As the San Francisco 49ers (2-2) prepare to face a hot Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) team, they will also square off against a familiar face. Yes, I’m talking about QB Alex Smith. The former 2005 first-round pick (No. 1), it will be Smith’s homecoming as he plays the team that drafted him for the first time during regular-season play. And while Smith is protected by a top five rushing attack, he will need to air it out at some point during the game, and one of his security blankets is 2013 third-round pick (No. 63) TE Travis Kelce.
Harbaugh on Chiefs TE Travis Kelce: “Big, physical, big target. Very good catch radius.”
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) October 1, 2014
At 6-5 and 255 pounds, Kelce presents a huge mismatch as he often lines up in the slot. A matchup that will likely see first-round pick (No. 30) DB Jimmie Ward, it will be up to him to utilize his coverage skills while fighting off the big bodied tight-end. Last week saw Kelce just shred the New England Patriots defense as he finished with eight catches for 93 yards and one touchdown. And while the majority of those catches came by way of shallow digs and bubble-screens, it was nonetheless effective.
Three of Kelce’s nine targets were based off the bubble-screen. Twice he was lined up in the slot and the other time he was in trips formation. In addition all three of those bubble-screens came on first-downs. So what should 49ers DC Vic Fangio do? Although I am no defensive coordinator, look for Fangio to implement a game-plan in which he uses SS Antoine Bethea more aggressively at the line of scrimmage to sniff out that dump-off pass.
And if Bethea is unable to take on that task, then look for ILB Patrick Willis to fulfill that role as he continues to play the “Mike.” A position that requires Willis to cover the tight-end on the strong side, it will be Willis’ responsibility as Kelce also runs shallow digs and out routes to make life easier for Smith.
And while Willis has some trouble in pass coverage, the fact that he is going up against Smith may shed some light on how much that will factor into the game as they often faced each other in practice. If Fangio can devise a game-plan where he takes away the underneath stuff while playing aggressive at the line, that should make for a very long day for Smith as his security blanket in Kelce will be bottled up. A game-plan that will likely be in the works, look for Smith to then force some deep balls downfield to WR Donnie Avery while the 49ers FS Eric Reid plays three flies up and records an interception.