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Key Matchups: 49ers-Chiefs

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

by Andrew Pasquini – Sports 1140 KHTK

The San Francisco 49ers (1-1) travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) in a game that features two of the leagues up-and-coming quarterbacks in Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo.

The 49ers have had a rough history playing in Kansas City, not winning since 1982 when the defeated the Chiefs 26-13. Since then, the 49ers are 0-4, losing by an average score of 35-9. The last time these two teams met, it was the return of Alex Smith and the 49ers beat the Chiefs 22-17 at Levi’s Stadium.

With the 2018 matchup looking to be what could be a high scoring affair, here are some matchup to watch that could dictate the final score:

Jimmy Garoppolo vs third downs

To say the 49ers have struggled on third down this season would be an understatement. Heading into Week 3, the 49ers offense is tied for 23rd on third down conversions, converting just 33.3% of those plays for first downs. Third downs will get tougher against the Chiefs as they are 3rd in the NFL on third downs, allowing first downs just 27.3% of the time.

The key to the 49ers struggles has been Jimmy Garoppolo and his poor play on third downs. According to Pro Football Focus, Garoppolo has a grade of 47.3 on third downs which places his 28th out of 32 starting quarterbacks. That grade is surprising low compared to last season, where Garoppolo graded out at 94.2 on third downs, best in the NFL.

Looking at his third down efficiency in the more traditional passer rating statistic, it doesn’t get much better as Garoppolo has a rating of 28.8 on third downs, good for last out of qualifying quarterbacks.

Patrick Mahomes vs the 49ers pass defense

Patrick Mahomes has hands down been the best quarterback so far this season. He’s thrown for 10 touchdowns, which is an NFL record for touchdown passes in the first two weeks of the season, zero interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 143.3.

The 49ers defense has a tough task to deal with in Mahomes. Through the first two weeks, the 49ers have 556 yard through the air, which is the tenth most in the league and five touchdown passes, which is tied for the fourth most. Majority of those numbers came last week against the Lions, when Matthew Stafford threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers. Stafford had majority of his numbers on the left side of the field, attacking Ahkello Witherspoon.

The right side of the field, Stafford left untouched and that’s because that side of the field is owned by Richard Sherman. On the season, Sherman has only allowed one catch, an 18-yard reception from Stefon Diggs in Week 1, on 99 coverage snaps. Of those 99 coverage snaps, Sherman has only been targeted once every 24.75 snaps and has only allowed 0.18 yards per snap.

It will be interesting to see if Mahomes targets Sherman or if he continues the trend of ignoring the cornerback. If he chooses to ignore Sherman, he might throw a good amount of passes towards Tyreek Hill. Through two weeks, Mahomes has a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when targeting Hill. The 49ers will have to figure out how to contain Hill in the passing game to keep the Chiefs offense in check.

Raheem Mostert vs Tyreek Hill

There is no shortage of speed in this game that features players like Marquise Goodwin and Tyreek Hill but last week, another speedster emerged in 49ers punt coverage man Raheem Mostert.

Mostert had a big hit on a punt return against the Lions but the key number to look at was his speed on defending punt returns. According to NextGen stats, Mostert clocked in at 23.68 miles per hour against the Lions. He will need all of that speed to catch up to Chiefs punt returner Tyreek Hill, who in his career has maxed out at 23.24 miles per hour in his career.

Hill has made a career on being one of the most electrifying return men in the league, averaging 13 yards per return and scoring four touchdowns on punt returns in his three-year career.