San Francisco 49ers: Matchup with Chiefs will start to define the season

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers congratulates Garrett Celek #88 after Celek caught a touchdown pass against the Detroit Lions at Levi's Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers congratulates Garrett Celek #88 after Celek caught a touchdown pass against the Detroit Lions at Levi's Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers meet the Kansas City Chiefs this week and will start to show us if they’re a playoff-caliber team.

Two weeks into the season, the San Francisco 49ers have been a mixed bag of solid execution and glaring weaknesses. They will have a difficult challenge this week as they go on the road to face the Kansas City Chiefs (2-0).

(To keep things in perspective, a year ago, the 49ers started the season 0-9, so the fact that they’re being discussed as being competitive against the better teams shows how much progress they’ve made in a very short amount of time.)

The Niners have put together some impressive drives where they’ve gained yardage in big chunks, only to get timid once they approached the goal line. When they have scored a red zone touchdown, it’s come more as a sigh of relief than a statement of inevitability.

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We appreciate the dependability of 49er field goal kicker Robbie Gould, we just don’t want to see him on the field with the team in the red zone.

And while it was encouraging that the 49ers were in contention until late in the week one loss on the road against the Minnesota Vikings (a playoff-bound team), they almost blew a 30-13 fourth quarter lead at home against the Detroit Lions (not a playoff-bound team) last week.

If not for a fortuitous defensive holding penalty that negated a Lions interception, the 49ers could easily be 0-2 right now instead of 1-1.

In the game against the Vikings, Jimmy Garoppolo threw three interceptions. He cleaned that up last week by throwing no interceptions — but instead, took six sacks.

Garoppolo can be coached to get rid of the ball and not take a sack. Of greater concern was the 49ers receivers having trouble getting off the line of scrimmage and getting separation (in single coverage, no less).

Coach Kyle Shanahan noted the Lions grabby pass coverage (paywall), but if the referees don’t call the penalty then they have to find a way to get open.

The good news is that wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who missed last week’s game with a thigh bruise, participated in Wednesday’s practice and may play on Sunday. Besides his playmaking ability, Goodwin’s deep threat presence should also help to open up the field for the 49ers passing game.

Niners fans should also be encouraged by the running game, with running back Matt Breida leading the NFL after two weeks with 184 yards. It’s all the more impressive since he shares touches with Alfred Morris, who actually has more carries than Breida.

The Chiefs 23-year old QB Patrick Mahomes, has thus far looked like a veteran in this young season. He’s put up big numbers – his ten touchdown passes after two games are an NFL record.

Mahomes is second only to Tampa Bay‘s Ryan Fitzpatrick in passer rating, and yards per passing attempt. And Mahomes has yet to throw an interception this year.

The Chiefs have scored 80 points in their first two games — both of which were on the road. This week is their home opener. This kind of firepower will stress-test the San Francisco 49ers defense, who will have to find answers while playing in the NFL’s loudest stadium.

The good news for the 49ers is that linebacker Reuben Foster will make his season debut after serving out a two-game suspension. And LB Malcolm Smith will likely return from a hamstring injury. With rookie LB Fred Warner‘s strong play in the first two games, the linebacker corps is solid.

The 49ers secondary, though, will be challenged.

Through two games, opposing teams have barely thrown to cornerback Richard Sherman‘s side of the field. After all, why bother when you know the odds of success are high when throwing against the other cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon?

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Against the Lions, Witherspoon was targeted 13 times and gave up eight completions. He also gave up two touchdowns when he appeared to be anticipating running plays.

In man coverage, Witherspoon needs to focus on the receiver in front of him, instead of peeking into the backfield.

He’s still on the injury report with an ankle sprain, but the mental miscues seem to be more the issue. Coach Shanahan will have to consider his options here.

Safety Jaquiski Tartt appeared to be in quite a bit of pain as he re-injured his shoulder against the Lions. Shanahan noted that Tartt is day-to-day, and that Antone Exum or Jimmie Ward could start in his place.

Next. San Francisco 49ers: The good, bad, and ugly in week two win over Lions. dark

In order to beat the Chiefs, the 49ers will either have to score 40+ points or make at least a few defensive stops against a red-hot Chiefs offense. A strong showing against the Chiefs would tell us that the Niners are able to identify and correct mistakes made in the first two games, and that they have the personnel and the game plan to play with the better teams in the league. Doing so would bode well for the rest of the season.