The San Francisco 49ers somehow came away with an ugly win against the Detroit Lions last week and now must head to Arrowhead to face the red-hot Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Even at full strength, it would be a tall task to pull out a road win over the NFL’s most explosive offense. That tall task becomes even taller when you factor in a rash of minor injuries that could prevent some key players for the 49ers from making an impact on the field.
Here are some things to watch out for in KC this weekend:
Who Covers Tyreek Hill?
Unfortunately, even a healthy 49ers secondary would be hard-pressed to take WR Tyreek Hill out of the game for the Chiefs. When factoring in injuries to Ahkello Witherspoon (ankle), Richard Sherman (heel), and Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder), covering Hill becomes a nightmare that must have been keeping defensive coordinator Robert Saleh up at night this week, and one he must figure out.
It’s not all bad news on that defensive front since Witherspoon and Sherman are expected to play, and the 49ers will see the return of linebacker Reuben Foster from a two-game suspension. Sunday should also mark the 49ers regular season debut for inside linebacker Malcolm Smith. If Foster can quickly round into Pro Bowl form, it will help take away some space for Hill and the Kansas City passing offense.
Jimmy G Must Take Advantage
2018 hasn’t been very kind to Jimmy Garoppolo. After coming in to this season with a ton of hype, Jimmy G has had some missteps and has yet to show off the Midas touch that led the 49ers to five straight wins to end the 2017 season.
The absolutely porous Chiefs defense should give the leader of the 49ers offense a great opportunity to get back on track. KC is dead last in the NFL in overall team defense currently, and is particularly soft in the middle of the field — an area that Jimmy thrives in. The injury to Goodwin hasn’t helped matters, and he remains a game time decision. However if Marquise can go, it will open up the field for the 49ers offense to go to work.
Buckner and the Defensive Line Need to Feast
After having some success generating pressure in week one against the Vikings, things took a turn for the worse against the Lions. In particular, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas left a lot to be desired. Armstead is slow off the line and has yet to make any impact in the passing game.
Meanwhile, Thomas did get some pressure up the middle but his biggest knock from college — namely that his small hands cause him to miss tackles, reared its ugly head in once again, as he missed a sack on Matthew Stafford and allowed a first-down completion.
With Patrick Mahomes carving up the NFL so far, the 49ers have to knock him out of his comfort zone early and often, and force him away from his primary read by muddying up the pocket. By forcing Mahomes to throw off platform, it should expose the young, inexperienced quarterback to making less than ideal throws and allow the 49ers secondary the opportunity to make some significant plays.
Redzone Touchdowns are Crucial
As important as scoring in the redzone is under normal circumstances, it becomes especially so when the 49ers have to keep up in what should be a shootout. Robbie Gould field goals simply won’t cut it against a team that is averaging ~40 points per game so far.
Execution in the redzone has been poor so far with penalties and negative plays bogging down the offense at extremely critical times. Jimmy and the offense have to button up and score points or they risk being blown out. It’s as simple as that.
Whether they feed the ball to Matt Breida, or tighten up plays like the overthrow to Kittle in the endzone, the 49ers have to take advantage of the redzone the same way they do between the 20’s.
Execution is Vital
To expand upon the issues with the redzone, the 49ers have to execute far better than they have so far this season. Between blown-coverages, miscommunications leading to turnovers, penalties, and missed tackles, 2018 has been marred by extremely sloppy play.
Jimmy and the offense have to get on the same page on play calls. At least two Jimmy interceptions have been a case of the receiver and Garoppolo not being in sync on which route needs to be run. On defense, penalties and poor tackling — especially on third down, have extended drives for the opposition. Hopefully the return of Reuben Foster can iron out some of the tackling issues.
Penalties on both sides of the ball have also been an issue. They’ve been silly and often at critical points during the game. From Witherspoon’s two pass-interference calls against the Lions, to a bevy of holding calls throughout both games, the 49ers can’t hope to pull out a victory as long as they keep shooting themselves in the foot. Again, it’s as simple as that.
The 49ers are road underdogs going into K.C., and rightfully so, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a hope of winning. Patrick Mahomes has been lights-out so far, but his currently historic play should come back down to Earth at some point this season.
If the 49ers can cut back on the silly mistakes, get a boost from the returning Reuben Foster, and work collectively to limit Tyreek Hill, they stand a chance to take advantage of a poor Kansas City defense. They’ll need to use their own stout run-defense to slow down the Chiefs attack and stay in the game.
It’s certainly a tall task, but as they say in the NFL, ‘any given Sunday.’