How it Happened: 49ers Vs Chiefs
Reflecting on the game last Sunday to understand how and why the 49ers lost to the Chiefs feels a lot more like a postmortem report than reviewing a game. A postmortem report is done to chronicle the cause of death for official records. I am not saying that the 49ers season died on Sunday but given all the events that took place it was one of the toughest regular season losses the 49ers have experienced in recent memory. When human beings suffer a loss they usually go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I went through all of these emotions this week trying to figure out the hows and whys of the 49ers’ 38-27 defeat at the hands of the Chiefs. Leading up to the game I had predicted that this would be a loss for the 49ers, but I had no idea just how big a loss it would be. I had no idea that the 49ers would lose Richard Sherman for multiple weeks or Jimmy Garoppolo for the season. For my own mental health (and yours), I chose not to outline every little thing that led to the outcome this week, but instead focused on a couple of areas that stood out and will lead to a loss but are correctable going forward.
The Chiefs offense looks like it may be one of the best in the NFL, while the 49ers defense does not. That being said, in the week leading up to the game the 49ers talked about getting the Chiefs to third down. Coming in to the game the Chiefs had run the fewest third-down plays in the NFL (15). The 49ers forced the Chiefs in to 11 third downs in the game but were not able to capitalize by getting off the field, forcing just two punts. The 49ers allowed the Chiefs to convert on third down at a 63% rate. Kansas City repeatedly used screen passes when they found themselves behind the chains, either to convert third downs in to first downs or to turn second down and long into third and manageable. Like the Chiefs, the 49ers’ offense is its’ strength and just as the success of the Chiefs is reflected in third down success so to is the failings of the 49ers’ offense reflected in its’ lack of third-down success. The 49ers gained more total yards (406 to 384), more rushing yards (178 to 77) and averaged more yards per play (6.4 to 5.6) than the Chiefs, but ran fewer plays thanks to converting only 22% (2/9) of their third downs.
Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells has a theory on “hidden yardage.” According to Parcells, 100 yards worth of “hidden yardage” translates to seven points and can come from a number of places outside of yards from scrimmage like punt and kickoff returns. “Hidden yardage” can also come from penalties and versus the Chiefs the 49ers had 14 accepted penalties for 147 yards. Whether or not Coach Parcells is correct in saying that seven points is gained from every 100 yards of “hidden yardage,” penalties had a direct effect on the scoreboard against the Chiefs. In the first quarter on a third-and-16 play from the 49ers 32 yard line, 49ers defensive back K’Waun Williams was called for defensive pass interference in the end zone on a pass that was not catchable (by rule a pass interference is not to be called on passes deemed not catchable), so instead of being forced to attempt a 49-yard field goal, the Chiefs got the ball first-and-goal from the one yard line and scored to go up 14-0. In the fourth quarter the 49ers scored a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal play that would have cut the lead to 38-31 (assuming a successful extra point) only to have it wiped away by an offensive pass interference call on fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk was running his designated pattern and was run into by the defender on the play, which should have resulted in a “no call.”
Third down conversions and penalties are both the cause and the symptom for what ails the 49ers. The 49ers continue to generate very little pass rush which puts strain on the defensive backs and makes it difficult to get off the field on third downs, which was reflected in the Chiefs’ third-down conversion percentage. Missed tackles also keep the defense on the field longer than it should be. The 49ers have 43 missed tackles on the season, 17 of them came on Sunday, including 6 by Reuben Foster and 4 by Fred Warner.
Warner, a rookie, and Foster, who is coming off of a two-game suspension, should be able to clean up their performances, but if the sloppy play continues so will the losing.
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