The 49ers’ win against Detroit in Week 3 left a bad taste in the mouths of many. Despite being up 30-13 in the fourth quarter, the 49ers were a defensive holding call away from potentially losing the game. The 49ers won 30-27, but the near collapse has fans and pundits alike doubting the team.
This Sunday, the 49ers travel to Kansas City to take on the red-hot Chiefs. Red hot might even be an understatement when describing quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes is proving that the coaching staff was right to trade Alex Smith and give him the keys.
Mahomes has thrown for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in the first two games of the season. In fact, he is the first QB to ever do that.
He has led the Chiefs to a 2-0 record and league-leading 40 points per game. It’s early in the season, but so far no one has figured out how to slow him down. And with the weapons he has, it’s no surprise why that is.
Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins are lethal receiving options. Add in Kareem Hunt from the backfield, and you have a deadly offense no matter who’s under center.
Despite a lot of pessimism stemming from the near collapse against the Lions, the 49ers have a formidable defense. For three quarters and some change, they held the Lions to just 13 points. And the week before that, they held the Vikings defense – who scored 29 points against the Packers last week – to just 17 points at home.
That’s not to say the 49ers will be keeping the Chiefs to under 20 points.
However, lots of people are underrating the defense.
The bad news is how banged up the defense actually is. Richard Sherman was on Thursday's injury report with a heel injury, Ahkello Witherspoon has ankle and hip injuries and has been limited in practice, and Jaquiski Tartt has yet to practice this week with a shoulder injury. That’s ¾ of the starting secondary.
The good news is that star linebacker Reuben Foster is back from his two game suspension and will be starting next to rookie standout Fred Warner. Malcolm Smith is also looking to play in his first game as a 49er since signing with the team last year.
Having speed in the linebacking corps is extremely important to limiting the Chiefs’ offense. Taking away Kelce and Hunt will be imperative to slowing down Kansas City.
An interesting tidbit is what both Sherman and Steelers’ linebacker Bud Dupree both had to say about Mahomes, who put up 42 points against the Steelers last week.
Dupree had this to say, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN:
Dupree said that on Monday after their loss to the Chiefs.
On Thursday, Sherman said, “There were a lot of busts in the Pittsburgh game. A lot of guys out of position. It’s like they tried to do too much.
“I think they made it way too complicated. (Mahomes) made great plays and great throws, but there were a lot of guys running scot-free, butt naked wide open,” via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
From these comments, it looks like the 49ers will be taking the opposite route the Steelers took. Instead of trying to trick Mahomes, they’re going to line up across their opponent, and simply make them win their matchups. Mahomes has proven you can’t trick him, you have to be fundamentally sound and not make mistakes.
However, for as good as their offense is, their defense is the opposite story. The Chiefs currently have the 32nd ranked defense in the league. They're also giving up a league worst 508 yards per game, and they’re 28th in points per game at 32.5.
No matter what either defense does, this game is going to be a shootout. It always was.
After two games, the 49ers are pretty much dead center in the middle of the league in terms of points per game (23.0). In order to win this game, they’re probably going to have to score at least 30 points, and for the second week in a row.
Hopefully the 49ers will have learned from last week that you can never take your foot off the gas, no matter how late in the game it is and how many points you’re winning by. Especially in a game like this. When you’re on the road against a high-powered offense, you have to try and score every time the offense gets the ball.
Matt Brieda is currently leading the league in rushing, mainly from his career game in Week 2. The 49ers have the third-best rushing attack in the NFL, but the Chiefs do have the sixth-best run defense. If the 49ers want to win this game, it has to be on the back of Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Chiefs defense is dead last in passing yards given up at 430 yards per game. This might be slightly skewed because of the QBs they’ve faced, as Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are both elite.
However, you don’t give a QB a $137.5 million deal unless you expect him to hang with the best. Garoppolo has the skills to put up the same numbers against the Chiefs defense, but he just hasn’t put it all together yet this season. He is still missing throws and taking too many sacks.
He looked a little passive in Week 2 after his three interception performance against the Vikings the week prior. This led to him holding onto the ball too long and taking some sacks he probably shouldn’t have. Even if they were coverage sacks, he needs to learn to either throw the ball away, or just take off and run.
Garoppolo needs to find a happy medium between the fearless gunslinger he was in Week 1 and the passive game manager he was in Week 2 – because the 49ers are going to need both to beat the Chiefs on Sunday.
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