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Chiefs vs. 49ers: Five Things to Watch

Key matchups, important stats, a potential X-Factor and the storyline everyone is talking about

The Kansas City Chiefs host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium in the home opener of the 2018 season.

The game kicks off at Noon CT and can be watched locally on FOX (WDAF), or you can listen on the Chiefs Fox Football Radio Network KCFX (101.1 FM).

Here are five things to watch:

1. The Atmosphere

It's going to be crazy.

The loudest stadium (and fans) in the NFL will get another chance to prove it starting when the gates open up on Sunday morning. The parking gates officially open at 7 am, but there's generally a good number of fans who tailgate in line before the gates even open.

It's just what they do, and they're ready to see this group in person.

The Chiefs have begun the season with back-to-back road wins over a couple of teams that many had picked as AFC playoff contenders in the Chargers and Steelers.

It's also not just that they've won, but it's also how they've won. We've seen fireworks.

The Chiefs' offense currently leads the league with 73 points scored, and second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes has set a new NFL record with 10 touchdown passes through two weeks.

"I'm extremely excited," Mahomes said this week of getting ready his first home start on Sunday. "I've had this game circled for a long time. Just being able to play at home in front of these fans, it is going to be an amazing thing.

"I can't wait for the moment just when I get to run out on the field and hear those fans roar."

The fans have done plenty of roaring over the years, and even recently as the Chiefs have won 18 of their last 22 regular-season games at Arrowhead.

"We love playing in Arrowhead," Chiefs' coach Andy Reid said this week. "Our players get fired up and it's hard for them to come out individually and express it, but they get fired up. When you come out of that tunnel and it's red and it's loud, it's a beautiful thing. I know the people in Kansas City love getting in there and doing that. We look forward to it, it's a great experience.

"It's what makes the NFL great, that's a big part of it."

2. The key is slowing down the 49ers' standout defensive line

The 49ers defense is led by their defensive front, which features several guys who would be the type of players you'd want coming off the bus first.

They're big, long, strong and extremely athletic for their size.

DeForest Buckner—the third-year defensive lineman out of Oregon who was the No. 7 overall pick back in the 2016 NFL Draft—currently ranks second in the league with 3.5 sacks. He stands at 6-feet-7 and weighs around 300 pounds.

"He was a great basketball player at one time, too," Reid said this week of Buckner. "A big kid and they're a big defensive front, and physical. Buckner can rush the passer, they move him around, he's got a nice little combination of moves that he makes, and he's very long. He and (No.) 91 [Arik Armstead], are big guys that were college teammates. They know each other and how to play off it and they bring it. High motors.

"That's a good front right here, that's a very good front."

The key to success on offense is always slowing down the opposing teams best player, particularly when they play along the front, but Buckner is a rising star in the league and should be a major focus for the Chiefs' offensive line, as well as anyone watching the game who's interested in the matchups inside the matchup.

3. How do the Chiefs handle the league's leading rusher?

The 49ers' offense boasts the league's leading rusher in Matt Breida—the second-year player out of Georgia Southern who has 184 yards rushing so far this season.

But what's even more impressive than the fact that Breida has done this after the 49ers' initial featured back—Jerick McKinnon—was lost for the year with a knee injury in the week leading up to the season opener, is that McKinnon has put up those numbers while averaging 8.4 yards-per-carry, which also leads the league.

Breida's game is built around speed and utilizing the zone concepts and one-cut running scheme the 49ers' offense loves to employ. He's the perfect back for their system.

"We have to do a good job of containing him and make sure everyone is getting their edges and playing good defense on him," linebacker Reggie Ragland explained this week of facing Breida, who possesses a different skill set than the two running backs they've faced already this year.

49ers' head coach Kyle Shannahan is a noted play-caller and offensive mind who has the respect of Chiefs' defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

The 49ers offense loves to use a lot of shifts and motions pre-snap as well as some misdirection to try and find ways to get their guys in as much open space as possible.

Besides communication, which is always important, the Chiefs' defenders must, therefore, trust their plan and fly around without any hesitation. The 49ers have some guys who can flat-out fly and don't need any extra help trying to get separation.

4. Can the Chiefs bring down Jimmy Garoppolo?

While the box score stats will tell you that Garoppolo has been sacked nine times this season, which is the third-most in the league, the natural connection would be something about the fact that the offensive line must not be doing a great job of giving him time to throw.

Well, the tape shows something else.

It shows that Garappolo isn't afraid to stand in the pocket and wait for things to develop down the field, and it's in the waiting that he's been in situations in which the pocket around him has collapsed and he hasn't moved. The fact that he's waited so long is what has largely contributed to a number of those sacks.

According to the numbers over at Pro Football Focus, Garappolo has actually waited the second-longest amount of time in the league before leaving the pocket to run with an average of 6.23 seconds. He's got the fifth-longest time in the league on average time before being sacked at 3.94 seconds.

Therefore, the Chiefs' defensive lineman, as well as the edge rushers, must keep working towards him to try and bring him down. If he's going to stand in there, you better keep coming. Other teams have had success in doing this—the Lions had six sacks in their matchup last week, although it came in a losing effort.

The Chiefs also have the benefit of playing at home, which means we'll probably see some silent counts and even some tempo from the 49ers offense to try and take the crowd out of the equation.

5. Can Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense keep it up?

The 2013 Denver Broncos are the highest-scoring team in NFL history. They scored 606 points on the season, which surpassed the 2007 New England Patriots, which previously had the record with 589.

So, with a 16-game season, that means the Broncos' team averaged 37.9 points per game.

Through two games, the Chiefs have averaged 40 points per game.

But in fairness, those numbers are way too early to do anything other than plant in the back of your mind for context about how truly special of a start it this season has been. It's not any kind of a prediction of future success.

If anything, Reid wants to remind everyone that the offense is led by a second-year player who at some point is going to have some growing pains.

"There will be learning experiences going on here," Reid said of Mahomes' hot start to the season. "Everything has not been roses up to this point. It looks like it, but that has not been the case. He has a ton of things to work on. As he goes on, there are a lot of great defensive minds in this league and they will present it to him. One advantage I think he had was he was able to work against Bob [Sutton] at training camp and had a lot of things thrown at him.

"Everyone has their flavor and you have to be able to answer it. If you don't, you have a problem."

Well, let's hope the Chiefs are ready and prepared to execute against this flavor of defense that the 49ers are bringing to town.

There's reason to believe they're ready as they faced the same scheme in Week 1 against the Chargers and their defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

Robert Saleh—the 49ers' defensive coordinator—worked under Bradley in both Seattle and with Jacksonville as the linebackers' coach, and he runs the same Cover 3-heavy scheme.

Again, according to Pro Football Focus, the 49ers have run Cover 3 a league-leading 60 percent of the time so far this year, with the Chargers running it the third-most at 53 percent.

It'll be another tough challenge for Mahomes and company on Sunday as the 49ers will be the latest to try and throw new things and new wrinkles at the young quarterback, who has answered every challenge thus far.

"We're just trying to take whatever matchup we feel like it the best matchup on that particular play, and execute it," Mahomes added.