5. Utilize Drue Tranquill and Willie Gay
This one goes hand in hand with making Brock Purdy beat you because if Drue Tranquill and Willie Gay play a good game, Christian McCaffrey’s game will suffer. As noted before, if McCaffrey cannot get going, it will be tough for Purdy to get going.
Linebacker Nick Bolton is the captain of the defense and he makes big plays in big games when it matters most. He will be on the field at least 90 percent of the time. Spagnuolo trusts him more than anyone else in the linebacking core. At the same token, Bolton can be susceptible when he is targeted in coverage and that is an area that Tranquill and Gay specialize in. Tranquill and Gay are also the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers.
Keeping that in mind, McCaffrey’s brilliance is that he has mastered the 49ers zone-run scheme and that he can catch the ball out of the backfield with a ton of success. Most of the time when running backs are getting utilized in the passing game, it is the linebackers that will have the responsibility in coverage.
Gay and Tranquill have the speed and athletic ability to keep up with McCaffrey, but it is not that simple. McCaffrey is also great at cutting back and finding the holes to wiggle through. There have been times when, especially Gay, has over-pursued in situations like these, resulting in a missed tackle. McCaffrey is a miss-tackle machine and you must bring him down when you get your hands on him. In runs up the middle, Bolton will play a role in this as well.
McCaffrey also caught 67 balls for 564 yards and seven touchdown receptions in 2023. Bolton and linebacker Leo Chenal can be liabilities in coverage, so Gay and Tranquill will need to be sticky in coverage on McCaffrey. Purdy has also found a sudden urge to utilize his legs in the playoffs, rushing for 62 yards so far in the playoffs after only tallying 144 across 16 regular season games. Gay is the Chiefs' best quarterback-spy, traditionally.
I would not go so far as to say these two linebackers need to have a monster game for the Chiefs to win, but it sure would go a long way. These two, along with the defensive line limiting McCaffrey could also result in forcing Purdy into costly turnovers, which is always a key to winning.