Tipped as a playoff squad before the season began, the 49ers have struggled for form and already moved to shake up the coaching staff in the hope of improvement. They rolled into Arrowhead Stadium hoping to build on a strong showing against the Saints, but ended up being taken to pieces by the Chiefs.
For Kansas City, 3-0 isn’t a mirage — Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers are leading a defensive surge that was tough to see coming based on a 2009 defense that was one of the league’s worst.
49ers: Three performances of note
Anthony Davis (-8.3) had been enjoying a strong start to his rookie campaign at right tackle, but he was thoroughly dominated in this game . In pass protection he surrendered two sacks, a hit, and six more pressures, making Alex Smith‘s day at the office a long one.
Arguably the finest inside linebacker in football, Patrick Willis had a rare off day, scoring a -2.5 PFF rating. This was his first below-average score since Week 3 of last season. He failed to grade positively in any facet of the game, but was particularly poor in coverage, giving up 60 yards and allowing a catch on all four balls thrown his way.
It’s tempting to go all-negative here for the 49ers, with Smith having another poor performance under center, but there were some bright spots. Manny Lawson, often the forgotten man in the 49ers’ OLB rotation, had a fine day rushing the passer, getting a pair of pressures and a hit from just five blitzes.
Chiefs: Three performances of note
With Davis having such a poor game for the 9ers, it’s only fair to point to the reason he did: Tamba Hali (+9.1). Hali rushed the passer 37 times in this game and recorded three sacks, a hit, and 10 more pressures on the QB. That’s pressure once every 2.6 attempts, and that alone will kill an offense.
The Chiefs guard tandem of Brian Waters and Ryan Lilja both had fine performances, each recording a PFF grade of +4.6. Both got consistent movement in the run game and only allowed a single pressure between them (Waters gave it up).
Much like the 49ers, it’s tempting to continue the message of positivity here, but it wasn’t all good for the Chiefs. Left tackle Brandon Albert was poor. He surrendered a hit and a pressure on Matt Cassel, enough to push him into a negative grade (-0.3) for pass protection, but he was routinely exposed as a run-blocker, allowing his man to disrupt the play far too often.
The Chiefs are getting good use out of their rookie class. Dexter McCluster confused the 49ers all day, as they didn’t know whether to treat him as a running back or receiver, and his touchdown was a thing of beauty. Not to be outdone, Tony Moeaki came up with one of the most spectacular catches you’ll see from anybody to score his touchdown.
Both of the Chiefs safeties were rookies, with Eric Berry earning the higher grade from Kendrick Lewis by virtue of his play against the run.
Javier Arenas was the nickel corner until being hurt, but later returned in that role, and Jon Asamoah was used as an extra tight end in heavy packages.
We’ve already mentioned the struggles of Davis at right tackle, but fellow rookie lineman Mike Iupati had a much better game at left guard, grading positively. Navorro Bowman capitalized on a poor game from Takeo Spikes to start discussions about whether he should start alongside Willis in the bay.
Nate Byham saw some time in two tight end packages, and Kyle Williams was used as a return man during the game.
The most worrying aspect of Smith’s poor play at quarterback isn’t struggling with reads or decisions with the football, it’s simple accuracy. At one point he missed Brian Westbrook high by about 3 yards on a simple bubble screen. That’s a throw high-school players make in their sleep.