Chiefs Season Preview: Week #4 - S.F. 49ers

There's never a good time for an opposing team to make a trip to Arrowhead Stadium, as the Chiefs have posted a 25-7 home record since 2002. However, the San Francisco 49ers might find out that there is an absolute worst time to visit - when the Chiefs are coming off a bye week.

That's exactly the situation the 49ers will find themselves in when they visit Arrowhead in week four.

There's no question that the Chiefs will be heavy favorites in this game – but for the 49ers, a young team that's trying to find their identity under second-year head coach Mike Nolan, it could turn out to be a great learning experience.

If the 49ers can stay with the Chiefs and play competitive football for four quarters, there will be little doubt that they'll be able to play with anybody.

OFFENSE
For an offensive unit that finished last in the league in almost every category, there's nowhere to go but up. The offensive personnel is still very young, led by second-year quarterback Alex Smith, who figures to improve upon a rookie season in which he threw just one touchdown pass against 11 interceptions.

To help speed up the learning process, the 49ers hired former Oakland Raiders head coach Norv Turner to be their offensive coordinator. Turner is well respected around the league and is considered to be one of the best offensive minds in the game.

It will be interesting to see if Turner completely throws out the complicated system Mike McCarthy tried to install. Smith showed little improvement over the course of the season under McCarthy.

One of the reasons for that could have been poor play from the offensive line. The 49ers believe they've addressed that issue with the signing of 10-time Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen and the return of left tackle Jonas Jennings, who missed much of 2005 with a shoulder injury.

If the 49ers are able to find some stability along the line, running back Kevan Barlow should have a chance to put up some decent numbers. Barlow had just one 100-yard rushing game last season. He'll share carries with second-year running back Frank Gore.

The Chiefs should be able to stop the 49ers' running attack. If that happens, look for Kansas City's secondary to make some big plays against a sub-par group of receivers.

The only legitimate target that Smith will have on the outside is free agent pickup Antonio Bryant, who had 69 catches for 1,009 yards with the Cleveland Browns last season. The 49ers' leading receiver from a year ago, Brandon Lloyd, signed with the Washington Redskins in the off-season.

The only other threat the Chiefs will face is a pair of tight ends – rookie Vernon Davis and veteran Eric Johnson, a serviceable pass-catcher who has been plagued by injury in two of the last three seasons.

Davis has incredible speed and strength for a tight end, and the 49ers are excited about his potential. He can line up anywhere and should be the guy that Smith looks to on third down. Saying he could pose some problems for the Chiefs would be an understatement.

DEFENSE
Much like their offense, the 49ers' defense was also poor in 2005. They finished last in the league in almost every statistical category.

Still, you should expect this unit to make strides in 2006, as it will be their second year in Mike Nolan's 3-4 defensive scheme. The 49ers lost Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson to free agency, but they still feel confident in some of their young talent.

First-round draft choice Manny Lawson is projected to play right outside linebacker, but he can also play on the line of scrimmage as he did in college. The other notable linebackers include Jeff Ulbrich and 10-year veteran Derek Smith, the team's leading tackler from a year ago.

Playing in front of them will be All-Pro defensive end Bryant Young, who successfully made the transition from defensive tackle last year. He recorded eight sacks in 13 games for the 49ers in 2005.

Playing opposite will be defensive end Marques Douglas, a smart player who is exceptional against the run. Nolan brought him over from Baltimore last season and loves his passion for the game.

But it doesn't really matter who the 49ers have on defense, because they don't have a chance at holding Larry Johnson under 100 yards. If they decide to sell out against the run, the Chiefs should have no problem passing all over a no-name secondary that allowed more than 4,400 yards through the air in 2005.

Expect tight end Tony Gonzalez to exploit San Francisco's secondary at will. Gonzalez will be looking for revenge against a team that held him to one of the worst performances of his career in 2002.

BOTTOM LINE
The only way the 49ers will beat the Chiefs is if several key players get hurt. Otherwise, it just isn't going to happen.

The 49ers won only one road game all of last season. They were outscored by an embarrassing margin of 246-101 in those games. This is not a good football team and they are a year away from posting so much as an 8-8 record.

The Chiefs will have the advantage in every match-up and should dominate.

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