For the second consecutive week, the 49ers draw a favorable matchup against a below average defense. The Chiefs come into this weekend’s game as the worst-ranked defense in the NFL in terms of total yards allowed. Over the first two weeks of the 2018 season, Kansas City has allowed a horrendous average of 508 yards per game, but are still off to a 2-0 start.
The 49ers’ running backs are sure to have that in the back of their mind and will look to take advantage of the openings in the Chiefs defense. San Francisco's coaching staff has gotten great ground production out of Matt Breida and Alfred Morris in the wake of Jerick McKinnon’s knee injury.
And this game is a great opportunity for the 49ers backs to have a big day in the passing game.
In Week 1, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon finished with 102 receiving yards on nine catches against an permeable Chiefs’ defense. Throughout the game, Gordon constantly found himself open against a Chiefs D that gave him too much space.
On this play, Melvin Gordon sells the play action, and is left in a one-on-one vs. Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens (#53). Gordon beat Hitchens on an out route, and proceeded to gain about 26 yards. It is very difficult for a linebacker to keep up with a running back while in man coverage, and Hitchens was constantly asked to do that throughout the game.
If the Chiefs come out with the same game plan, both Breida and Morris should expect to get the ball passed to them early and often. While Gordon is a great back, he's not as fast as Breida. So if Breida can get some separation at the top of his route, he can use his speed to outrun the rest of the defense.
Later in the game, Austin Ekeler (#30) also got involved in the passing game with a nice touchdown catch.
Ekeler began the play lined up in the backfield and ran a seam route. Keep an eye on Hitchens when the clip stops. He expected Ekeler to run an “out” route, but guessed wrong, and Ekeler ran past him. Once Ekeler beat Hitchens on the route, he put himself in a great position to make a catch. Philip Rivers (#17) then made a great throw, and the Chargers’ back came down with it for a touchdown.
When the opposing team uses their running backs to bolster their passing game, the Chiefs linebackers struggle defending them. The creative play calling of head coach Kyle Shanahan will lead to plenty of open plays for the running backs, which will keep the team in the game against a dangerous and explosive Chiefs offense.
If the 49ers choose to come out in I formations, fullback and “offensive weapon” Kyle Juszczyk will also get a chance to contribute in the passing game. Last week the Chiefs gave up a big catch to Roosevelt Nix (#45), who does not have as much of a role in the Steelers’ offense as Juszczyk does in the 49ers’.
On this play, Nix ran a simple out route, which was similar to the one Gordon ran in the first clip. Once again the Chiefs’ linebacker hesitated before going out to cover Nix, which allowed him to gain 19 yards on the pass. Expect Juszczyk to be a big part of the offense this week.
As the film shows, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to beat defenders.
The 49ers have a great opportunity to get their backs involved in the passing game and I believe that is going to be the true “X factor” for the team. If the backs can create enough of a distraction in the passing game, the rest of the receivers will find bigger openings in the defense and rack up the yardage for Jimmy Garoppolo. Once the defenders start playing the pass, the 49ers’ third-ranked rushing attack can begin to take up clock and run the ball.
Sources: NFL.com, youtube.com, Pro Football Reference