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Three things you need to know from 49ers' 16-13 preseason loss to Texans

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Three things you need to know from 49ers' 16-13 preseason loss to Texans

HOUSTON -- Here are three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 16-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday night in Week 2 of the exhibition season...

Interior D-line has Depth

The 49ers still don’t really know from where their outside pass rush is going to come, but the interior of the defensive line looks to be in good shape. Veteran Earl Mitchell is a solid presence at nose tackle. And DeForest Buckner could become one of the league’s better defensive tackles.

Behind Mitchell and Buckner are a couple of young players who have put together strong training camps. Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones continued their impressive play on Saturday with strong showings against the Texans.

Day recorded five tackles and forced a fumble, while Jones came up with three tackles and a forced fumble, too. Day is in his first summer with the 49ers after the club claimed him off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.

Jones, meanwhile, has made tremendous strides since his rookie season. He said he lost 20 pounds from the end of last season when he regularly found himself on the inactive list for games.

“I feel like it’s been a big turnaround, the way I changed my body in the offseason,” Jones said. “Toward the end of the season when I wasn’t playing, the way I practiced, it got me prepared for this season.”

In the Right Slot

Second-year player Trent Taylor missed most of the offseason program after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs in his lower back. He has slowly been working back into form during training camp.

Taylor clearly made a lot of progress during this week in Houston. He was Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target during the two days of practices against the Texans. And Garoppolo looked for Taylor again on Saturday with a 2-yard touchdown pass to cap the 49ers’ first drive of the game.

“I’m starting to get stronger and get my legs back under me,” Taylor said. “It’s always good to feel improvement as you work. I still have a little ways to go, but it definitely felt great being out there tonight and getting my first catch as a TD.”

Taylor, the team’s primary slot receiver, had only two catches for 7 yards. But his other reception was a 5-yard catch to extend the 49ers' second drive on a third-and-4 play.

Penalties Galore

The 49ers certainly have a lot of room for improvement, especially when it comes to avoiding flags. Kyle Shanahan’s team was called for 15 penalties, totaling 140 yards.

What always gets to Shanahan most are the pre-snap penalties. Joe Staley (false start), Kendrick Bourne (illegal formation), Darrell Williams (false start) and Cedric Thornton (neutral zone infraction) were called for those kinds of infractions.

The worst sequence of penalties, however, went to veteran center Weston Richburg. He was guilty of a rare double-penalty on the first play of the second quarter when he was flagged for holding, then another 15 yards for his ensuing dialogue with the official.

Two of the penalties might have been excusable, though. Raheem Mostert and Jeremiah Attaochu were called for strict interpretations of the NFL’s new rule on lowering the helmet to initiate contact.

Four 49ers players to watch Sunday vs. Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium

Four 49ers players to watch Sunday vs. Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium

The 49ers have not won in Kansas City since 1982.

OK, maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. After all, that streak consists of just four games. But the past three games have been Chiefs blowout victories of 44-9 in 1997, 41-0 in 2006, and 31-10 in 2010.

Arrowhead Stadium is considered one of the most difficult outdoor venues for opposing teams in the NFL. And things should be rocking on Sunday when second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes makes his first start at home. 

Here are four 49ers who can help spoil what the folks in Kansas City expect to be a festive day.

LB Reuben Foster

Foster returns to action on Sunday after missing the first two games of the season due to a suspension for violations of the NFL’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct. His presence should provide a boost to the 49ers, who got uneven play at the weakside linebacker spot during his absence.

Foster is a dynamic playmaker who should help offset some of Kansas City’s speed advantage. Foster is likely to start, alongside middle linebacker Fred Warner, giving the 49ers a player who can range sideline-to-sideline to track down explosive running back Kareem Hunt.

The 49ers also expect veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith to make his 49ers debut after missing all of last season with a torn pectoral and the first two games this season with a hamstring injury. The 49ers will undoubtedly find a way to get Smith on the field with Foster and Warner.

RB Matt Breida

The 49ers must match Kansas City’s big-play ability with some of their own. Veteran running back Alfred Morris is the grinder. Breida is the home-run hitter.

Breida enters Sunday’s game as the NFL’s leading rusher with 184 yards on just 22 rushing attempts. In the 49ers’ 30-27 victory over the Detroit Lions last week, Breida accounted for 159 yards from scrimmage. His 11.4 yards per touch was the highest verage for a 49ers running back since Frank Gore averaged 11.7 yards per touch in game against Seattle in 2009.

The 49ers must establish their outside zone running game, which should help slow down the Kansas City pass rush in order to enable quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to make some plays down the field.

CB Ahkello Witherspoon

The 49ers’ first two opponents have virtually ignored their receivers on the side of the field where Richard Sherman lines up. On the other side, Witherspoon has seen a lot of action. And that does not figure to change this week after he struggled in coverage against the Lions.

Witherspoon is not 100 percent, as he nurses an ankle injury. But he the 49ers say he is expected to play. If he is cleared to play and he says he can play, he is held to the same standard as everyone else. Mahomes will test Witherspoon early and often. And if Witherspoon is not up to the task, especially in attempting to run with wide receiver Tyreek Hill, the 49ers will have to consider once against taking him off the field in order to give the team its best chance of coming out of Kansas City with a victory.

TE George Kittle

Kittle had a big game in the opener at Minnesota, and it could have been a whole lot better. Last week, he was not a big part of the team’s game plan.

This week, he might be needed to quickly beat man coverage in the middle of the field and make plays as Garoppolo and the 49ers’ offense will aim to quiet the boisterous crowd at Arrowhead Stadium.

Garoppolo was sacked six times against Detroit, and a lot of the 49ers' problems stemmed from the receivers’ inability to get open quickly. That is where Kittle must excel, in order to give Garoppolo quick and easy solutions to beat the pressure. Kittle has seven catches for 112 yards through two games to lead the team, and he might need to have a huge game for the 49ers to pull off the upset.

49ers notes: Raheem Mostert looks to stop Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill

49ers notes: Raheem Mostert looks to stop Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill

Raheem Mostert has been an under-the-radar outstanding player for the 49ers the past two seasons. On Sunday, his presence could be a huge part of the team’s bid to leave Arrowhead Stadium with a victory.

Kansas City speedster Tyreek Hill is one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. In addition to being a big-play threat at wide receiver, Hill has returned four punts for touchdowns in his 33-game career, including one this season.

“Tyreek Hill is as good as anyone in this league every time he touches the ball, whether it’s at running back, receiver, punt returner, kick returner,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on “49ers Game Plan,” which airs on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3) on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“It does not matter. He’s got a chance to score every time. It really helps when you have, in my opinion, the best gunner in the league.”

Mostert is the 49ers’ best special-teams player and leads the NFL with six special-teams tackles. He might not be the only answer the 49ers have in their quest to keep Hill in check, but if punter Bradley Pinion gives him a returnable punt, Mostert can erase the mistake.

It’s a matchup of speed versus speed. According to the 49ers, Mostert was clocked last week at 23.68 mph running down the field. Hill’s top speed, as tracked by Zebra, the NFL’s on-field player-tracking provider, was 23.24 mph.

“He can get down there as good as anyone,” Shanahan said of Mostert. “And he’s fearless and he’ll run through someone, legally, and usually make that play.”

Mostert said he has been studying Hill and detected a number of different moves that he can use to make the first person miss.

“He’s got short-area quickness,” Mostert said. “You could put him in a phone booth, and he’ll can still make somebody miss. You have to be careful.”

Good as Gould

Robbie Gould broke the 49ers record last week with his 30th consecutive made field-goal attempt. The league record is 44, which Adam Vinatieri set in 2015 and ’16.

In a league in which kickers are losing their jobs every week, Gould, 35, is still going strong in his 14th NFL season. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after kicking three field goals and setting the club record for consecutive kicks in a 30-27 win over the Detroit Lions.

“You’ve got to be mentally tough and have a team that believes in you and will stick with you until you figure it out a little bit,” Gould said. “I was lucky enough to have that with Chicago when I was young. But I think the biggest thing is, teams want to win and they want to win now. When you’re young, you’re going to make mistakes. Things are going to happen and you just have to come back and rebound from it.”

Gould ranks the places he’s kicked -- Chicago, New York and Santa Clara -- as three of the most difficult in the NFL because of the weather conditions. He said the wind is constantly shifting at Levi’s Stadium.

This ‘n’ that

The last time Shanahan went to Arrowhead Stadium, he said, was in 1997 when it was his job to hold the cord for his father’s headset. Kyle Shanahan’s father, Mike, coached the Denver Broncos to a 14-10 victory over the Chiefs that day. “That was the last year that people were holding cords,” Shanahan said of the NFL’s conversion to wireless headsets. The Broncos ended up defeating the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. “I was the last guy to hold cords in the Super Bowl,” Shanahan said. “That’s my claim to fame.” ...

The NFL fined Lions running back LeGarrette Blount $10,026 for coming off the sideline to level 49ers linebacker Elijah Lee after Lee hit Matthew Stafford near the sideline on Sunday. Stafford did not run out of bounds. Lee was not penalized or fined for the play. ...

Shanahan said it is likely that cornerback Richard Sherman will have a reduced practice schedule this season. Left tackle Joe Staley already has a scheduled day off from practice every week. “Anybody right at that 30 age, we try to change their practice schedule a little bit,” Shanahan said. “Once you hit that 30 mark, from a starting point, we don’t always like to practice you all three days. Some guys we do, it depends on how much they go and stuff. But, as the year gets going, not just Sherm but anyone really over 30, will probably be having their practice schedule altered.”