The 49ers are making a weekend visit to Arrowhead Stadium for a match-up with the Kansas City Chiefs. After holding on to their fourth quarter lead Sunday, the Niners righted the ship and got their first win of the year. KC boasts the number one offense in football according to Football Outsiders and it’s not even close, but luckily for the 49ers, they also have the 32nd ranked defense. Everything in moderation Andy, c’mon! We’ll take a look at a few match-ups this week and how they could swing the game in the 49ers favor.
Ahkello Witherspoon vs. Patrick Mahomes
Witherspoon struggled last week versus the Detroit Lions; Stafford picked on him throughout the game. He was targeted 13 times, resulting in eight catches for two touchdowns. Witherspoon finished with a Pro Football Focus grade of 27 and a 131 passer rating against. Overall, not the best day (and I didn’t mention his two penalties). But I don’t think all of this can be laid at his feet, Richard Sherman has been targeted at a ridiculously low rate over the first two games of the season, in the fourth quarter Detroit’s offensive game plan seemed to be “drop back, look left, throw” so it stands to reason that Witherspoon is going to be picked on. Patrick Mahomes has a treasure trove of offensive weapons at his disposal: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt. While Hunt is the reigning rushing champ, KC has made their living through the air in their first two games of the season. Will Mahomes take more shots at Sherman on Sunday, some youthful exuberance perhaps? Probably, he clearly trusts his arm and what better way to announce yourself to the national stage then go after a future Hall of Famer, but if Sherman performs like he has in the first two games, Witherspoon will see a lot of footballs thrown his way. The team and fanbase were quick to anoint Witherspoon this offseason, and he may still grow into the cornerback we want him to be, but keep in mind he’s making only his 10th career start on Sunday; he has a lot of football in front of him. But if he can have a bounce back game against the Chiefs and their high-flying offense, it’ll go a long way to helping the Niners pull off the upset.
Jimmy Garoppolo vs. the Chiefs secondary
Much like Witherspoon, Garoppolo will also be making the 10th start of his career this Sunday. Over the first two games of this season it would be fair to say he’s regressed from his performance in 2017. Week 1 versus Minnesota he was quick to get the ball out and show trust in his accuracy and receivers to make plays. Unfortunately, that resulted in three interceptions and 45% accuracy for the day. In Week 2, that trend reversed itself, the offensive line gave him more time in the pocket to pick the secondary apart and he waited on his throws, sometimes too long, resulting in six sacks. Garoppolo has to find a happy medium, and this week against the 32nd ranked defense is just the time to do it. KC’s defense is surrendering nearly 7 yards per play and has given up six touchdowns through the air in their first two games. Marquis Goodwin is hopeful to return Sunday and should give the offense the boost it’s looking for. After Goodwin exited the game against the Vikings, defenses no longer had to respect the deep ball and begun bringing their defenders up, the result of which was Garoppolo not attempting a pass longer than 21 yards against the Lions. It was easy for us to look at last year’s play and assume that with a full training camp Garoppolo would burst into 2018 like the Kool-Aid man, but it’s easy to forget that Matt Ryan, who by all accounts isn’t the quarterback Garoppolo is, didn’t blossom into an MVP until his second season under Shanahan. It’s fair to assume that with more knowledge of the playbook Garoppolo might be facing some paralysis by analysis, but this could be the week where factors align for Jimmy to have a big day. If he can find that sweet spot between trusting his arm, but not unnecessarily risking the throw, KC’s secondary might be in for a long day.
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