NFL Preview - San Francisco (0-2) at Kansas City (2-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Two surprises of a different nature will convene at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, when the first-place Kansas City Chiefs welcome the basement-dwelling San Francisco 49ers to town for a cross-conference matchup.
That the Chiefs are looking down on the rest of the AFC West so soon after last year's 4-12 debacle is one of the strange-but-true stories of the NFL season's first two weeks.
Kansas City moved to 2-0 in 2010 with last Sunday's 16-14 win at Cleveland, as the Chiefs failed to score an offensive touchdown, or generate much of a passing game, allowed a 98-yard drive and a 65-yard pass play in the same quarter, and still managed to win.
A defense that helped fuel a Week 1 upset of the Chargers assisted again, with a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Brandon Flowers in the second quarter providing Kansas City's only trip to the end zone and changing the tenor of the contest.
Again, the special teams helped too, with Ryan Succop banging home three short field goals, including the game-winner in the fourth-quarter, and keeping Joshua Cribbs and the Cleveland return units from doing much damage.
Matt Cassel (16-of-28, 176 yards, 2 INT) and the passing game continued to do little of note, but the silver lining for the offense was the work of running backs Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, who combined for 132 yards on 33 carries and helped the Chiefs boast an almost a seven-minute advantage in time of possession.
With a win over San Francisco, the Chiefs will be 3-0 for the first time since winning their first nine games in 2003, and will have polished off their first consecutive home victories in the same season since November of 2006.
Then there are the 49ers, tabbed by many to win the NFC West but already mired in an 0-2 hole that has included tension, dissension, and the type of inconsistent play that the long-struggling franchise was supposed to eschew in 2010.
San Francisco committed four turnovers in Monday night's 25-22 loss to the New Orleans Saints, though the 49ers indisputably played better football than in their opening-day meltdown at the Seattle Seahawks.
Running back Frank Gore (168 total yards, 2 TD) and quarterback Alex Smith (23-of-32 passing, 275 yards, 1 TD, 28 rushing yards) each played well against the defending Super Bowl champs, fueling an offense that finished with 24 first-downs and 417 yards of total offense.
All three of San Francisco's scoring drives totaled more than 80 yards including a brilliant 82-yard, 53-second march that tied the game at 22-22 late in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, Mike Singletary's club forced the high-powered Saints offense to punt six times, but effectively shut down the New Orleans running game and allowed just eight of Drew Brees' 28 completions to go to wide receivers, accounting for 95 of the reigning Super Bowl MVP's 254 yards through the air.
San Francisco will on Sunday be trying to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2004, when it dropped its first four en route to a 2-14 finish.
The 49ers lead the all-time series with the Chiefs, 6-4, but were routed in 41-10 fashion when the teams last met, at Arrowhead Stadium in 2006. San Francisco won the previous two meetings, including a 17-13 victory at Candlestick Park in 2003. The 49ers are 0-3 in Kansas City since last winning there in 1982.
The 49ers' Singletary and Chiefs' Todd Haley will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
Though Smith's performance on Monday night was mostly encouraging, his two interceptions didn't do the 49ers any favors against the defending champs. Smith's 64.9 passer rating on the year is mostly a by-product of four interceptions, and just one TD, which came on a second-quarter pass to Gore last week. Gore (13 receptions, 1 TD), tight end Vernon Davis (12 receptions, 151 yards) and wideout Josh Morgan (9 receptions, 102 yards) have all been frequent Smith (500 passing yards) targets, but former first-round pick Michael Crabtree (3 receptions) had just one catch against the Saints and has had trouble getting going. The mobile Smith (28 rushing yards) has been reasonably well-protected so far, and a young offensive line also did a good job of making holes for Gore (37 carries, 150 yards, 1 TD) on Monday night. Anthony Dixon scored a touchdown on his first NFL carry (and only one to date), and looks like he will be a bigger part of the 2010 gameplan than ex-Eagle Brian Westbrook. Westbrook has just one carry through two weeks, that a zero-yard rush on a first-half fourth-down play last week.
The Kansas City defense has not been dominant in its first two games under coordinator Romeo Crennel, but has held both of its 2010 opponents to modest yardage totals, has forced some key turnovers, and has made a few quality third- and fourth-down stands. One of last week's defensive highlights was the play of a run defense that surrendered just 73 yards in Cleveland, shutting Jerome Harrison down to the tune of 16 carries for 33 yards. The effort began up front, where former Brown Shaun Smith (8 tackles) posted five tackles and Ron Edwards (8 tackles) had three stops to lead the team's three-man front. Linebackers Derrick Johnson (19 tackles, 1 FF) and Jovan Belcher (11 tackles) had seven tackles each behind the DL group. The front seven could get a boost this week if end Tyson Jackson (knee) can return after missing last week's win. On the back end, cornerbacks Flowers (7 tackles, 1 INT) and Brandon Carr (4 tackles, 1 FR) have both accounted for turnovers through the season's first two weeks, and first-round rookie safety Eric Berry (13 tackles) has been a credit to the unit against both the pass and rush. The pass rush has generated just two sacks thus far, including one for end Wallace Gilberry (2 tackles) against the Browns.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Lost somewhat amid the 2-0 start is the fact that the Chiefs have gone six consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown, and that Cassel (244 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) has a sub-standard 55.8 passer rating through the season's first two weeks. Cassel has to get something going on Sunday, and wideouts Dwayne Bowe (5 receptions, 58 yards) and Chris Chambers (4 receptions, 47 yards) must help him get there. Rookie right end Tony Moeaki is Kansas City's leader in catches (8), receiving yards (79) and TD receptions (1). The most efficient mode of travel thus far for the Chiefs has been on the ground, where Jones (33 carries, 122 yards) has seen the ball more than 2009 starter Charles (22 receptions, 141 yards, 1 TD), but both have been a significant part of the gameplan. Jones led the way with 22 carries for 83 yards in Cleveland. A still-developing offensive line has allowed just two sacks of the less-than-mobile Cassel.
The 49ers and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky have to know that the key to stopping the Chiefs offense is to take away the running game, something the group has done fairly well in its first two games. San Francisco has allowed just 127 ground yards through Week 2, with linebackers Patrick Willis (19 tackles) and Takeo Spikes (10 tackles) playing a big role in that effort, along with end Justin Smith (10 tackles) and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (6 tackles). That group held the Saints to 50 rushing yards on 24 carries on Monday, with Willis posting nine tackles and a sack to lead the way. Against the pass, the Niners have been shakier, which has to be music to the ears of the struggling Cassel. San Francisco is allowing opponents to complete a league-high 75.4 percent of its passes through two weeks, and came up small against Brees on the Saints' seven-play, 51-yard game-winning drive Monday night. Secondary leaders like cornerback Shawntae Spencer (3 tackles) and safety Dashon Goldson (11 tackles) need to provide more of a presence on the back end, and top pass rushers Manny Lawson (8 tackles) and Parys Haralson (t tackles) could be more consistent as well.
The 49ers have two very credible fantasy options in Gore and Davis, both of whom ought to start this week in the large majority of lineups. Otherwise, it's hard to rely on San Francisco offensive principles like Smith, Crabtree, or the developing Josh Morgan, who are going to have to show more consistency before they are deemed valuable. The Niner defense looked mostly sound against the Saints but didn't make many big plays, rendering them a tough start. Joe Nedney is a decent kicking option who should get his chances in Kansas City.
The two-back system in Kansas City makes using Jones and Charles problematic (as does the Chiefs' lack of offensive touchdowns), though you could do worse than using either man as a flex play. The rookie Moeaki looks promising but is not a sure-fire fantasy starter at this stage. The kicker Succop looks like a decent play though, with the team's red-zone failings increasing his opportunities.
Even in defeat, the 49ers looked more like the team most of the world expected them to be on Monday night, and there's a hope moving forward that the performance can be a springboard to some wins. But in a road game that follows a short week preceded by an emotional loss, expect San Francisco to look a bit more ragged than it did against New Orleans in Week 2, and for a Chiefs team that is developing confidence to take advantage. Ugly wins are becoming Kansas City's calling card, and this one will fit that description.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chiefs 18, 49ers 15
09/26 02:55:28 ET