Editor's note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Chiefs matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m., Levi’s Stadium
49ers LB Michael Wilhoite vs. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce
Tale of the tape
Wilhoite (57): 6 foot, 240 pounds, third season, Washburn
Kelce (87): 6 foot 5, 260 pounds, second season, Cincinnati
Wilhoite’s performance, lining up alongside Patrick Willis, has mitigated the impact of All-Pro NaVorro Bowman’s absence. Wilhoite is third on the team in tackles, and last week against the Philadelphia Eagles he was asked to cover the tight end more than in the first three games. The former college safety responded with a strong showing.
Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith has taken Kelce under his wing, coach Andy Reid said. While Kelce is still learning how to play the game, according to his coach, he looks like a finished product. He leads the Chiefs with 18 catches for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Kelce will move around in the offensive formation, meaning that it will not be just a one-person job to keep him in check.
“It’s all 11, really, when you think about it,” Wilhoite said. “Defensive line is getting pressure on the quarterback. If they’re getting good pressure on the quarterback, we don’t have to cover him as long. Whoever’s covering him has to do a good job. Sometimes we might be in a zone, and we got to find him in a zone and make sure he doesn’t find a little hole. And if he does catch the ball, we have to tackle. Then, if we’re in man, I might have help over the top. I might have help inside or outside. Me and (Willis) might be working together with him.”
Kelce will work the middle of the field, which plays into Smith’s strength as a quarterback. Wilhoite earned the right to see more time in coverage after a game in which Zach Ertz caught four passes for 43 yards and Brent Celek had no receptions despite playing 36 snaps. With wide receiver Donnie Avery out for this game, the Chiefs figure to target Kelce even more.