On the fourth Sunday of October, teams around the league celebrate National Tight Ends Day – a national holiday that was founded right here at Levi's® Stadium. This Sunday's matchup is a very fitting contest to honor the day, as tight end George Kittle will lead the San Francisco 49ers against Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in a Super Bowl rematch.
Kittle and Kelce will put their knowledge from Tight End University to the test in the Week 7 matchup and will be backed up by teams who are both hungry to add another win to their record. The 49ers are coming off of an extended road trip that ended in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons, while the Chiefs are coming off of a 24-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills. San Francisco will return home this week and look to make their at-home record 3-0 on the season.
The Chiefs will look much different from when the 49ers last played them in February of 2020. Here's a list of Kansas City's newest additions to their 2022 roster:
Fast forward to 2022, and the Chiefs will enter Levi's® Stadium featuring the NFL's No. 1 scoring offense. Kansas City has scored an average of 29.8 points per game, recording the most first downs and total touchdowns in the league. Although falling to the Bills in Week 6, Smith-Schuster had his best game as a member of the Chiefs. The receiver was five-for-five on his receptions and notched a total of 113 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 338 yards, recording two touchdowns and two interceptions.
KC's star tight end, Kelce, has been Mahomes' top target in each game so far this season. Last week, he tallied 108 yards on eight receptions. Containing the tight end is a clear point of importance for the 49ers as they look to interrupt the Mahomes-Kelce connection. San Francisco enters the contest as the league's No. 1 total defense and No. 2 overall scoring defense, and forcing turnovers are a major key to success in the Week 7 matchup.
"There's not many people in the history of football as good as him," head coach Kyle Shanahan said about Mahomes. "He's a top thrower on the planet. The way he can move, he's not always doing it just with a flat out 40 just running away from people, but the way he feels space and can create time and as he does it, his vision down the field with that arm talent is tough to deal with."
Thankfully, the 49ers may have some reinforcements on defense ready for the contest. The team welcomed back two of its starters, defensive end Nick Bosa (groin) and safety Jimmie Ward (hand), to practice on Wednesday. Should they be available to play on Sunday, they'll contribute to a unit that has allowed the fewest net yards in the league, surrendered the fewest plays of ten-or-more yards and forced the most three-and-outs of any team.
San Francisco looks to have a notable matchup on the offensive side of the ball as well. According to FOX Sports, the Chiefs are tied for the NFL lead in missed tackles (39), meanwhile, the 49ers lead the NFL in yards after the catch (averaging eight YAC so far this season). This combination could play in the 49ers favor, and the team has plenty of offensive weapons to aim towards. The team's YAC leader, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, has recorded an average of 57.5 yards per game.
"Deebo's not just a receiver and he's not just a running back, he plays both positions," Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill said. "You don't see a lot of guys that can actually do that and be very effective in both spots, so that's what makes him really effective and a really good football player... You've got to know where he is at all times because he can beat you by himself. Honestly, the guy just creates explosive plays all over the place, carrying the football in the backfield and then catching the ball and taking it 70 yards. You just got to know where he is at all times."
Third-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk is coming off an impressive outing in Week 6, completing his very first multi-touchdown game. Aiyuk also notched 83 yards on eight receptions last week. In the spirit of National Tight Ends Day, Kittle is sure to find his way to the ball also. Against the Falcons, Kittle was targeted 10 times on the 49ers offense and took the ball 83 yards.
Although the two teams haven't faced each other since their Super Bowl showdown, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo described his mindset heading into the Week 7 matchup as a "different type of motivation."
"We've just got to execute better," Garoppolo said. "We've got to be on the same page and do the little things. The little things in practice that transfer over to the game, that plays a big part of it."