The San Francisco 49ers visit the Kansas City Chiefs for Week 3 of the 2019 preseason, and there are some key storylines you'll want to watch for this particular contest.


The San Francisco 49ers are a perfect 2-0 this preseason after knocking off the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos over the first two exhibition games of 2019. Now, they'll have a chance to improve to 3-0 on Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Preseason wins and losses mean little, of course, outside of the players vying for spots on the 53-man roster who made the wins possible. And while these exhibition bouts do have some meaningless attributes attached to them, there are numerous aspects carrying some importance.

Week 3 of the preseason is typically viewed as any team's dress rehearsal for the regular season, and Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan appears poised to play a good chunk of his starters for at least two quarters of Saturday's bout in Kansas City. While both he and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid won't completely open up their respective playbooks, the game might resemble the closest thing to a regular-season game we've seen yet.

More importantly, though, there are some key notes and storylines to watch for San Francisco in this contest.

Performance of 49ers Secondary


The 49ers' first-team defense didn't see too much of the field in Denver last Monday, only having to face off against the Broncos starters for a handful of drives. Yet there's a stark difference between Denver's quarterback, Joe Flacco, and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes helped lead the Chiefs' No. 1-ranked offense in record-setting fashion last season, which presents a tougher challenge for San Francisco's starters in the defensive backfield. The Niners did relatively little this offseason to address the secondary, instead choosing to reinforce the pass rush. While that might be the right formula, defensively, for the 49ers in 2019, this particular contest should prove to be a good challenge for defensive backs facing some question marks this preseason.

Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon is coming off a forgettable 2018 campaign, yet he looks as if he's made strides towards being a reliable starter since. Defensive back Tarvarius Moore, who is making the transition from corner back to free safety, has been receiving the lion's share of snaps at the position this preseason. Nickel corner D.J. Reed has been seeing plenty of field time, too, with K'Waun Williams (knee) on the mend.

At least it's a positive for San Francisco to face off against one of the more potent offenses in the league without the stats counting for anything.

Which Wide Receivers Step Up


The 49ers have seen some of their crop of wide receivers make plays this preseason. The rookie, Jalen Hurd, was impressive against Dallas, while fellow rookie Deebo Samuel had a nice end-around run in Denver last week. Second-year pro Richie James has all but solidified a spot on the 53-man roster with his budding return abilities, too. The team's leading wideout from 2018, Kendrick Bourne, had a key drop against the Broncos before finishing with the Niners' final touchdown of the game.

Yet the sheer depth of this position this preseason means a number of notable names may not make the cut for Week 1. Veteran wide receiver Jordan Matthews has been targeted just twice this preseason, hauling in a lone catch for 12 yards. Despite the relative absence from the stat sheet, Shanahan still gave Matthews an endorsement.

Second-year wide receiver Dante Pettis has had up-and-down moments, too.

At either rate, San Francisco will be looking for its wide receivers to make a key impact against a questionable Chiefs defense, giving Shanahan more data to make what looks to be a crucial slate of decisions when roster cuts take place later this month.

Offensive Line Depth


While the Niners have some depth at wide receiver, the same can't exactly be said of their offensive line. Following the loss of swing tackle Shon Coleman (ankle/leg), rookie Justin Skule appears poised to take over the primary backup job to starters Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. The problem, though, is Skule doesn't yet appear poised to handle starting duties at the pro level. Against the Broncos, Skule finished with a lowly 53.6 overall Pro Football Focus grade -- the lowest among San Francisco's linemen during the game.

Reserve interior linemen, Ben Garland and Najee Toran, didn't exactly account for themselves well either. And with center Weston Richburg (knee) and right guard Mike Person (foot) still out, it's likely both Garland and Toran will see ample field time in Kansas City.

Missing 40 percent of the starting cast last Monday, San Francisco's O-line wasn't quite able to jell against one of the better pass rushes this preseason. PFF is currently giving Denver the No. 2-ranked pass rush early on, while Kansas City is ranked 19th. So, perhaps, that gives the 49ers blockers a bit easier an opportunity Saturday night.

Still, seeing if some of the O-line's backups are able to improve their stock will be a vital aspect of preseason Week 3.

Jimmy Garoppolo Trying to Bounce Back


There's no easy way around it. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn't look good in his on-field debut after tearing his ACL in Week 3 last year. Garoppolo, of course, went 1-of-6 in Denver with a net of zero yards, an interception and a passer rating of 0.0.

Granted, the offense never clicked early on during that particular contest. And while the quarterback's shoddy performance grabbed both local and national headlines in the days since, it's hard to draw serious conclusions about a mere three drives.

All said, however, Garoppolo later admitted there was some proverbial rust to be shaken off.



Shanahan would prefer to see Garoppolo look more like the franchise-caliber quarterback in Kansas City, and he'll likely wind up giving Jimmy G a good deal of reps to get back into rhythm.

Considering it will be at the same location where Garoppolo tore his ACL last season only gives this particular storyline an added wrinkle.

The 49ers and Chiefs kick off on Saturday, Aug. 24 at 8 p.m. ET from Arrowhead Stadium.
  • Peter Panacy
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    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.