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Chiefs-49ers Instabreakdown: Revamped offensive and defensive lines make their mark

The Chiefs’ preseason win was highlighted by strong performances on both sides of the trenches.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs defeat San Francisco 49ers 19-16

After imperfect starts from Kansas City’s first-team offense and defense, the reserve units played well and came out with a three-point win. Wide receiver Byron Pringle and quarterback Shane Buechele scored the only Chiefs touchdowns; the defense brought down the opposing quarterback for five sacks.

Offense (Ron Kopp)

The Patrick Mahomes-led first-team offense did nothing eventful tonight. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire saw a big running lane created by his new offensive line on the first play from scrimmage — taking it for 10 yards and a new set of downs. A short pass to tight end Travis Kelce set up a third-and-four, but a contested short pass to wide receiver Mecole Hardman fell incomplete to end the drive. It was the last action Mahomes would see.

With the rest of the first-team unit still playing on the second drive, backup signal-caller Chad Henne led a scoring drive. On a third-and-short, the Chiefs used a counter run to convert; right guard Trey Smith pulled to kick out, and fullback Michael Burton led Edwards-Helaire through the hole. With the kinds of linemen brought in this season, we’ve talked about how these runs could become more prevalent. The conversion led to a 5-yard touchdown catch by reserve receiver Byron Pringle; Henne had great timing and placement on the end zone out route.

Rookie tight end Noah Gray didn’t record a catch, but he got his first snap in the red zone on the scoring drive. Gray ran a vertical route on a passing play and appeared to be a primary read — but the coverage forced Henne to check down to Burton.

As the reserves began to play more, wide receiver Daurice Fountain really stood out. He appeared to be one of the backup quarterbacks' main targets, turning that into four receptions for 38 yards. He led the team in all receiving categories.

Another reserve standout was third-string running back Jerick McKinnon. The veteran had a few chunk plays — including a 16-yard catch-and-run. He outperformed third-year back Darwin Thompson, whose biggest play was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he could have avoided.

The starting offensive line held up well — but the backup linemen were constantly penetrated for the rest of the game; the backup quarterbacks were sacked four times. In fairness, the second team was missing Mike Remmers and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

In the fourth quarter, rookie wide receiver Cornell Powell finally got some action. His second target was a deep throw down the sideline; Powell created good separation but was overthrown. On the last drive of the game, he made a tough, contested sideline grab — a skill for which he was touted at Clemson.

Offensive Player of the Game: Jerick McKinnon

McKinnon was the running back who got the most opportunity — both in terms of volume and the open space he saw on his carries and catches. He had a 10-yard run at one point, along with two productive receptions that totaled 21 yards. He looked explosive — something that’s important to note because he has suffered two knee injuries in recent seasons. With him as the third back, the Chiefs have a strong trio of backs that all bring a little something different to the table.

Defense (Talon Graff)

All-pro defensive tackle Chris Jones got the start at the defensive end spot, and the 49ers quickly took advantage of Jones being in a new spot. The Kyle Shanahan-led offense tried stretching the Kansas City defense pretty much right out of the gate. Deebo Samuel gained 13 yards on a shovel pass from Jimmy Garoppolo — and two plays later, Brandon Aiyuk took a jet sweep around the outside for another eight yards. After that, the Chiefs limited the big plays for the rest of the drive and forced a punt.

Chris Jones and the Chiefs defense forced a three-and-out their next opportunity. Jones made a big play from his more familiar position on the interior, taking down rookie Trey Lance for a big sack. But then Lance would come back and take advantage of undrafted rookie safety Devon Key, a hot name during training camp. Lance found Trent Sherfield — who had gotten behind Key — who turned it into an 80-yard touchdown strike.

In the rest of the first half, Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive unit did a nice job overall, keeping the 49ers in check. The defensive line was stingy against the run, keeping a talented San Francisco running group from doing too much damage. But the pass-rushing depth along the line is spectacular. Defensive ends Mike Danna and Tim Ward and defensive tackle Khalen Saunders made their presence felt by collapsing the pocket and getting their hands on the quarterback.

Third-year safety Juan Thornhill had struggles of his own. On one play in coverage, he fell. His man made a big play that could have gone for a lot more — but Key made a nice open-field tackle.

Even though Key and Thornhill each had obvious negative plays, some other defensive backs did well. Cornerback Deandre Baker came underneath and got his hands on an attempted pass — as did corner Rashad Fenton. Safety (and potential bubble player) Armani Watts took advantage of an errant Josh Rosen throw and made a red zone interception that allowed the Chiefs to go into the final quarter with a one-point advantage.

Linebacker Omari Cobb flashed in the second level, making a few nice tackles and notching a sack. While the linebacker group is arguably the weakest on the roster, it was reassuring to see a depth guy make plays — and leave it all out on the field.

Overall, the defense performed well. The strength of the defensive line should allow the rest of the unit to make plenty of plays behind them.

Defensive Player of the Game: Tim Ward

Ward had a nice outing, showing up in plenty of plays. He made multiple stops along the line of scrimmage and was able to notch a couple of sacks — including a game-clinching takedown. Ward is one of a few bright youngsters who add depth and versatility within the defensive trenches. As the preseason continues, Ward could (and should) climb his way up the depth chart. He got out of the blocks quickly on Saturday night — but the coaching staff will want to see him do it consistently.

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