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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Why the 49ers Defensive Line Needs a Monster Game to Beat the Chiefs

Oct 22, 2022 at 7:00 PM--

On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will look to right their ship after a 24-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills when they face the 49ers in Santa Clara. The Niners, despite recently acquiring RB Christian McCaffrey, are home underdogs - 9 out of 10 NFL network analysts and 10 out of 10 contributors at The Athletic (paywall included) have picked Kansas City to win straight up. This is in large part because of the dynamic duo of QB Patrick Mahomes, who passed for 338 yards, 2 TD and 2 INT last week, and TE Travis Kelce, who gobbled up 112 total yards on 9 touches against a stout Buffalo defense.

Many believe the likeliest outcome is a dominant Kansas City victory, like NFL columnist Mike Jones, who gives the 49ers "zero chance" on a weekend where they're "ripe for a blowout loss." But as San Francisco found out last weekend against Atlanta, football games often come down to matchups. And the most critical matchup this week might be at the line of scrimmage.

A cursory examination would show this to be an extreme area of weakness for Kansas City, with the Chiefs ranking 30th out of 32 NFL teams in total pressures allowed - they've given up 93 pressures through six games so far this year. Meanwhile, the 49ers' defensive line ranks fifth in total pressures (63) and second in pressure rate, or the percent of times they pressure the opposing QB with a hurry, sack, or QB hit (30.0%).

With Nick Bosa likely to return after missing a game with a strained groin, the 49ers will be primed to climb back into place as one of the league's best. But, with DT Arik Armstead unlikely to play, DT Javon Kinlaw on IR, and EDGE Samson Ebukam in and out of games the past few weeks, it's not enough to say that Bosa alone will be able to put Mahomes on his back often enough for the Niners to cruise to victory.

That's because of an odd statistical split for the Chiefs' offensive line. Despite giving up pressures left and right, they're actually the fourth-best unit in the league at keeping those pressures from turning into sacks. Of the 93 pressures they've allowed, only 9 of them have actually ended in sacks, or 11.8% of the time. This means that nearly 9 out of 10 times that Mahomes feels pressure, he either throws the ball away, scrambles, or finds an open man downfield with a ridiculous throw that only he can create.

Keep an eye on Chiefs right tackle Andrew Wylie, who has struggled in consecutive weeks against edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Von Miller. Wylie has allowed 18 pressures and 6 sacks, and his 7.1% allowed pressure rate ranks him in the bottom-10 amongst NFL tackles. How the 49ers attack him will be paramount to their success against the pass game. Kansas City will likely look to help with as many chip blocks and running backs in for pass protection to help him as possible.

If DeMeco Ryans tries to attack Wylie aggressively, expect a number of twists and inside stunts that allow Bosa to force 1-on-1's with Wylie. Still, the rest of the Niners' defensive front will need to play sound, to avoid Mahomes slipping through the pocket and wreaking havoc in the open field. Alternatively, Ryans could scheme Bosa up against Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who's also allowed his fair share of pressures, allowing Samson Ebukam or Drake Jackson 1-on-1 opportunities to make a name for themselves against one of the league's most fearsome quarterbacks. But regardless of how San Francisco's defense approaches things, one thing is clear - "almost" won't be good enough against this wily Chiefs offense.

As long as the 49ers remain in the game with their fierce ground attack and YAC potential, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid will have more than enough incentive to lean on one of the league's best passing offenses. So if the game is close, and the Niners get ample opportunity to rush the passer, pay attention to the organized chaos that develops along the line of scrimmage. Whether or not the 49ers can finish their opportunities to take down Mahomes in the backfield will go a long way to deciding if they'll leave Levi's Stadium with a win tomorrow.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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