On August 11th 2017 the San Francisco 49ers will play the Kansas City Chiefs after what seems like an eternity since their final game of the 2016 season. The hype surrounding the team has been at an all-time high throughout the entire off-season, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and the reality for the faithful will finally begin to be revealed.
After going through a miserable season finishing at 2-14, most teams wouldn’t have much reason to be optimistic. The difference in San Francisco? Kyle Shanahan – offensive coordinator of the Falcons when they tied for seventh most points scored in a single season in NFL history. However, the talent in San Francisco is clearly nowhere near as impressive as the Falcons despite the considerable retooling the 49ers underwent after their abysmal performances under Chip Kelly. After finishing last year averaging only 181 passing yards per game, the 49ers decided to alter pretty much their whole team, replacing many players with guys that were perceived to better fit or who have had prior experience in Shanahan’s offense.
Will we see improvement from last year? Will we be disappointed?
Granted it is only the first pre-season game so the projected starters mainly won’t play, or will do so on a very limited basis, and the coaching staff won’t install much of a game plan. Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to finally start to see what we’ve been hearing about during training camp. Despite high expectations, there is a need to stay realistic. There’s going to be some positives along with some negatives as this team is transitioning to a new offense and also to a 4-3 defense. The camp battles have been intense so far and should continue into the preseason. I am impatiently waiting to see how quickly and effectively the offensive players will adapt to Shanahan’s system.
Kansas City Chiefs Standout Defensive players:
CB Marcus Peters
Marcus Peters is by far the Chiefs number one cornerback and should continue his improvement while heading into his third season as one of the biggest risers at the position in the NFL. He made 41 tackles and snatched 6 int in 2016. He snagged an interception or recorded a pass breakup on 20 percent of balls thrown his way, the third-highest mark at the position. He allowed a passer rating of just 66.0 when targeted, ranking sixth among 81 eligible CBs. If and when he plays, he will be covering the 49ers number one option.
DT Chris Jones
The sky is the limit for 2nd year Chris Jones who had an excellent rookie season and has the makings of a future Pro Bowl interior defender. He totaled 28 tackles, two sacks, eight quarterback hits and 32 hurries. Jones is extremely strong and when mixed with his terrifying bull rush skills, he often pushes the linemen right into the backfield which forces the opposition quarterback to force a throw or move out of the pocket. The bad news for Jones is that he is currently on the PUP list with a knee injury.
LB Dee Ford
Dee Ford led the team in sacks last year and the pass rush specialist will look to improve even more this season. With the inexperience in KC’s secondary, Ford’s emergence as a force could be key to the success of the team. He had an overall PFF grade last year of 80.8 and led the Chiefs in 2016 with a team high 10 sacks. He will certainly test the 49ers shaky offensive line and could exploit the unit’s weaknesses.
LB Derrick Johnson
Derrick Johnson has been pretty limited in camp so far but is looking very solid given the fact that he’s 34 years old and is coming off an Achilles injury in December. Johnson is a consistent player that regularly shows up in each game, he totaled 90 tackles in 2016. However, he will continue to have a limited role in the preseason but should play sparingly in Friday’s preseason opener.
S Eric Berry
Eric Berry was an inspiring story last year after returning to play after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was received the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. Berry played tremendously well in his return. He finished the 2016 season with a combined 77 tackles with 4 ints, returning two of those for touchdowns. He received a PFF grade of 87.8 which has him tied for 7th. He has been battling a sore heel in training camp, so I expect him to play very limited if at all.
LB Justin Houston
Justin Houston is another impact player that is coming back from an injury. According to reports out of KC, Houston has been able to keep up with running backs on passing drills which indicates his knee rehab is going really well. He finished last season with 20 tackles and 4 sacks in only 5 games, but he will have to remain healthy to make any sort of impact. If Houston does play, he should be a incredibly tough to block and will likely disrupt the QBs’ time to read the defense which could force bad throws, turnovers or sacks.
Intriguing Storylines and Matchups
SF’s Offensive Line vs KC’s Defense
The 49ers offensive line is the weakest position on the team in my opinion. Except for long time Niner Joe Staley, the unit has a lot of question marks and will be vital to the team’s overall success. Trent Brown, Daniel Kilgore, Brandon Fusco and Zane Beadles are all notable contenders to start alongside Staley. Daniel Kilgore has had the strongest offseason of any of the offensive lineman and appears to have ensured himself of a starting role.
Nevertheless, the 49ers’ offensive line took a big hit when Joshua Garnett suffered a knee injury that will keep him out for at least a month and the team also decided to lose some veteran depth after they recently released veteran Jeremy Zuttah. The O-line last year was very up and down and must look to improve this season. They start their campaign facing a Kansas City defensive unit that features some solid players.
Brian Hoyer is scheduled to start this game and should receive a series or two of playing time. It has been reported throughout training camp that he has looked pretty crisp for the most part, delivering accurately on his short, medium and deep passes. He has been described as a leader and very much in control of the offense so I’d like to see him demand that in the huddle and show that he is the clear cut starter on this team.
Matt Barkley should be the team’s backup for at least the first game. Reports have shown inconsistency; he’s made both great and bad throws so far in camp and will need to improve in order to hold down his role as the number two QB behind Hoyer. He could well see a lot more pressure than Hoyer so he’ll have to try to avoid making mistakes leading to turnovers which have plagued him so far in training camp.
CJ Beathard is a rookie that Kyle Shanahan absolutely loves and who he stood on the table for during the draft in April. He started off camp pretty slowly but many reports but has been improving with each practice.
It has been reported recently that he has been outshining Barkley which leads to speculation of him being the team’s number two quarterback. These reports have led some media and fans to suggest only keeping 2 QBs (Hoyer and Beathard) and releasing Barkley, a risky move as the 49ers would only have a rookie as a backup. This preseason as a whole will be huge for Beathard because he will try to not only win the backup job, but to show everyone why coach Shanahan was so adamant in drafting him.
Many rumors on Carlos Hyde job status has been wildly reported the last few months but based on how he has performed, it seems likely the thought of releasing or trading him has died down. I imagine that he will only play a maximum of 2 series. I am very interested in seeing how the 49ers backups will fare versus a Kansas City team that has a ton of depth on the defensive line. Hyde and company should all benefit from the newly installed zone running scheme provided they can recognise the correct hole to run through and the offensive line can open up those holes.
While both have performed well in practice, Joe Williams and Matt Breida will definitely be players to keep an eye on as we see how well that they can perform in an actual game due to the difficulty in assessing RBs in practice with the lack of contact. Kansas City has a lack of depth at the linebacker position so I look for both of them to make splash plays while going against the 2’s and 3’s, especially if they’re able to get pass the Chiefs’ defensive line and reach the second level. The Chiefs struggled last year ranking 26th overall against the run, allowing 121 rushing yards per game. It doesn’t appear that they made much significant progress with improving their overall depth and I honestly feel that we will see many of the 49ers running backs produce very well and could outplay the passing attack.
I suspect that the teams projected number two RB Tim Hightower will not play in this game because of a nagging knee injury that has forced him to miss multiple practices. He has been listed as day to day.
FB Kyle Juszczyk
Kyle Juszczyk was brought in to help the run game improve from last year. He received a contract making him the highest paid fullback in the league. Well he truly deserves it, he had a PFF grade of 86.0 which was the highest of all of the fullbacks in the league. On top of that Juszczyk is very versatile, named the OW or the “Offensive Weapon” it will be interesting to see how he not only helps lead block for the running back but how he’s used as a pass catcher as well.
The 49ers wide receiver group also went through a huge makeover this offseason and hope to improve on a lacklustre performance in 2016. The 49ers will look to showcase their new weapons versus an up and coming Kansas City secondary. The Chiefs finished ranking 17th overall, giving up 257 passing yards per game.
Pierre Garçon is by far the number one receiver on the team and will have to face Marcus Peters. We have heard a lot of great things coming out of camp regarding the Hoyer-Garçon connection so I’m looking forward to seeing if that continues going into games because the team will be relying on Garçon’s experience tremendously.
Marquise Goodwin has been killing it at training camp and looks to put a much need spark into an offensive team that lacked explosive plays a year ago. He will be looking to prove that he’s much more of a complete receiver, something I really believe that he has the potential to be.
He was utilized poorly when he was in Buffalo as they only used him mainly for straight “go” routes. I believe that he will show that he is capable of being a number two receiver opposite of Garcon. He could be matched up with Terrance Mitchell who started to really come on for the Chiefs last year. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had only a 55.5 Quarterback rating when throwing at Mitchell last season in 6 games. Mitchell is listed at 5’11 but he seems to play much bigger which could give Goodwin some issues. Steven Nelson is another candidate to cover Goodwin who has reportedly had an outstanding camp.
Trent Taylor has been another offensive standout in training camp. Taylor has shown to be very quick and shifty in and out of his breaks. He has been hugely impressive, showing that he has consistent hands and has made a ridiculous amount of highlight catches and has been given the nickname “Toe Tap” by his teammates. The thing to watch out for with Taylor is if he’s able to beat the press and get a good release off of the line of scrimmage. He should be worked in with the 2’s/3’s and will hopefully receive an extended amount of playing time.
Other receivers to watch are Victor Bolden Jr, Deandre Smelter, Aaron Burbridge and Kendrick Bourne, who are likely battling it out for the sixth and final WR roster spot. The Chiefs secondary is pretty solid as a whole so these guys will have to really execute the plays properly to make an impact.
The tight end group consists of George Kittle, Vance McDonald, Logan Paulsen, Cole Hikutini, Blake Bell and Garrett Celek. That is the order that I’d list the unit as of now but there hasn’t been any standout tight end yet.
Not only will it be valuable for a player looking to make the team to be able to consistently catch the ball, but they must be able to be counted on to be able to maintain blocks to help out the run game. I’d have to say that George Kittle is the only “safe” one on the roster based on the fact that he was just drafted, but he has missed some time in camp so far and will need to stay healthy to make an impact. Kittle is doubtful to play in this game as he’s been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury. This first game could really help someone really make a name for themselves as they all are in a significant battle to make the roster.
There are so many questions that this team has and with each passing practice and game we will start to see what and who this team will become. With the tremendous excitement that I feel for this season I could go on and on with different players that I’m excited to see play on both side of the ball but at this point I’m just ready to sit back and see what happens.
Make sure to be on the lookout for a breakdown on this game of the defensive side of the ball by Nothing but Niners newest writer Cory and give him a follow!! Follow @cofy21