Friday, September 20, 2013
5 Burning Questions for Week 3
The 49ers will go outside of conference for the first time on Sunday when the Colts come to San Francisco. Both teams are coming off their first loss of the season, and looking to get back in the win column. Here are 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.
1) Can the 49ers regain their balance on offense?
Balance is one of the most important aspects of the 49ers offense. For the most part last year you could point directly to this area in their losses, as three of them featured a 33% to 67% run to pass ratio. This was again evident on Sunday night in Seattle, when the 49ers running backs were called on only 11 times to carry the ball.
This is something that I expect the 49ers to get back to this weekend. In the 5 games following losses and ties last season the 49ers averaged 34 rushing attempts and 165 yards, and the Colts come in having given up an average of 4.5 yards per attempt through the first 2 weeks.
2) Can the 49ers slow down Andrew Luck?
No team in the NFL should be more familiar with Andrew Luck's strength's and weaknesses than the 49ers. Luck comes into the game on Sunday as the 8th ranked quarterback in the league (96.7 rating), and finds himself going against a 49ers defense that has struggled a bit against the pass so far through 2 games this season.
One of Luck's biggest strength's is his ability to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball accurately with pressure in his face. That will force the 49ers defensive backs to stick with their coverage a little longer, but the good thing for them is that Luck has already been sacked 7 times through the first 2 weeks.
3) What impact will the acquisition of Trent Richardson have on Sunday?
Colts new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said repeatedly before the season that he wanted his offense to be balanced. On Wednesday the Colts took a step in that direction by trading their 2014 1st round draft pick to Cleveland for Richardson. Richardson has the ability to pound the ball inside, and it will be interesting to see how productive he can be when partnered with a quarterback like Luck.
On Thursday, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he expects Richardson to have a big role on Sunday, playing as many as 50-90% of the Browns offensive snaps. This leads directly to my 4th question:
4) Can the 49ers Nickle defense stop the run?
Through the first 2 weeks of the season the 49ers defense has given up an average of only 3.6 yards per carry which would tie them for 12th in the league. The 49ers run defense has shown to have a weakness though, and it is stopping the run in their Nickle defense. In the first 2 weeks, the 49ers have given up an average of 5.3 yards per carry (29th) when they have 5 defensive backs on the field.
The Colts have run 62 of their 126 plays (49%) out of their 11 personnel, meaning the 49ers would have their Nickle or Dime personnel on the field. So far Indianapolis has been very pass heavy with this group, but given the 49ers issues agains the run in this defense I would expect the Colts to come out trying to run early and often in this situation. Can the 49ers defense hold up?
5) Aldon Smith arrested for DUI. Does he play? How will Corey Lemonier fill that role?
As first reported by Matt Maiocco, Aldon Smith was arrested on suspicion of DUI following a single car accident at 7:00 am this morning. In a similar circumstance last season the 49ers had Demarcus Dobbs stay home instead of making the trip to St Louis. How will the 49ers handle the situation now that it is a starter instead of a backup?
Since 2012 Smith has accounted for 52% of the 49ers sacks. This is a big blow.
Should the 49ers choose to sit Smith, Lemonier is the next man up. The rookie from Auburn showed flashes during the preseason, and will surely be tested should he have to start. One positive for Lemonier is that the Colts play a lot of 11 personnel so he will be able to spend most of the game with his hand down at defensive end, simialar to what he did during his playing days at Auburn.
The 49ers go into a game after a loss or tie for only the 8th time in the Jim Harbaugh era. In those previoius 8 games the 49ers have won by an average score of 24-6, but this is not the same team. Following their loss last season in St Louis the 49ers struggled against Miami, leading by only 7 until a late Kaepernick touchdown run put the game away. Then after losing in Seattle in week 16, the 49ers found themselves trailing the Cardinals at home 6-0 before coming alive in the second quarter and going on to a 27-13 victory.
Sunday's game is going to be a battle. I expect the Colts to come out and take shots at the 49ers defense in the running game, and as I said above, without Aldon Smith the 49ers lose their pass rush. Giving Luck time in the pocket is asking to get beat.
With the uncertainty of the Smith situation I will give you my two outcomes:
Smith plays: 49ers 20 Colts 17
Smith out: Colts 24 49ers 20