It was clear that the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs had different objectives heading into week two of preseason. The Chiefs left starters in on both sides of the ball for the entirety of the first half while the 49ers removed them after one drive, instead preferring to rotate their backup quarterbacks (drive to drive) to see who stood out.
With that in mind it’s worth noting how well the 49ers’ backups on defense played, with them essentially shutting down a Chiefs offense that is very much a work in progress. Let’s take a look at the key performances.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Winning by Default
While Colin Kaepernick is entrenched as the starter, the backup quarterback spot in San Francisco is a far more competitive affair. The 49ers view this as a competition between Colt McCoy (0.0) and Scott Tolzien (-3.8) judging by how they split series until the end of the third quarter, and as the grade shows, there was clearly one winner.
Outside of a nice completion with 2:05 to go in the second quarter, Tolzien was unimpressive. Fumbling the exchange on his first snap and being lucky to walk away without throwing a pick after he had two that were dropped. McCoy was hardly fantastic and his lame duck interception to Sean Smith was a head-smacking moment, but his experience should see off Tolzien — though he may have to watch out for B.J. Daniels (+1.9). Offering intriguing athleticism and showing more composure than either of his peers, he got the chains moving (albeit against second- and third-stringers).
It may have been Nick Moody (+0.7) that led the team with 10 tackles, but it was the man playing alongside him for most of the game, Nathan Stupar (+4.4) who really stood out. He didn’t get off many blocks in the run game, but he has a nose for finding his way through traffic and it bore through with a healthy four defensive stops in the run game (one for every four snaps he took).
What’s more, he showed his ability to have an impact in the passing game, something that looked like a weakness against Denver. He destroyed Shaun Draughn for a rapid fire sack with 8:09 to go in the third, tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage to force an incompletion, and added another pressure later on. A fine day all around.
One of the interesting things about preseason is seeing rosters loaded with players at every position… except at tight end for the 49ers. They carried three into this game with Vance McDonald out injured and there was no performance that made you feel stronger about the depth here.
That’s less a knock of MarQueis Gray (who managed 20 snaps) and more an indictment of the play produced by Garrett Celek (-3.5) who didn’t cover himself in glory. He had an understandably hard time going up against the Chiefs’ starters with Justin Houston proving himself too good for Celek on multiple occasions. The best example of this came at the start of the second quarter when on a run off right tackle, Houston stood Celek up, drove him back, shed the block, and then made the tackle for no gain.
Kansas City – Three Performances of Note
I’m not in the business of making excuses for someone, but how bad is the hand of Eric Fisher (-4.5)? I ask because his performance was of such a level and he seemed to be favoring his hand so often, that the question had to be asked: are the Chiefs doing the right thing getting him game time as opposed to letting him heal?
He had to leave the field after Will Tukuafu got the better of him with 4:05 to go in the first and yet he would return to finish out the first half. That wasn’t the only time he struggled as Ray McDonald was too powerful for him at the point of attack on the opening drive, having no problem working on his inside shoulder and getting off his blocking attempts.
In pass protection, Parys Haralson (hurry and sack), Corey Lemonier (hurry) and Ahmad Brooks (hurry with an assist from some hands to the face) all got past him, while he failed on two occasions to execute cut blocks on stretch runs.
More is expected of the first overall pick.
The Competition Heats Up at ILB
While Akeem Jordan (+0.5) had a decent outing, it was fourth-round pick Nico Johnson (+3.2) who caught the eye in his 19-snap cameo.
Rushing the passer he got in on a hurry and a sack with the Chiefs seemingly scared to leave him in coverage (on 11 passing plays he rushed the passer six times and dropped into coverage five). Still, his best work was done against the run, picking up a tackle for no gain and two more for short ones as he showed his attacking instincts. It’s not enough to display the Andy Reid favorite yet, but with the team more invested in him, it has given them some food for thought.
Free Agents Shining
I am among those who questioned the deals the Chiefs gave to Mike Devito (+1.7), Sean Smith (+1.2) and Anthony Fasano (+1.8) due to the money involved. I would, however, not be so foolish to say that the three don’t represent upgrades in terms of what KC is trying to do.
The physical Smith allows the defense to be far more aggressive with the cornerbacks; no longer sitting back, but challenging receivers at the line of scrimmage. Devito and his non-stop motor ensure teams are going to have to do something special to get their run game going. And the reliable Fasano is a fine blocker who provides a safety net for the quarterback on the shorter routes.
This was all on display against the 49ers and look for it to be so during the regular season.
– Sean Smith was on the field for 34 snaps. He was lined up in press coverage on 24 of them.
– The 49ers A.J. Jenkins ran 22 routes and didn’t catch either of the official targets thrown his way (though some of that has to do with an underthrown Colt McCoy pass). He did pick up a catch on Neko Thorpe that was called back for a penalty but was well marshaled despite extensive action.
– For their sub-package defense, the Chiefs used as nickel 13 times, dime on 17 occasions and quarters in three instances.
Much like a number of preseason games, there wasn’t an obvious candidate here, but Nathan Stupar took advantage of being freed up by the big guys up front to earn this one.
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