One of the 49ers big problems last year was in the return game. While their kick returners were a bit up and down at best, the punt returners were simply awful. The team added Kyle Williams and Phillip Adams in the draft while also trading for Ted Ginn Jr., all of whom have seen time returning punts and/or kicks over the past two months. Williams injured his toe in the first preseason game and is expected to finally make his return this Sunday. Ginn was returning punts and kicks but sprained his MCL and will probably miss one more game before returning. Adams filled in returning punts on Monday and had a costly fumble late in the game that cost the team a crucial three points.
However, as much as we've discussed the 49ers special teams, it is the Kansas Chiefs special teams that is worthy of discussion this week. The Chiefs are 2-0 and I would argue their special teams is as much a reason for that as anything. The Chiefs currently rank #1 in special teams DVOA thanks in part to an average of 18.4 yards per punt return. One of those punt returns was 94 yards for a touchdown, so even if we subtract that out they're still averaging 9 yards per punt return. Not spectacular, but pretty impressive. And considering they've for Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster back there returning punts, a game-breaking return is always a threat.
The 49ers lost or let go of several special teams standouts this past offseason and it seems to be costing them a little bit, although not necessarily as much as we might otherwise believe. Last year the 49ers gave up 21.8 yards per kick return and 8.7 yards per punt return. Thus far in 2010, the 49ers have given up 24.7 yards per kick return and 10.0 yards per punt return. Certainly worse, but it's also a small sample size. It's possible that number goes down as the coverage units get more comfortable with each other.
Whatever the case, this is one of the major battles with which the 49ers will have to contend on Sunday. Will the 49ers find success in containing Arenas and McCluster?