It’s only fitting that after a week of suggesting the 49ers' offense is down in the dumps, they come out and get back on track against the Kansas City Chiefs. San Francisco having left tackle Trent Williams back in the fold will help Kyle Shanahan’s confidence in the team’s dropback passing game. We’ll find out later on Wednesday afternoon if Williams is practicing.
During today’s episode of The Shanaplan, we discuss what went wrong in the Week 6 loss to the Falcons and look ahead to this week’s game against the Chiefs. Here is our blueprint for how the home team can get the job done Sunday.
The offense comes alive this week
The matchups are fascinating on both sides of the ball. Kansas City’s defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo blitzes 30 percent of the time, which seems low when you watch the Chiefs, but is still good for the seventh-highest rate in the NFL.
To me, Spagnuolo blitzes so often to protect his back-7. Outside of safety, Justin Reid, Kansas City, leaves a lot to be desired on the backend. They’re young, and it shows. The Chiefs are 28th in defensive DVOA and points per drive and 30th in drive success rate.
Those numbers may sound inflated coming off a game against Josh Allen and the Bills, but we all watched the Raiders move the ball easily on national TV versus Kansas City the week prior and a banged-up Bucs squad score 31 the week before.
If there was ever a game for the 49ers offense to get back on track, it’s this Sunday. Last week, Atlanta did a remarkable job stealing possessions against the 49ers' defense. Sometimes, it’s as simple as staying ahead of the chains and not living in third and long. Other times, you need your players to make plays, just as Marcus Mariota did with his legs.
The 49ers' offense only converts 40 percent of their third downs, which is league average. Their players are better than the league average, making that number disappointing. You have to play to win with Patrick Mahomes on the opposing sideline. Buffalo did a fantastic job of that last Sunday. They went for it on three fourth downs.
And while they only converted one, it’s more of a process over results mindset. The first fourth-down attempt came from the Chiefs’ three-yard line. The Bills didn’t get it but forced a three-and-out on the ensuing drive. One the one conversion, Buffalo ended up scoring a touchdown to take the lead. That was the difference in the game.
Jimmy Garoppolo has done a great job of pushing the ball down the field and giving his wideouts opportunities during the past three games. The Chiefs haven’t had an answer against the opposing number one receiver. They have the worst DVOA in the NFL against the other team’s top wideout.
Brandon Aiyuk isn’t on Stefon Diggs’ or Davante Adams’ level, but I feel comfortable putting him in the tier below elite. Sunday is a game where both Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel must win most of their 1-on-1s against a Chiefs secondary, starting two rookie cornerbacks that were drafted on Day 3.
On the other side of the ball, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier bounced back and forth between man and zone coverage, keeping the Chiefs off schedule as much as humanly possible.
It’s Mahomes. He’s going to make plays. That is inevitable. If Nick Bosa returns, that gives the 49ers a significant advantage up front. Von Miller pressured Mahomes nine times last Sunday, including two sacks. The Chiefs have liabilities at offensive tackle. Between Bosa, Samson Ebukam, and Charles Omenihu, it’s an area San Francisco has to dominate.
Aside from that, you hear cliches all year saying something along the lines of, “you can’t blitz Mahomes” or “you have to play this type of coverage against him.”
Mahomes is only completing 56.9 percent of his passes against the blitz with a 5.7 yards per attempt average. Make no mistake; he will burn you, and oftentimes when he does, it goes for a big play. But the sample size of 69 dropbacks against the blitz would lead you to believe the Chiefs' offense struggles when you send extra rushers.
During the past two weeks, there has been more man coverage run against Mahomes than I can remember. Defenses are starting to acknowledge their receivers can’t separate, and you don’t have to worry about Tyreek Hill any longer.
I cannot wait to see how DeMeco Ryans plays Mahomes. Does he trust his cornerbacks? Mooney Ward in the lineup will help. He’s currently dealing with a groin injury, though. It might be too much to ask Jason Verrett to play in this type of game in his season debut, which leaves Deommodore Lenoir and Samuel Womack. As we saw last week, that was an advantage for the offense.
The Chiefs are otherwordly on third downs. Fortunately, they’re not a team that’s over-reliant on running the ball, as Atlanta was. Kansas City has a negative EPA per play when it comes to running the ball and a rushing success rate that’s on par with the Niners. So, you can make them one-dimensional. But all that means is you’re putting the ball in the hands of a superhuman.