49ers: 5 questions for Saturday's game vs. Broncos

The San Francisco 49ers put together a solid game against the Kansas City Chiefs, with the offense racking up 434 total yards, 22 first downs, and 246 yards passing. After a rough start, the 49ers' defense had the Chiefs’ quarterbacks running around the pocket and held their ground game to 31 yards. Even with the 49ers’ special teams allowing a blocked punt and field goal, the team took a step in the right direction to begin this season.

Coaches now have a live game to evaluate talent, personnel groups, and players who may end up in the first round of cuts.

5. Can the team commit less than five penalties this Saturday?

There’s no better time or place for a football team to commit penalties than week one of the preseason. The 49ers' offense, defense, and special teams ended the game with 17 penalties for 131 yards. Obviously, this is a few more mistakes than any team wants to have, even if the match doesn’t count.

Fortunately, the team played well enough to overcome these mental errors. The coaching staff needs to set a goal of five or fewer penalties for this Saturday’s game against the Broncos.

4. Will the first-team offense put together a long drive for a touchdown?

For too long, 49ers' fans have watched the first-team offense squander the opening possession of the game. The first team offense played enough to test head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense but failed to achieve tangible success. Quarterback Brian Hoyer was 1-of-4 for 3 yards, and lead the team to two three-and-out possessions. On Saturday, Shanahan needs to see the first-string offense put together a ten play drive and finish with six points.

3. Does the first-string secondary need more live repetitions?

Before Friday’s game, each team in the National Football League knew the 49ers’ secondary was questionable. The Chiefs wasted no time in proving the hypothesis by exposing flaws in nearly every defensive back and safety, specifically CB Rashard Robinson. On the Chiefs’ first play of the game, WR Tyreek Hill was lined up across from Robinson. Quarterback Alex Smith took the snap and completed a 32-yard pass to Hill.

On the Chiefs’ next possession, second string QB Tyler Bray saw WR Chris Conley lined up against Robinson. Conley beat Robinson deep for an 83-yard touchdown reception, but an official flagged Conley for offensive pass interference. Both Robinson and Conley were hand-fighting down the sideline, but Conley had Robinson beat right off the line of scrimmage.

The secondary settled down as the game went on, mainly due to constant pressure from the defensive line. Saleh needs to give his defensive backs and safeties more time on the field this Saturday to improve, but allow enough time for second and third-team prospects to showcase their talents as well.

2. It’s third and long. Can we see a big play from head coach -- and offensive coordinator -- Kyle Shanahan?

Before Friday’s game, many reports from training camp discussed the 49ers' deep passing attack in individual and team drills. Indeed, no coach wants to show all his cards during the preseason, specifically the vertical attack. Even though the 49ers averaged seven yards per pass attempt – a fantastic statistic – we didn’t see head coach Kyle Shanahan open the play book to see what any quarterback could do, specifically QBs Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard. Barkley had 17 attempts, with 15 of those passes targeting receivers on short routes. In fact, Barkley’s deepest completed throw only went 20 yards. Beathard only went long three times but did have a long touchdown pass to WR Kendrick Bourne.

Shanahan had an ideal opportunity to test the deep game and his rookie quarterback. In the third quarter, the 49ers faced a 3rd and 25 from their 30-yard line. During the regular season, I would fully embrace a screen pass or a draw play in hopes of proving a bit of space for the punt team to work.

But during the preseason, it’s time to see what your offense is capable of, especially Beathard. Shanahan needs to place Hoyer, Barkley, and Beathard in unwinnable situations to see how each handles the stress.

1. Is the real competition for a roster spot at running back?

Beathard’s debut was impressive, but the real workhorses on Friday night were running backs Joe Williams, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. Throughout the game, each of these backs turned a pure run play – such as a lead or a toss – and turned it into significant yardage. For example, during the 49ers' eighth possession of the game, Shanahan called Williams’ number on a toss right. Williams bobbled the pitch and then ran to the left turning what looked like a four-yard loss into an 11-yard gain.

In the fourth quarter, Shanahan called Mostert to run the ball 14 times to help seal the win for the 49ers. Mostert made the most of the opportunity, chewing up the turf and the clock during the 4-minute offense, and leading all rushers with 89 yards.

Shanahan only called RB Carlos Hyde’s number twice. Hyde may not need the experience, and Shanahan very well may be working to keep Hyde healthy. If Williams, Breida, and Mostert keep this pace, Hyde is going to find himself competing for the starting position before week one.

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