Live from Kansas City: Sunday’s key matchups

Greetings from Kansas City, where the rain recently stopped and it’s supposed to be dry tomorrow. The cab driver was right when he assured us this would blow over soon. He also filled us in on a traffic accident in Ohio years ago, why corruption makes it so hard to find a cab at the KC airport (this was confusing but shuttles are involved), his former career as a truck driver during which he logged over a million miles on America’s roads, the ethnic breakdown of cab drivers in Kansas City …

Anyway, just a housekeeping note: The reins are coming off the rookie and I will be doing some live bloggin’ during Sunday’s game.

OK, on to a few matchups …


TE VERNON DAVIS vs. S ERIC BERRY
There are plenty of head-to-head matchups pitting physical freaks during
an NFL game, but this meeting between high-end first-round picks – both were
taken among the top six — belongs in its own category.

You know about Mr. Adonis. But the 6-foot, 211-pound Berry, the first
safety to be a top-five overall pick since 1991, also ranks kind of high
on the Big, Fast and Athletic scale.

While Davis was tying an NFL record for TD catches by a tight end last
year, Berry was also putting himself in the record books — finishing
second in NCAA history with 501 interception return yards. In his final
two seasons at Tennessee he picked off 12 passes and toted them back 487
yards, 40.6 yards a return (a stunning figure I just double-checked.
Wait, let me look again.).

Berry, who had 12 tackles last week against the Browns, was introduced
to Chargers tight end Antonio Gates in his first NFL start. That should
have helped prep him for Davis, who has been doing his own homework this
week.

“I’ve been watching him on film,” Davis said. “I’m excited just like I
get excited every week. I mean, he’s a good player, but once the game
starts may the best man win.”

NT AUBRAYO FRANKLIN vs. C CASEY WIEGMANN
Rain, sleet, snow, famine, pestilence and, presumably, compound
fractures, triples bypasses and gunshot wounds won’t stop Wiegmann from
snapping a football.

Since 2001, Wiegmann has started 145 straight games and, most
remarkably, has taken 9,195 straight snaps, the longest active streak by
an NFL offensive lineman. (Yes, he is approaching the most hallowed
record in all of sports – Consecutive Snap No. 10,000).

The 285-pound Wiegmann, a Pro Bowl pick in 2008, isn’t overpowering. But the 15-year vet knows all the tricks.

“He’s a crafty dude,” said Franklin, who outweighs Wiegmann by 32
pounds. “He’s not the biggest dude, but he knows how to use angles, just
craftiness with his hands and everything. It kind of reminds you of
going against a defensive lineman playing offense the way he uses his
hands and everything.”

This meeting in the middle figures to be a centerpiece of the game’s
biggest matchup: The Chiefs running game vs. the Niners’ rugged run
defense.

The Chiefs are one of two teams in the NFL (Pittsburgh) who are
averaging more rushing yards a game (137.5) than passing (117.0) – a nod
to their two-headed backfield of Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles and
the early season struggles of QB Matt Cassel, whose 55.3 QB rating ranks
30th in the NFL.

The Niners are built to limit Kansas City’s offensive strength. Since
2009, their rush defense has allowed 93.3 yards a game (T5 in NFL), 3.5
yards a carry (3rd) and allowed just 39 carries of more than 10 yards
(2nd).

49ERS SECONDARY vs. QB MATT CASSEL
For obvious reasons, much has been made of the Niners’ six turnovers this season.

But the offensive bumbling has overshadowed another key fact: The 49ers
defense hasn’t caused a turnover in the past 119 minutes and 51 seconds
dating back to Nate Clements’ interception on the first defensive play
of the season.

The 49ers are adept at forcing fumbles – they ranked tied for first in
the NFL last year with 21. But their best opportunity for a takeaway
Sunday might be when Cassel looks to pass.

Cassel attempted 150 consecutive passes without a pick early last season and had 13
interceptions in his first 20 career starts. But he’s since thrown 16
interceptions in his past 12 starts, tossing two against Cleveland last
week.

The 49ers forced 23 turnovers in their final eight games last year — a
figure which led the NFL — and they were the only team to have at least
five takeaways in three different games.

This season, they are one of five teams with fewer than two takeaways.
Those five teams, by the way, have a combined record of 3-7.

WR MICHAEL CRABTREE vs. CB BRANDON FLOWERS
Flowers, who had a 33-yard interception return for a TD, caught as many passes (1) as Crabtree last week.

Crabtree had at least three catches in all 11 games he played last year,
but he’s managed just three in the first two games of 2010. Snapping
out of his slump won’t be easy against the 5-foot-9 Flowers, the Chiefs
top corner who ranked fifth in the AFC with five picks last year.

The mention of Crabtree, who missed all four preseason games with a neck
injury, verbally sparred with Vernon Davis and dogged it on at least
one play in Week 1, seemed to make Mike Singletary a bit cranky
recently. But Singletary praised the second-year wideout this week,
saying he was a “special talent” and was working hard.

Crabtree may have only had one reception against the Saints, but his
32-yard catch, spin and run was a reminder of why his development is
worth waiting for.

“I thought and knew this Michael Crabtree would be a big timer, but the
receiver position is difficult any way you cut it,” Chiefs coach Todd
Haley said. “There’s a lot that it entails and it does take a little
time for guys to truly play to their abilities and speed.”

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