The 49ers' blockbuster acquisition of star running back Christian McCaffrey has dominated the headlines, but there is still a game to be played on Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs are headed to Levi’s Stadium for the first rematch between these two teams since the 49ers' heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl 54.
DraftKings Sportsbook currently has Kansas City listed as a 2.5-point favorite, with the over/under set at 48.5 points. Here are a few things to keep an eye on if the 49ers are going to win and or cover the two points they are being given in this matchup.
Take advantage of the Chiefs' weakness on defense
Despite the 49ers' struggles to find consistency with their rushing attack this season, the running game will always be at the core of their identity on the offensive side of the ball.
The Chiefs' defense should pose an intriguing matchup for the 49ers' offense, considering they are a top-ten unit across the board when it comes to defending the run. Kansas City ranks 4th in rushing yards allowed, 6th in rushing touchdowns, and 6th in yards per carry allowed.
While this might not be an ideal matchup for the 49ers to find their rhythm running the football, it is set up perfectly for them to vault into the top ten when it comes to red zone efficiency. The 49ers' offense currently ranks 14th in the NFL through six weeks, scoring touchdowns on 58.8 percent of their trips inside the red zone this season.
Kansas City has been one of the worst teams in the league this season when it comes to keeping teams out of the end zone inside their 20-yard line. As a result, opposing teams are scoring a touchdown on a whopping 75 percent of their red zone trips against the Chiefs this season.
Given the high-octane nature of the Chiefs' offense, the 49ers' offense might have to carry more of the load in this game than they have in any of the previous six this season. It’s been reported that McCaffrey could be utilized in a red zone package this week, and the juice from the 49ers' new acquisition combined with the Chiefs' porous red zone defense could create much-needed fireworks for the 49ers offense.
Neutralizing Chris Jones
Jones is one of the premier interior defensive line talents in the league and has looked as good this season as he ever has in his career. Jones has recorded a pressure in every game this season, including at least four pressures in four of the six games the Chiefs have played this season.
The youth on the interior of the 49ers' offensive line will have a tough challenge in front of them, but they are coming off a strong performance that saw left guard Aaron Banks post the first clean sheet of his NFL career in Atlanta.
On the bright side, when Banks and rookie right guard Spencer Burford faced off with Aaron Donald in week four, they were able to hold the generational talent to just one pressure. If the interior of the offensive line can hold up against Jones, the 49ers' offense should be in a great spot in this one.
Battle of the heavyweights on third down
The Chiefs' offense is converting 50 percent of their third down attempts this season, which ranks second in the NFL. On the flip side, the 49ers' defense allows opponents to convert 35.7 percent of the time, which ranks among the top ten this season.
Third down is imperative in any matchup, but the battle on the money down between two elite units could very well be the deciding factor in how this game shakes out.
The 49ers' passing game lives and dies by the yards that its playmakers are able to rack up after the catch, and the Chiefs present a favorable matchup in this one. Kansas City has allowed the fourth most yards after the catch this season.
Deebo Samuel has racked up 78 percent of his 345 receiving yards after the catch this season and currently ranks 7th among all receivers in the NFL with 271 yards after the catch. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had this to say about Samuel’s game-breaking ability:
“I’ve never seen a guy break as many tackles as he does. He’s unique. We haven’t faced anybody like this before. Hopefully, we can find a way to limit his explosive plays. They’re really effective when he’s explosive.”
Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle both possess tremendous ability with the ball in their hands as well, and both are coming off of their best individual games of the season that saw the pair each eclipse 80 receiving yards.
If the Chiefs' stout run defense holds serve, it will be up to the 49ers' skill position players to keep the sticks moving in this one by making plays in space. Expect a heavy dose of screens in this one.
This last one is fairly obvious but still important nonetheless. Getting players like Trent Williams and Nick Bosa back would give the 49ers a significant boost on both sides of the ball.
There are some teams in this league you can tread water against without your star players, and the Chiefs are not one of them. The 49ers are going to need all hands on deck for this one.