49ers must ramp up protection vs. Chiefs

The 49ers' offensive line has struggled to protect Colin Kaepernick to this point, which must be a point of emphasis with the vaunted Chiefs pass rush coming to Levi's Stadium Sunday.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - If the 49ers are looking to have a more balanced offense, they're going to have to be better at protecting Colin Kaepernick.

Through four games, San Francisco has allowed 10 sacks, with an allowed sack rate that ranks 28th in the NFL at 7.46 percent of their plays.

In Sunday's game against the Eagles, the 49ers officially allowed four sacks. A fifth, coming on a third-down play on their third-quarter scoring drive, was negated by a holding penalty in the secondary. Without that flag, San Francisco would have been looking at a 50-yard field goal down 21-13.

Instead, the drive was prolonged and Kaepernick found Stevie Johnson in the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown, cutting Philadelphia's lead to one.

A sack on its first possession pinned San Francisco at their 2-yard line, moments before an Eagles' blocked punt led to the game's first touchdown.

"(The Eagles) do a great job of coaching their defensive line," Jim Harbaugh said this week. "That is one well-coached defensive line. They did a fine job. Now, we have some things that we can do better and we’ll strive to improve there."

Coordinator Greg Roman echoed that sentiment.

"You’ve got to tip your hat to them," Roman said. "I thought they did a very good job once the ball was snapped and a couple things we had to clean up during the game."

With the Chiefs coming to Levi's Stadium Sunday, they bring one of the league's best pass rushing duo's in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, who have combined for eight sacks through their first four games, including three in last week's 41-14 drubbing of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Houston currently leads the league with five sacks, and is coming off an injury-shortened 2013 when he managed 11 in 11 games.

"He’s really good running the rim. He can really race the edge of the pocket, turn the corner," Roman said. "And if a tackle overcommits to the outside he’s athletic enough to stick his foot in the ground and get back inside. So, he’s a very athletic guy coming off the edge, but can get from zero to 60 very quickly. Very good get-off and very good short-area speed."

Houston plays on the left side of the defense, meaning he will be lined up against the 49ers' right tackle. Anthony Davis has not practiced this week after getting rolled up on by Kaepernick when he was sacked at the end of the first quarter in last week's game. But he has not worn any wraps on his left ankle or knee in the locker room this week, nor has he shown a noticeable limp. He will likely be questionable for Sunday's game.

If Davis can't go, Jonathan Martin will get the start at right tackle, as he did in the first three games before Davis' return from his hamstring strain. Martin leads the 49ers with three sacks allowed.

On the other side, Joe Staley will go against Hali, who has three sacks. Staley, the three-time Pro Bowler, has not had a season up to his lofty standards - he's allowed a team-high nine quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. He's on pace to allow 36 hurries, 11 more than his previous career mark of 25 in 2011 - that included four in a pair of playoff games.


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