Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports


49ers vs. Chiefs: 5 things to watch for San Francisco in Week 3

Sep 23, 2018 at 8:35 AM


The San Francisco 49ers visit the Kansas City Chiefs and their red-hot offense in Week 3. Here are five things to watch during the game as the Niners look to pull off the upset.


When the 2018 NFL schedule was released, many San Francisco 49ers fans likely pegged the team's Week 3 road contest against the Kansas City Chiefs as the biggest unknown within the first four weeks of the season.

The reason, of course, was second-year Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was a true wild card -- an X-factor, whose first responsibilities as an established starter were either going to go well or terribly.

After two games, it's pretty safe to say things are going exceptionally well for Mahomes and the Chiefs.

Mahomes has passed for a league-leading 10 touchdowns over two games this season, leading Kansas City's No. 1-ranked offense in road victories over the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively. And at this rate, Mahomes is poised to toss 80 touchdowns on the season, which would completely shatter the record set by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning back in 2013.

The Chiefs' young quarterback will slow down at some point, of course. But according to the odds makers, it's not likely to happen in Week 3 with the Niners coming to town.

According to Odds Shark, the 49ers are 6.5-point underdogs in K.C.'s first home game of the season. And with a banged-up roster, including injuries to defensive backs Ahkello Witherspoon (ankle) and Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder), one can feel a bit worried about how the Chiefs offense could rack up the points against a suspect Niners defense.

The 49ers should have a game plan to counter what Kansas City can do on offense -- keep Mahomes and Co. off the field.

While the Chiefs offense has been electrifying these first two weeks, their defense is easily worse than that of San Francisco, coming into this contest allowing 6.9 yards per play, which is the second most of any team during that span. So if the Niners can control the ball and the clock, they might stand a chance.

That's one of the five subject points to watch this Sunday when the Niners visit the Chiefs.

Controlling the Clock


Both the Chargers and Steelers managed a better time of possession during their losses to Kansas City earlier this season. So winning the clock battle alone won't be enough for San Francisco. But that doesn't mean it isn't crucial.

The Chiefs are allowing opposing offenses average drives of 3:02 on the season -- third highest among defenses. And those opponents so far have scored an average of 2.82 points per drive, which puts Kansas City's defense second worst in this category.

If the game turns into a high-scoring shootout, the 49ers lose. It's that simple. Instead, the Niners benefit from a slowed-down tempo featuring running back Matt Breida, the league's leading rusher, and a run-first offense. While only having allowed 156 rushing yards over two weeks, that stat can be attributed to both the Chargers and Steelers falling behind early and relying more on the passing game. The Chiefs are allowing 4.5 yards per rush, which ranks 23rd over two weeks.

Challenging Patrick Mahomes to Make Plays Under Pressure


As 49ers Webzone's Rich Madrid pointed out earlier, Mahomes hasn't shown a lot of flaws thus far into the season. But the ones he has shown are flaws the 49ers can exploit in Week 3.

Madrid explained:

So far the early signs for Mahomes are positive and he's had more positive plays than negative ones. Eventually he will come back down to earth, but it's possible that doesn't happen against the 49ers. To truly affect his game, they'll have to get pressure consistently and force him off his spot and therefore force him into bad throws because of his broken footwork under pressure.

Some questionable footwork might be how Mahomes falls victim to San Francisco's pass rush, particularly up the middle with defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

So far, however, the numbers haven't shown how this is a Mahomes weakness. According to Pro Football Focus, Mahomes is passing for a rating of 132.9 when facing pressure.

Still, this might be the best course of action for San Francisco's defense when it's on the field.

49ers' No. 2 Cornerback Performance


Cornerback Richard Sherman has done his job thus far in 2018 shutting down his side of the field, according to PFF:


Sherman's boundary teammate, Witherspoon, hasn't exactly been exemplary. Witherspoon could bounce back, assuming he plays. Or he could continue to be a liability. Should Witherspoon come out due to injury or poor performance, the next man up would be defensive back Jimmie Ward. Or, possibly, rookie defensive back Tarvarius Moore sees some field time. Why not, especially if things get out of hand for San Francisco early?

The Chiefs have two capable receivers at Mahomes' disposal: Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. Hill is the more prolific of the two, which would suggest the 49ers force Watkins to be Kansas City's primary play maker here. Seeing how the 49ers' No. 2 corner, whoever it is, responds to this pressure will be a key X-factor in determining the game's outcome.

The Reuben Foster & Fred Warner Pairing


For the first time this season, we'll see linebackers Reuben Foster and Fred Warner on the field at the same time.

It's a good thing too. The 49ers defense is infinitely better with Foster, who just finished his two-game suspension to start the year, on the field. And Warner has already shown plenty of reasons to justify being an every-down starter.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh likely employs Foster at the weak-side (WILL) linebacker spot, while Warner handles MIKE duties and calls the defensive plays in the huddle. This gives Warner an added responsibility of coverage duties to either side, particularly on the strong side, where he'll often square off against Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

Regardless of the game's outcome, seeing how this duo works out will be an exciting foretelling of San Francisco's defensive future.

What Jimmy Garoppolo Do We See?


In Week 1, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo turned the ball over three times, although one could argue two of his three interceptions thrown against the Minnesota Vikings weren't on his shoulders.

Perhaps this caused Garoppolo to be a bit more gun shy in Week 2 against the Detroit Lions, holding onto the ball for far too long and taking six sacks in the process.

Without diving too deeply into these two-game issues, but noting how the absence of No. 1 wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (quad) might have hurt things, there's still going to be a bit of a concern about how Garoppolo performs against one of the NFL's worst defenses in Week 3.

A lot of that could hinge on Goodwin's availability, which helps open up the field underneath and could spell more opportunities for San Francisco's other pass catchers. If Goodwin isn't able to go, however, Garoppolo still will take his chances despite a would-be-wise game plan utilizing more of the running game than anything else.

And if Garoppolo and Co. can capitalize more on third down and within the red zone, the Niners just may have a chance to pull off a signature upset this early in the season.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
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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