In order for San Francisco to escape Arrowhead with a win, the 49ers need impact from two rookies to beat the Chiefs. These two players have already made solid impressions in the first two weeks of the season but for the Niners to be successful on Sunday, both players will need to take another step forward in their young careers.
Drafted 70th overall out of BYU, Fred Warner was touted for his combination of size and speed. He was seen as a hybrid linebacker, moving like a safety, with the ability and experience to play near the line. So far he has proven this by making tackles all over the field.
Warner leads the 49ers and is third overall in the NFL, with 22 tackles. Against the Vikings, Warner ran Dalvin Cook down and punched the ball out for a forced fumble. He also made a key tackle late in the first half to keep the Vikings out of field goal range. Continuing his assault on opposing offenses, Warner added 10 tackles against the Lions.
“That’s what he was coming out of BYU,” Saleh continued. “You see him eating breakfast and watching tape. He’s sitting at a table by himself in the cafeteria and he’s got the tape rolling.”
Richard Sherman commented “Anytime a rookie middle linebacker, that’s like, as they call it, the quarterback of the defense — come out there with a rookie, and you play well — he had to be incredibly prepared.”
Warner’s been able to rack up some solid stats, while a key piece of the defense has been missing. His quickness and acumen will inevitably garner tackles. With Reuben Foster set to return the unanswered question is how both players will function together while on the field at the same time.
With Brock Coyle on injured reserve and Malcolm Smith coming off an injury, Warner will likely start at middle linebacker against the Chiefs with Foster sliding in on the weak side. Kansas City’s potent offense will be a good test to see if Warner can keep up his good play. Look for Warner to stuff the run up the middle and disrupt Patrick Mahomes‘ passing lanes over the middle. It will be interesting to see how Warner and Foster plan on containing Travis Kelce as well.
From his intellectual and artistic pursuits to his kitten TD celebration, to his dyed blue hair, Dante Pettis marches to the beat of his own drum. Even on the football field, he relies on a unique “wiggle,” as QB Jimmy Garappolo calls it running routes. The unorthodox nature of this wiggle causes defenders to misjudge Pettis, as his feet seem to be moving in one direction and his body moves in another.
Saleh compares his movements to a basketball player’s crossover dribble. To go along with his unusual running style, Pettis brings stick-and-stay hands, refined route running, work ethic and concentration in traffic.
Pettis has made a big impact in his first two games. He caught his first touchdown pass against Minnesota when Garappolo found him in the back of the end zone. While the catch was impressive on its own, Pettis displayed his ability to extend his route while Garappolo scrambled out of the pocket.
In that game, Pettis was targeted four more times with one more reception for 39 yards. He played in 88% of the plays against the Lions but was only targeted twice, making one catch for 35 yards.
Pettis was pressed into a larger role with Marquise Goodwin sidelined with a bruised thigh in Week 2. This meant Pettis often drew Darius Slay in coverage which proved difficult for the young wide receiver. An ankle injury early in the game may have also had an effect on Pettis’ ability to gain separation.
Despite a disappointing second game, Pettis has proved to be a deep threat and a clutch receiver for San Francisco. Secondaries have to respect his hands and composure downfield.
Pettis has a way of creating opportunities for other receivers by confusing defenses. This was on display early in the second quarter against the Lions as two defenders covered Pettis, leaving Kendrick Bourne wide open in the flat for the touchdown.
This skill will create space for the other receivers in the red zone, where the 49ers have struggled, once the receiving core is healthy. Goodwin is questionable against Kansas City, but if he returns Pettis and the rest of 49er receivers should cause problems for the Chiefs’ last-ranked pass defense.