Super Bowl 58: Mike Pennel's unsung effort propels Chiefs' run defense

2WHXYK7 Las Vegas, United States. 11th Feb, 2024. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Mike Pennel Jr. (69) during the first half of Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sunday, February 11, 2024. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News

The Kansas City Chiefs‘ defense was the talk of the NFL over the past couple of weeks after shutting down or limiting the offenses of Miami, Buffalo and Baltimore.

It was widely expected that the unit would play a key role in Super Bowl 58, led by the usual suspects: L'Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie, Chris Jones and other standouts. But likely few expected such dominant and game-defining play from interior defender Mike Pennel.

Thirty-four Chiefs players played at least one snap on defense in the regular season — including Travis Kelce’s two snaps — and Pennel ranked just 26th with his 45 reps.

The veteran Pennel earned a bigger role for the postseason, mainly due to Derrick Nnadi’s injury, and played 115 snaps across Kansas City's four games. He ended up logging 40 snaps in the Super Bowl against San Francisco, nearly the same number of snaps that he played in all of the regular season.

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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. 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.

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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. 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.

Many Chiefs defenders will garner praise for the effort — and rightfully so. Pennel, who was not on the Chiefs' roster until October, belongs near the top of that list, even if what he did in Super Bowl 58 wasn't as flashy as others' contributions.


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