The 49ers travel to Empower Field in Mile High on Sunday night to face a hungry Denver Broncos. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is preparing for his first primetime game of the season, where he will face a rookie head coach in Nathaniel Hackett. Denver is equipped with a winning roster and will put up a tough fight against the 49ers. Below we look at three keys to a 49er victory.
49er defense slows Denver’s rushing offense
Javonte Williams had a strong rookie season last year and hasn’t lost a step in 2022. The former North Carolina Tar heel showed his receiving ability with ELEVEN catches in Week 1. Williams also helped to control possession time against the Houston Texans with 15 rushes for 75 yards last week.
Melvin Gordon played well last year and is maintaining the same pace this season with 4.8 yards per carry. Gordon has a similar running style to Williams and will be a thorn in the side of the 49ers if San Francisco doesn’t finish to tackle.
San Francisco’s defensive identity is to stop the run, get to quarterback and force interceptions now. Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw are a Great Wall of China on run defense, so hopefully Armstead can adapt to slow this rushing attack. We could see DeMeco Ryans take out the front Bear to slow down this dynamic duo. Also, it will be essential for linebackers and defensive backs to be out on the line, as both running backs have home-striking potential. Both running backs were in the top 15 in broken tackle percentage last season, with Gordon 15th and Williams leading the NFL with 17.2.
Count on solid defence, not Russell Wilson’s crunch
While Russell Wilson leads an underperforming Broncos offense that ranks in the bottom five in yards per game, Wilson was able to do so against San Francisco as the 10-year veteran is 17-4 against the 49ers. A solid defense is the only answer for a quarterback who can extend play, throw deep with precision, and take off for a meaningful gain.
(Wilson’s Week 1 Achievement Chart)
Ryans will likely use more split security blankets than single-tier appearances. Wilson tends to stay away from midfield as he prefers to target the deep sidelines for explosive plays. Running split safety coverage will give corners more support instead of providing Broncos receivers with one-on-one matchups with post safety. Cornerbacks did well against Seattle despite Tyler Lockett gaining over 100 yards through the air. Denver has two banged-up receivers, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, but I wouldn’t underestimate their ability to create explosive plays Sunday night. The focus will be on the Broncos’ top receiver, Courtland Sutton. Sutton can win on all three levels of the field and is an expert at winning on routes that run more than 15 yards down the field.
Garoppolo and 49er passers MUST make plays
I wanted to do this title “Jimmy Garoppolo attacks Denver secondary”, but aggression is not in his nature. Broncos defensive coordinator and first-year defensive caller Ejiro Evero is without All-Pro safety Justin Simmons and has limited talent at linebacker. Patrick Surtain II could miss the game with a shoulder injury but all signs point to him playing as he trained at full capacity on Thursday. Ronald Darby, former 49er K’Waun Williams and Kareem Jackson are other notable names in the Broncos’ secondary. Darby is coming off a hot game against the Texans where he limited receivers to two catches for 24 yards on six targets. Williams is solid against the run but struggles to cover the men. Shanahan should think about giving Danny Gray fade opportunities against Williams.
Garoppolo needs to take shots against Denver linebackers in coverage. George Kittle is making his season debut, and it would be a shame if he got less than seven targets. Kittle is a big factor in the running game, but I want to see his receiving skills on display. He’s too talented not to have a more substantial impact on the 49ers’ passing game week in and week out.
Sunday is a big game for the 49ers wide receivers. Denver’s secondary is one of the best they’ll see all season, so they need to avoid losing targets, bleeding ground on the roads and being penalized. It may sound simple, but talented DBs can easily knock a receiver off his game.