Getting to and winning the Super Bowl requires an all-out effort by every player on the roster. But some players will get more credit than others.
Take Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Mike Pennel, for example, who played a key role in the win for Kansas City during the 2024 Super Bowl yet isn’t getting a ton of recognition. That’s why PFF called him the “unsung hero” against the San Francisco 49ers.
“He was instrumental in slowing down San Francisco’s running attack, a facet that was expected to heavily favor the 49ers and what many thought could have been a game-deciding factor,” PFF’s Zoltan Buday wrote on February 12 of Pennel. “San Francisco averaged just 1.7 yards before contact and 0.266 expected points added on run plays, both ranking as their second-worst figures of the season.
“On the 21 run plays where Pennel was on the field, the 49ers averaged -0.350 EPA per play, which would have been their lowest mark all season in a full game. For comparison, the least efficient running game in the NFL this season belonged to the Chargers, at -0.235 EPA per play.”
Mike Pennel Among Best in Last 8 Super Bowls
Pennel, 32, played in every playoff game after only being active for three regular season games. He saw an uptick in snaps once fellow defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi suffered an injury during the AFC Wild Card Round and missed the AFC Divisional Round before landing on IR on January 26.
Pennel’s efforts across the board against the 49ers put him near the top of the ranks among defenders who have played in the Super Bowl in recent memory.
“Pennel’s 82.6 game grade ranked second among Chiefs defenders, while his 82.1 run-defense grade placed second behind only linebacker Leo Chenal, who stood out with his forced fumble,” Buday continued. “Pennel’s run-defense mark ranked fourth among 78 defensive linemen who have played at least 10 run-defense snaps in the past eight Super Bowls. Furthermore, he earned a positive PFF grade on 38.1% of run plays, the fifth-best mark among qualifying defensive linemen in the past eight Super Bowls.
Chiefs Defense Contained 49ers’ Explosive Offense
Kansas City’s defense overall managed to contain the 49ers’ explosive offense during the Super Bowl.
The unit allowed 382 yards of total offense to the 49ers, forced 1 turnover (Christian McCaffrey fumble), sacked 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy 1 time, and allowed San Francisco to convert on just 3-of-12 third downs.
The 1 sack doesn’t look great, but a closer look at the numbers shows that Kansas City pressured Purdy a total of 26 times (15 hurries, 10 hits, 1 sack), according to PFF. That total displays the accurate narrative of how effective the Chiefs were at applying pressure on Purdy and why the 49ers were only able to score 22 points.
Bundle all of that with Kansas City’s efforts in run defense, and the Chiefs put together one of the best defensive performances we’ve seen in a Super Bowl in recent memory.
“I think our d-line kind of turned it up a little bit,” Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton said after the game of Kansas City’s defensive performance against San Francisco. “A lot of guys went on one on ones. And again, I think the second half put a little bit more man coverage, play a little more press let our corners do what they do best and let our d-line do what they do. And that’s pass rush to get off field man and cause havoc for the quarterback.”
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