By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
In another tough road test, the San Francisco 49ers will be tasked with slowing down yet another a juggernaut offense this week. Unlike veteran Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings, this time the 49ers will tangle with second-year Kansas Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes, who, in his first two starts this season, has guided an offense that’s scored most points of any team in the NFL. Here are our five things to watch this Sunday:
Can the 49ers defense slow down Mahomes and Co?
After making a Week 17 start last season in place of the resting Alex Smith last year, Mahomes has come out on fire in his first two starts in his second season, the first as a full-time starter. He’s thrown an NFL-record 10 touchdowns as Kansas City has won two straight and scored 80 points.
San Francisco is coming off of a nail-biting win over the struggling Detroit Lions in which they nearly blew a 17-point lead. Ranked 18th in the NFL for points allowed (51), the 49ers will be fighting an uphill battle to even slow down the Chiefs on Sunday.
“They mess with your eyes,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said in regards to Kansas City’s offense. “They’ve got a lot of different jet sweeps and movement. They’ve got a very good vertical pass game. They’ve got a good run game. You never know what they’re going to do when they break the huddle and you’ve got to be ready … for everything.”
While allowing over 25 points per game, the 49ers have also given up 385.5 yards per game. That number will have to come down on Sunday if San Francisco has any hope of containing Mahomes and Co.
Offense has a chance to get back on track
While containing the Kansas City offense may present problems for the 49ers, taking advantage of their suspect defense should have Kyle Shanahan salivating.
The Chiefs have allowed the most yards per game over the first two weeks of the season (508.8), the second-most yards per play (6.9), and have also allowed teams to complete 73 passes through two weeks of play — the most of any team in the league.
“It’ll be our job to go out there and execute,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “I think the communication is a big part, getting that started. We’ll go from there.”
While San Francisco will obviously pay respect to every opposing defense they face, taking on a clearly inferior unit should bode well for a team still trying to figure it out.
Richard Sherman will be playing
The Super Bowl-winning cornerback was absent Thursday due to a heel injury sustained earlier in the week.
It is unclear, though, if the injured heel was on the same right leg that he had surgery on to repair a torn Achilles tendon last season, or the left leg, which underwent surgery to clear bone spurs from around the Achilles this spring.
After taking the day off on Thursday, Sherman did return to practice on Friday, according to Shanahan.
“He’s not questionable. So, he’ll be going,” Shanahan said. “I think there’s wear and tear. I’d like to give him some time off, anyways.”
Through two weeks, Sherman has played well for the 49ers. Allowing only two passes to be completed on his side of the field, his presence alone has restricted opposing teams in regards to passing the ball.
Facing the red-hot Kansas City offense, San Francisco will undoubtedly need Sherman to be suited up and ready to go so his current status should be encouraging.
Reuben Foster to make his return
After serving a two-game, league-ordered suspension during the first two weeks of the season, 49ers inside linebacker Reuben Foster is set to make his highly-anticipated return on Sunday.
Foster has experienced a tumultuous offseason, one which included a pair of arrests — one for marijuana possession and another domestic violence incident in February.
“It was like a holiday, just knowing I could come back and play the game I love, for real,” Foster said of his first day back at practice. “So I’m just happy, just happy to be happy-go-jolly.”
The 49ers will need that “happy-go-jolly” spirit if they hope to slow down the Kansas City offense.
Foster was second among 49ers in tackling in 2017, his rookie season. The Alabama product was also ranked as one of the league’s best inside linebackers headed into this season, so having him back for 2018 should be a well-received boost for San Francisco.
“We’re pumped to have him back,” Shanahan said. “He spent these two weeks away taking care of himself. He didn’t skip a beat. He looked in shape. He was up-beat. We loved having him around.”
Marquise Goodwin listed as questionable to play
Part of the 49ers offensive struggles can be attributed to the fact that they’ve been without starting wideout Marquise Goodwin (quad).
After sustaining a quadricep and bone contusion in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, Goodwin has been working with the 49ers training staff to make his return this week.
“He was limited [in practice],” Shanahan said. “I’m questioning [his ability to play] so it’s questionable.”
Without Goodwin on the field, the 49ers passing offense has struggled mightily. According to NFL.com, the 49ers have only been able to register 393 total yards through the air — 27th in the NFL.
In addition, Garoppolo had earned the second-worst total quarterback rating (QBR) in the NFL (22.9) only ahead of rookie quarterback Josh Allen in Buffalo.
According to Shanahan, Goodwin will likely be a game-time decision.