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Previewing Justin Houston, Steven Nelson and the Chiefs’ underwhelming defense

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Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo should be licking their chops.

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

While I praised Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs’ offense in my preview earlier this week, it’s time to pick apart the Kansas City defense.

Bob Sutton’s crew is ranked 32nd in the NFL in yards allowed, 32nd in pass defense, 23rd in rushing defense, and Football Outsiders ranks them 32nd in efficiency. After playing Minnesota and Detroit’s stingy defense, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers’ offense should have a field day in Kansas City.

A few seasons ago, the Chiefs were known as a defensive-minded team, with a complementary offense. Now, Kansas City features a potent offense, with a defense that just needs to buy a few stops every game.

In order to get 49ers’ fans familiarized with this new-look Chiefs’ defense, here are some highlights (mostly lowlights, actually) of Sutton’s group.

Thank god, there’s no more Marcus Peters

After the Chiefs decided to part ways with their most talented defensive back during the offseason, there was clearly no plan to replace him. Kansas City’s defensive backfield isn’t nearly as impressive, especially with safety Eric Berry out with an injury.

Against the Steelers, the Chiefs’ defense was on the field for 82 plays. Their defense gave up over 400 yards and nearly gave the game away with their poor play. In this play below, Steelers’ wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster runs a simple route and gets separation from Chiefs’ corner Kendall Fuller and gain 19 yards on a simple pitch and catch.

After losing Peters, Fuller and newly-signed corner Orlando Scandrick were brought in to replace him. Per Pro Football Focus, Fuller is ranked 65th among corners, with a PFF grade of 60.7 after two weeks of play. Scandrick and Nelson haven’t been much better either.

In this next clip, the Chiefs’ pathetic secondary is back on display. Steelers’ tight end Jesse James is able to sneak behind the linebackers and under the safety and get wide open near the end zone. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is able to buy some time and make the easy throw for a 26-yard touchdown.

49ers’ tight end George Kittle has been one of San Francisco’s leading receivers this season. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has done a solid job of creating route combinations that free up Kittle. I fully expect the 49ers’ tight ends to take advantage of the Chiefs’ leaky back end and make big plays on Sunday.

Another play, another defensive breakdown for the Chiefs. Smith-Schuster gets wide open coming across the formation, as the Chiefs’ linebacker doesn’t pick him up. Roethlisberger makes the easy throw for a gain of 21 yards. A lot of the Steelers’ big plays from this past weekend were more a result of the miscues on defense.

Chris Jones, Justin Houston and the Chiefs’ lack of a pass rush

The Chiefs’ defensive line has always been known to generate a strong pass rush, from the days of Tamba Hali to Dee Ford to Justin Houston. However, this season the Chiefs just haven’t been able to create any pressure on the opposing quarterback. Through two weeks of the regular season, the Chiefs’ pressure rate is 19.1 percent, which ranks 28th in the NFL.

While the 49ers and Garoppolo have had some sack-related struggles, it seems like this is the week to start fixing that problem. The 49ers’ signal caller should have plenty of time on Sunday to make the proper reads and accurate throws from the pocket.

The most effective player on the Chiefs’ defense is defensive tackle Chris Jones. The second-year player has really made a leap this season, ranking 12th in run defense and 20th in pass rush, among qualifying defensive linemen.

On one of the first plays for the Steelers’ offense this past week, running back James Conner took the hand off from Roethlisberger and was stuffed immediately for a three-yard loss. Even though the Chiefs’ run defense is leaky, Jones is one of their best interior run stoppers.

Here’s an example of that leaky run defense I just mentioned. Conner takes this first-and-10 hand off for nine yards, breaking a few tackles along the way. Not only did it seem like the Chiefs were taking bad angles on this play, they were making lazy attempts at tackles, which led to the large gain.

Across the board, Sutton’s defensive crew seems to be lacking. The back end of the defense has had multiple breakdowns, leaving receivers wide open. Garoppolo and his receivers should be looking to take advantage of it on Sunday.

The Chiefs’ pass rush hasn’t delivered either, only racking up two sacks all year. Jones, Ford and defensive lineman Allen Bailey will be stout in the run game, but as long as they don’t generate a rush on Sunday, the 49ers should be successful.

I fully expect this to be an offensive shootout and the defense that’s able to find a few stops is likely going to push their team to victory. While the Chiefs’ offense is better than the 49ers’ offense, the 49ers’ defense is better than the Chiefs’. Will that be enough on Sunday to return with a victory?