The Chiefs will try to improve to 3-0 with a win over the San Francisco 49ers in the home opener at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
Here are the keys for a Chiefs victory as well as a scouting report on the San Francisco 49ers’ coaching staff and scheme.
Keys to victory
- Limit big run plays: Keeping running back Matt Breida from ripping off big gainers on the ground must be a primary focus. He leads the NFL in rushing through two games. Last week, he rushed for 138 yards on just 11 carries. Three of his carries went for 20 yards or more, including a 66-yard touchdown run. The Chiefs made becoming tougher against the run a goal this past offseason, and they should be able to have success if they can make the 49ers one-dimensional.
- Get to the Garoppolo: 49ers starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo still has just nine career starts under his belt despite being in his fifth NFL season. He was sacked six times against Detroit last week, and he said this week that he should’ve gotten rid of the ball quicker. If Garoppolo is going to sit in the pocket and hold the ball, the Chiefs need to get to him and alter his throws more than they were able to get to Ben Roethlisberger last week.
- Continue to spread it around: The Chiefs offense has been high-powered and high-scoring in the first two games of Patrick Mahomes’ tenure as the starting quarterback. Already, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce had 100-yard receiving games. The unpredictability and relative balance of having so many viable big-play options is one of the Chiefs’ strengths. The longer the offense operates that way, the more difficult it should be to slow down.
- Tilt the field: So far, the Chiefs’ special-teams units have flipped field position, scored points and created turnovers. All of those factors have contributed to the offense’s fast start and taken pressure off of the shoulders of the first-year starting quarterback. The offense hasn’t had to overcome much adversity yet, and miscues on special teams that give extra possessions to the opposition or force the offense to play conservatively could be the one thing that slows them down.
- Head coach Kyle Shanahan: The second-year coach is the son of former NFL coach and offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan, who operated a West Coast offense. Kyle coached under his father in Washington from 2010-13. Shanahan remains hands-on offensively, and he’s worked closely with quarterbacks, including current Atlanta Falcons starter Matt Ryan during his MVP season in 2016. Shanahan’s offenses have typically featured elements of the West Coast offense with short, quick passes and an emphasis on making the defense defend the entire width of the field. He’s also adapted his system to incorporate elements such as the pistol and spread attacks. His offenses tend to take more chances deep downfield than in traditional West Coast systems.
- Offense: The 49ers do not list a member of Shanahan’s staff with the offensive coordinator title, but Shanahan handles those duties for all intents and purposes. Despite acquiring their quarterback mid-season last year, the offense ranked 12th in the NFL in yards per game (349.2). The zone run is the centerpiece of the offense, and the offensive line has done well at the point of attack early this season. The offense is designed to used success in the running game to create big-play opportunities in play-action and bootlegs. They will use shifts and motions regularly to disguise what they’re doing.
- Defense: Robert Saleh actually began his coaching career as an offensive assistant and tight ends coach at Michigan State in 2002. All of his 14 seasons in the NFL have been spent on the defensive side, and he’s in his second season as a defensive coordinator. Saleh took over a defense that struggled stopping the run. A former assistant in Houston, Seattle and Jacksonville, he was open from the beginning about saying he planned to implement a predominantly single-high safety 4-3 defensive style. The defensive front will shift responsibilities, depending upon situation, from being responsible for either one or two gaps.