had a quiet game in a 25-17 loss to the Falcons on Thursday Night Football. Moore caught two of six targets for 55 receiving yards, including a huge 42-yard reception on a 3rd-and-17 in the fourth quarter. In a strange turn of events, Moore went without a catch until the final drive of the fourth quarter. Fortunately, the 23-year-old still saw six targets, second on the team to only fellow wideout Robby Anderson. There should be better days ahead for Moore, as he had compiled at least 93 receiving yards in three straight contests coming into this one. He'll get a Week 9 matchup against Kansas City in what could turn out to be a high-scoring affair.
Carolina Panthers running back Mike Davis carried the ball 13 times for 66 rushing yards and caught one of two targets for 11 receiving yards in a loss to the Falcons. The 27-year-old disappointed in likely his last ride as the Panthers' lead back, as Christian McCaffrey (ankle) is expected to return in Week 9 against Kansas City. Davis was a PPR machine in McCaffrey's absence, with at least six targets in four games as the starter. He was so impressive at times that it's possible he earned himself a bigger role, though it likely won't amount to much with McCaffrey around to gobble up the majority of the touches. Keep Davis rostered until we find out McCaffrey is back for sure.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage finished Thursday's win with two receptions for 25 yards on three targets. Gage continued to show his inconsistency on Thursday after coming into the game having gotten at least 54 yards in the past two contests. The WR is definitely streaky, which makes him a risky play most weeks. An ankle injury suffered by fellow wideout Calvin Ridley is worth monitoring. If Ridley cannot play next Sunday, Gage's value will surely go up, but it would still be hard to trust him for good production given his lackluster numbers this season.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson hauled in five of eight targets for 48 receiving yards in a 25-17 loss to the Falcons. It could have been a bigger day for the former Jet, as he nearly made a one-handed touchdown grab on a throw from backup P.J. Walker, who came in relief of Teddy Bridgewater for one series. It certainly didn't help Anderson that Bridgewater was under constant pressure the whole night. However, his fantasy managers can take solace in the fact that he's now seen at least eight targets in six of eight contests this season. That sort of volume should keep him in the WR2 mix next week, even in a tough matchup against Kansas City.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had seven receptions for 137 yards on 10 targets in the Week 8 win over Carolina. For the past three weeks, the WR has been playing at a tremendous level and has gotten at least seven receptions, nine targets, and 97 yards the past three games. His volume keeps him in the WR1 tier each week.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 15 of 23 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown along with 30 yards rushing on five attempts in a 25-17 loss to Atlanta. Bridgewater left the game after taking a nasty hit in the third quarter, but he was able to return after making it through the league's concussion protocol. The 27-year-old made some nice throws when he was given time, including a beautiful deep ball to Curtis Samuel on a flea-flicker. Unfortunately, he was constantly under pressure, as he was sacked twice and hit six times by the Falcons Defense. A bounce-back could be in the cards next week- Carolina may need to rely on Bridgewater's arm in Week 9 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley finished with three receptions for 42 yards on four targets in Week 8. The WR went down with an ankle injury in the first half of the game and didn't return. Managers will now have to monitor the status of the WR heading into the Week 9 clash against the Broncos.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst finished with five receptions for 54 yards on seven targets in the Week 8 win over Carolina. Hurst has now seen seven targets in the past two games and has gotten at least 50 yards in four of the past five games. The TE has a decent role in this offense and the latest numbers are backing that up. Hurst should be considered a low-end TE1 each week given his consistency.
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill finished with 11 carries for 55 yards and two receptions for nine yards on Thursday. It was the RB2 of the team who surprisingly led in rush yards, but this was a rare occurrence. Hill doesn't see enough weekly touches to merit good fantasy value going forward.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley II finished Thursday night's win with 18 carries for 46 yards and a score. The back still had a decent night despite Brian Hill getting more rushing yards total. Gurley has now had at least 18 carries in the past three games and has three rushing touchdowns in the past two games. With a steady number of carries each week, the RB should remain in the low-end RB1/high-end RB2 tier every week.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan went 21-for-30 and gained 281 yards and one interception in the Thursday night win over the Panthers. It was a rainy game and many players were clearly affected by the conditions. Ryan finished with an average night, which he has sometimes had this season. With a high-powered offense, the QB should remain in the starting tier most weeks, but is most effective in favorable matchups.
Teddy Bridgewater, after being tripped while trying to scramble, took a shot to the head as he fell to the ground against the Falcons. Obviously, the first concern after a hit to the head is a concussion. Bridgewater's head abruptly twisted to the side and he went into the tent shortly thereafter. The Panthers' backup tonight is XFL sweetheart, P.J. Walker.
Calvin Ridley has been ruled out for the Falcons' Week 8 game against the Panthers. He was tackled by a defender and his left foot got caught under the defender. Ridley immediately grabbed his left foot and went to the locker room. His status for Week 9 will now be in question.
New York Jets running back La'Mical Perine has been buried on the depth chart for most of the season. However, head coach Adam Gase mentioned last week that he wants to get Perine more involved. Perine was on the field for 70 percent of the offensive snaps during the Week 7 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He saw 11 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown in the loss. He'll get a decent matchup here against the Kansas City Chiefs who are average against the run this season. Perine could be worth looking at as a desperation option for owners in need of a running back.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder (groin) was able to go through limited practice on Thursday. That is actually an upgrade since Crowder sat out of practice the day prior. Crowder has been basically the only bright spot for this team all season long. His absence would doom the Jets chances of doing anything at all on offense versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8. Crowder has seen 10 or more targets in each game that he has played in this season. He'll be a reliable WR2, assuming he suits up here.
New York Jets running back Frank Gore has seen a significant role in the backfield this season. The departure of Le'Veon Bell has opened up lead back duties for Gore over the last few weeks. Sadly, the Jets offensive line and team as a whole is horrible this season. Gore has done what he can, but will likely see his role decrease going forward. Head coach Adam Gase wants to see La'Mical Perine more involved in the offense. That means, Gore is going to be a tough option to trust versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8.