By Cam Inman
SANTA CLARA — Few NFL scenes are more mesmerizing than what Andy Reid dials up and what Patrick Mahomes executes near the goal line.
No team has more red-zone touchdowns than the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL’s highest-scoring team overall.
“We definitely have to be on alert for that,” 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw said. “Just like in the (2019 season’s) Super Bowl and what they were doing, it was like a show.”
Can the 49ers’ defense crack that code when the Chiefs visit Levi’s Stadium on Sunday?
“We talked about that a little today and will get more into it (Thursday),” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “That definitely could be a big turning point in the game, if we are able to keep them from getting seven (points).”
They couldn’t last time they met, when back-to-back touchdowns on red-zone drives rallied the Chiefs past the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, for a 31-20 win on Feb. 2, 2019.
“I hadn’t watched (that film) for a while until these last two days,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I don’t like watching it. But this week wasn’t about that. I watched it for schematic reasons.”
So how to stop the Chiefs’ red zone schemes?
“When you do stop stuff, that’s usually just when the play gets started, too,” Shanahan added. “That’s why they’ve been consistently good.”
Decimated by injuries, the 49ers (3-3) are still allowing the league’s fewest yards and second-fewest points. Now comes the task of allowing as few as possible to Mahomes and, specifically, Travis Kelce. Six of Kelce’s seven touchdown catches this season have come from within 10 yards.
Public service announcement: Sunday is the NFL’s “National Tight Ends Day” pseudo-campaign, which means Kelce and 49ers counterpart George Kittle should relish that spotlight.
Kelce scored on a 1-yard catch in the Super Bowl’s key drive against the 49ers, four plays after Mahomes’ 44-yard completion to Tyreke Hill on third-and-15. One drive later, the Chiefs seized the lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Damien Williams.
The Chiefs’ more memorable red-zone play in that Super Bowl was on their first touchdown drive: On fourth-and-1 from the 5, Mahomes spun around with three others in the backfield, then a 4-yard run ensued to set up Mahomes’ 1-yard touchdown run. The Chiefs exhumed that play from Michigan’s 1948 Rose Bowl vs. USC.
“They were spinning,” Greenlaw recalled. “It was very creative. We’ll be more alert and know what we’re getting from Andy (Reid). We’ve got to be on our P’s and Q’s.”
*Forgive me on this. KC didn’t score a TD on this play, just converted the fourth down right before their TD. Here’s what they did: pic.twitter.com/tHmvex2O9y
— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) February 3, 2020
This season, the 49ers’ red-zone defense ranks 13th, as opponents are converting 54 percent of such trips into touchdowns.
Awaiting them are the Chiefs’ array of pre-snap motion, shovel passes, play-action fakes, zone-read keepers and tons more. Of Mahomes’ 17 touchdown passes, all but two were inside the red zone, and only 4-of-17 have gone to wide receivers.
“There are not many people in the history of football as good as him,” Shanahan said. “It reminds me of Elway, how he’s capable of, how he’s a top thrower on the planet, and the way he can move. He’s not always doing it with a flat-out 40 (-yard dash), just running away from people, but the way he fills space and creates time.”
Statistically, the Chiefs go from facing one of the NFL’s best defenses to another. Mahomes passed for 338 yards and two touchdowns (and two interceptions) in Sunday night’s 24-20 home loss to Buffalo. The Bills’ defense ranks first in points allowed and second in yards allowed; the 49ers rank vice versa in those categories.
The 49ers’ comeback bid Sunday at Atlanta stalled in the fourth quarter on an agonizingly long drive that lasted over 8 minutes and delved as deep as the Falcons’ 18-yard line. It resulted in no 49ers points, and it essentially sealed a 28-14 defeat.
Shanahan’s red zone offense routinely has wavered in his six years, and this year it’s scoring touchdowns on 58.8 percent of the time, which ranks tied for 14th. In 2018, the 49ers ranked last (41.2-percent), and, in 2021, they ranked first (66.7-percent).
BOSA HEALTH CHECK
Defensive end Nick Bosa feels “really good” and is “pretty optimistic” about returning from a groin issue, which “came out of nowhere” to force him out at halftime of the Oct. 9 win at Carolina and kept him from suiting up Sunday at Atlanta. Limited in Wednesday’s practice, he was listed as questionable for that Falcons game, but he revealed it was decided early in the week he’d skip that game.
Bosa’s six sacks are just a half-sack off the NFL lead, held by Pittsburgh’s Alex Highsmith. “That dude is a monster out there,” Mahomes said of Bosa in his Wednesday press conference. “He does everything well, but obviously he’s extremely good at rushing the passer with power, with speed.”
WILLIAMS, VERRETT RETURN
Left tackle Trent Williams is practicing for the first time since a high ankle sprain Sept. 25 at Denver. Colton McKivitz and Jaylon Moore have started in his place since then. “Getting anybody back helps, and especially getting those two back would be huge,” Shanahan said of Williams and Bosa.
Cornerback Jason Verrett practiced for the first time in a week, and the 49ers have a week remaining on whether to activate him off the physically-unable-to-perform list. Verrett missed last Thursday’s and Friday’s sessions because of soreness, and he showed no signs of hindrance in his return.
Shanahan said the 49ers will take a prudent approach toward the Nov. 1 trade deadline: “We’re not going to look into it any less or any more than anyone. If it can help us and not risk a ton for the future, it’s something we’ll do.”
The 49ers technically remain in the NFC West lead by virtue of their 2-0 division mark. Four NFC teams have better records: the Philadelphia Eagles (6-0), the Minnesota Vikings (5-1), the New York Giants (5-1) and the Dallas Cowboys (4-2). Only four teams in the NFL have just one win apiece, but Shanahan does not think that parity aspect will lessen what’s available on the trade market, noting that depth charts and player contracts are other factors.
“We’re right there with everyone else. Most of this league is pretty close the same spot,” Shanahan said. “A couple of teams are ahead of everyone, a couple behind everyone. We have as good a chance as anyone in this league.”
Cornerback Jimmie Ward returned to practice with a soft cast on his left hand, which required surgery from an Oct. 9 fracture on the opening kickoff. “It doesn’t feel great, but I’ll figure it out. I’ve broke a lot of bones in this league,” Ward said. “I’ve been talking a lot of smack too so it’s going to be like dang, it’s going to be blood in the water. Going to be out there fighting.”
OTHER INJURY UPDATES
Not practicing Wednesday were safety Talanoa Hufanga (concussion protocol), cornerback Charvarius Ward (groin), right tackle Mike McGlinchey (left calf), defensive end Samson Ebukam (Achilles) and defensive tackle Arik Armstead (feet, ankle). Defensive end Drake Jackson (knee) was limited, too.
The 49ers’ annual alumni weekend will honor not only Bryant Young, a 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, but also the 2012 team that won the NFC Championship. Ex-coach Jim Harbaugh is planning to show, he told The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, who reported that other expected attendees are Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith and Vic Fangio.
Shanahan said he did not know whether Colin Kaepernick would be attending. The team has not announced the guest list or a schedule of events.
Source: Paradise Post