Grant Cohn: Chiefs, Andy Reid offer big challenges to 49ers' defense
Here’s the problem.
Sunday, the 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs. They’re 2-0. They’ve scored 80 points. Their head coach, Andy Reid, is the best offensive coach in the NFL, the Bill Walsh or Mike Holmgren of his era. Reid could hold his own against both in their primes.
Plus, Reid’s offense is loaded with talent this season. And the 49ers have to play the Chiefs on the road at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time. The Chiefs have almost every advantage
But the 49ers can win if they play a perfect game. Here’s what they have to do.
1. Survive Andy Reid’s script.
Most offensive coaches script the first 12 to 15 plays of the game. Reid scripts his first 20 to 22. He wants to win the game early.
Here’s what he does. During the Chiefs first drive, Reid uses different formations and personnel groupings every play just to see how the defense matches up and what coverages it uses. He usually doesn’t call his big plays just yet. He’ll throw out a few decoys — a draw, a screen. Reid’s first drive is all about gaining information on the defense, so he can set up his home-run touchdown passes for later.
During the second drive, Reid will come back to a formation he used in the first drive. But, this time, he’ll know what the coverage the defense probably will use, and he’ll attack that coverage with a long pass. That’s how he wins.
Reid is like a boxer who feels out his opponent in the first round, throws a few jabs, a hook, maybe an uppercut, just to see how the opponent responds. Then, Reid throws haymakers and goes for the knockout in Round 2.
The 49ers have to withstand Reid’s haymakers. Because if Reid doesn’t land his knockout shots early, he may not land them at all. He depends on his scripted plays. They’re his biggest advantage. Once he has to improvise in the heat of the game, he’s beatable.
2. Make Patrick Mahomes think.
If he thinks, he could make mistakes.
Mahomes has started only three games in the NFL. He has less game experience than Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers have to make him make decisions.
The key is to confuse Mahomes, make him double-clutch before he throws. Force him to find the second or third receiver in the progression. If he can drop back and throw to his No. 1 receiver all game, it’s over, because the 49ers’ subpar pass rush won’t get to him quickly enough.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has to disguise his coverages so Mahomes doesn’t understand what he’s seeing and doesn’t know where to throw before the play even starts.
3. Roll coverage toward cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
We know where the Chiefs want to throw – wherever Witherspoon is. He’s the worst player on the 49ers defense, and he has a bad ankle. The Lions targeted him as much as possible last week. They gorged on him. Never even bothered with Richard Sherman on the other side of the field. So, why would the Chiefs attack anyone but Witherspoon?
The 49ers have to help him with a safety. Move free safety Adrian Colbert from the middle of the field and line him up closer to Witherspoon. Those two can double-cover a receiver.