Some are calling this a must-win game and if the Niners do not prevail at Arrowhead, they will have a very tough road ahead of them if they are going to make the playoffs. This game looked like a fairly easy match-up when the Schedule was published, but The Chiefs, under a new coaching regime, have gotten off to a surprisingly good start: beating The Chargers soundly in their home opener and pulling-off an all-important, if less impressive, road win against the Browns. They have done it with a distance-eating ground game, a surprisingly stout defense and some explosive Special Teams play. If the Niners are going to notch their first win of the season in what now looks to be a challenging encounter, they are going to have to get the following ten things done:
1. Beat the Clock: it's an early game, the first of the season. The 49ers record in early road games is poor, they have a sorry 6-22 record in early road games since.2005 (2-22 if you exclude victories against the Rams). On Sunday, they must overcome the early-start hoo-doo. Hopefully, the team has been starting the business day 2-3 hours early so the players will be ready to go come 10:00 AM PST Sunday. If not, why not?
2. Beat the Clock Pt. 2: there was a big improvement getting the plays in on time against the Saints with Alex Smith's use of a numbered arm-band, this must continue against the Chiefs as the crowd noise will be off the hook. In what is likely to be a close game that could well come down to the wire, Singletary and Co. had better arrive at the 2 minute-and-change mark with all 3 Time-outs intact (except for challenges). Time management is going to be critical in this game.
3. Overcome the Noise: in the Chiefs home opener against the Chargers, the noise level inside the re-modeled Arrowhead stadium was insane. Expect it to be no quieter with an 81,000 capacity crowd on Sunday. This game will really test whether Alex Smith can do a better job of keeping his cool in a loud, hostile Stadium than he managed in Seattle.
4. Run the ball: the Chiefs Defense has been transformed under Romeo Crennel and will be looking to go all-out to stop Gore and make the Niners offense one-dimensional. Gore and the O-line will find it much tougher to move the ball than they did against the Saints (whose D has long had problems stopping the run). Despite the Chiefs newly found run-stopping ability, the Niners have to move the ball if the passing game is to be effective.
5. Stop the run: the Chiefs running tandem has racked-up 275 rushing yards in the first two games and, with a so-so passing game, they will be trying to keep the ball on the ground on Sunday. It's a good job that the Niners have one of the best run-stopping Ds in the NFL,they need to show up big on Sunday.
6. Get to Cassel early: Matt Cassel has had a so-so career and a so-so start to this season. He is on the hot-seat and is playing for his job under Charlie Weiss, who has already promised to "fix the QB situation" in Kansas City. Presumably, that means starting somebody else if Cassel doesn't improve. The Niners pass-rush needs to try and make Charlie Weiss's decision easier by getting Cassell on the ground early and getting in his head. If they can do that, he is likely to start throwing erratically and one or more picks could then follow.
7. Win the Turnover ratio: turnovers were the deciding factor in the close loss to the Saints. it is unlikely that the Niners will go turnover-free in this game: the Chiefs Secondary just looks too good. Whatever happens, the Niners D must get the ball off the Chiefs more times than the O coughs it up.
8. Look out on Kick and Punt returns: Rookie Dexter McCluster has blazing speed, has already run one back for a TD and has averaged 33.3 yards per reception in the first 2 games. The Niners return coverage had better come correct or they will get burned by this guy. On the other side of the ball, after the disaster of Adams' fumbled put against the Saints, Kyle WIlliams, who hasn't played since the pre-season on August 15, will be taking over return duties. Let's hope he knows when to catch the ball and when to leave it be.
9. Don't beat themselves: this should be number one, really. After the first 2 games, they can't afford to make any more self-defeating mistakes in this must-win game.
10. Score: in the first 2 games, the Offense has failed to take full advantage of scoring opportunities and has turned the ball over when in scoring range. There will not be many scoring opportunities in this game, so they must take them when they arise. It will probably be a low scoring game, but I think the Niners will win because they simply MUST win this one: Niners 17 - 13 Chiefs.