The first place Kansas City Chiefs look to stay undefeated (and alone at the top of the AFC West) when the San Francisco 49ers come to Arrowhead on Sunday afternoon.
Mike Singletary’s club is looking for their first win and tight end Vernon Davis has been a popular topic of conversation after all but guaranteeing a victory.
With the struggling Chiefs offense facing their toughest defense so far this young season, the defense and special teams will once again have to deliver big plays.
Here are the three players from each team that you will need to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Thomas Jones
The “Free Jamaal Charles” movement is gaining plenty of momentum thanks to the veteran Jones getting twice as many carries last week against the Cleveland Browns. It doesn’t help matters that Charles is averaging nearly 3 more yards per carry than Jones and has 19 more yards on 11 less carries.
Todd Haley doesn’t show any signs of giving Charles the ball more, especially against a stout Niners defense that has given up less than 65 yards a game on the ground. With another likely high dose of carries, Jones needs to prove he can keep the Chiefs rushing attack in the top 5 or the “FJC” revolt will be fully on in Kansas City.
Defense: Shaun Smith
Fresh off being accused of grabbing the… um, “special place” of Browns center Alex Mack, Smith is going to back into his bag of tricks against San Francisco. Niners running back Frank Gore is one of the best in the league and he loves taking the ball up the middle to look for any sign of light to cut.
Over the first two weeks teams have been running more to the right to test the Chiefs left defensive end. With starter Tyson Jackson likely out again this week, that puts a ton of pressure on Smith’s shoulders. If the Kansas City defense is going to keep Gore under 100 yards, it starts with Smith along the defensive line.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
He might not get the crowd going the way Dexter McCluster or Javier Arenas does, but Colquitt will play just as big of a role on Sunday for the Chiefs special teams.
Early on, Colquitt has been just good, but not as good as he has shown. For a punter that has performed at such a high level through injuries and no matter the conditions, he needs to be just a shade better for the Chiefs.
Week 1 he had to deal with the weather on Monday Football and last week he improved and was actually better than his stats showed. He place a punt perfectly inside the 5, but the Kansas City special teams botched it into a touchback. Colquitt hasn’t had a net average under 40 yards since his rookie season and through two games he has yet to average more than 37.3.
With the offense much more likely to take a step back than forward this week, Colquitt will need to control the field position battle.
Offense: Frank Gore
Last week the Chiefs defense had to put to rest the disaster that was a 286 yard game last year by Browns running back Jerome Harrison. They answered the bell by holding him to just 33 yards on 16 carries. For their efforts, the Kansas City defense is rewarded by having to face one of the league’s best in Gore.
He bounced back from a down game to open the season with an amazing performance last week against the Saints. Gore carried the ball 20 times for 112 yards with a touchdown. Throw in 7 catches for 56 yards with another touchdown and he was responsible for 168 yards from scrimmage.
Not only will the Chiefs have to stop him up front, but the linebackers (I’m looking at you, Derrick Johnson) will need to go sideline-to-sideline with Gore when the Niners use him in the passing game out of the backfield.
The player making the most waves this week has been Vernon Davis, but Gore represents the heart of the San Francisco offense.
Defense: Patrick Willis
If there is a better linebacker in the league, I haven’t found him. That is already how good Willis is in just his 4th season. Get used to hearing his name on Sunday, because he will be all over the field seemingly on every single play.
Willis has averaged over 150 tackles every year he has been in the league and is on pace to top that number once again. If he comes into Arrowhead and isn’t responsible for double digit tackles and a turnover, the Chiefs offense should consider that a victory.
Don’t think he just follows the ball carrier either. Willis is elite in pass coverage as far as linebackers to and can put pressure on the quarterback when his number is called.
Special Teams: Andy Lee
While Dustin Colquitt will be playing the field position game for the Chiefs, Lee will be playing a game of his own: keep away. No matter if it’s Dexter McCluster or Javier Arenas back returning punts for Kansas City, Lee will do everything in his power to make sure they don’t get the chance to hit the open field.
San Francisco knows their defense is good enough to get the job done against the Chiefs. I would be surprised if they let either Chiefs returner take even one shot at a big play. Hold the Kansas City special teams in check and that will put even more pressure on the offense.
Lee’s numbers aren’t likely to look pretty at the end of the day, but as long as there is a zero next to McCluster and Arenas’ names in the box score, he will have done his job.