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Chiefs-49ers Instabreakdown: Offense lights up the league’s best defense

Kansas City came to play Sunday afternoon, scoring 44 points against one of the league’s top-ranked defenses.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 44, San Francisco 49ers 23

Offense (Ron Kopp)

With the anticipation of rookie running back Isiah Pacheco being named the starter in this game, I believed we’d see a more powerful, downhill runing game to take advantage of Pacheco’s strengths as a player. Instead, a typical outside run from shotgun gained only three yards to start the game. Behind the sticks right away, Patrick Mahomes forced a tight-window throw to rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore — leading to a tipped interception.

Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire replaced Pacheco on the second drive, gaining no yards on his first attempt. The ineffective running game had to be covered up by the passing game — and that started to happen on the second possession. The Chiefs moved the chains two times with big completions to tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Mecole Hardman.

With the 49ers’ pass rush getting antsy, the Chiefs took advantage of their upfield penetration with a tap pass to Hardman on a jet-sweep action; in the left flat, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. teamed up with tight ends Jody Fortson and Noah Gray to hold their blocks and spring Hardman for a score.

On the next possession, they did the same thing — this time, from under center. They ran it at defensive end Nick Bosa — who didn’t know where the ball went until Hardman was two steps away from him. These plays are ways to take advantage of a penetrating front — and the Chiefs maximized two of those opportunities to score.

The Chiefs continued having to rely on their passing game, but they were able to do so because of how well the offensive line was performing. Midway through the third quarter, the FOX broadcast pointed out that the 49ers had only registered pressure on nine percent of their pass-rushing opportunities. Coming into the game, the team’s pressure rate had been 32%.

The running backs also contributed to this phase of the game being a strength — specifically Jerick McKinnon, who was constantly chipping Bosa.

It wasn’t just pass protection, though. The offensive line opened up a few lanes for the running backs — including the team’s touchdown to open the third quarter. Right tackle Andrew Wylie rode Bosa upfield, allowing Edwards-Helaire to run hard right underneath. The lane was also widened by right guard Trey Smith moving the line of scrimmage.

Throughout the game, one of my biggest takeaways continued to be how well the Chiefs’ wide receivers were being used in ways that best utilize their strengths. Hardman’s three touchdowns on jet sweeps is the best example, but we should also consider Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s game: he finished with 111 yards on three catches, producing two deep completions.

The third player in that room is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has put together two consecutive games where he broke tackles after the catch — and also made impressive, important grabs on the sideline. It was capped off with a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter when he was left open over the middle. Even if it was an easy catch, his open-field running got him into the end zone — and it’s really become a weapon for the Chiefs’ offense.

Offensive Player of the Game: quarterback Patrick Mahomes

All of those receivers had the games they did because of how well Mahomes played, making use of the strong pass protection he was given. His only mistake came on the first possession — but from there, he was nails. It was a true masterpiece performance from the pocket; he did not register a single scramble or rush. All in all, the team’s leader catalyzed them to one of their most complete wins of the season,

Defense (Bryan Stewart)

Defensively, the Chiefs started the game looking about as bad as they could. Outmatched by San Francisco’s playmakers and physical running game, it looked like it would be a very long day on that side of the football.

Thankfully, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played at a level that kept Kansas City competitive throughout the first half. A costly mistake inside the red zone led to rookie cornerback Joshua Williams’ first career interception — just the second of the season for the entire Kansas City defense.

After the first couple of drives, Kansas City started to do a better job of bottling up the San Francisco rushing attack, leading defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to send more impactful blitzes at Garoppolo.

As the second half opened — following a quick touchdown by the offense — Kansas City’s defense was operating with an eight-point lead. Following two big plays by linebacker Nick Bolton — one each against the run and the pass — it was able to hold San Francisco to another field goal.

Spagnuolo found some success creating pressure on Garoppolo by putting Chris Jones out wide over 49ers' right tackle Mike McGlinchey. This led to some unique looks that had defensive end Frank Clark as a stand-up rusher on the interior — in front of guards and centers.

In key moments during the second half, Garoppolo repeatedly found star tight end George Kittle for big plays downfield. The Chiefs had no answer for Kittle — especially compared to how they were defending All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who was held to 42 yards on five catches.

The story of the game was really that every time San Francisco would start to build up some momentum, the Chiefs would extinguish it. Once the lead got to a point where San Francisco had to pass consistently, it was all but over; the Chiefs would simply turn up the heat on Garoppolo.

Defensive Player of the Game: defensive end Frank Clark

Many will say this was the best Clark has looked in a long, long time — and that might be true. His safety on Garoppolo — a play where he badly beat All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams — was reminiscent of his time as the closer in 2019.

When you dive into the film, Clark has been playing quite well for a few weeks. If he can remain relatively healthy, we might see The Shark finish a few more big games this season.

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