The Denver Broncos need to keep their winning ways going against the struggling San Francisco 49ers this week. While it should be an easy win, the Broncos rarely do anything the easy way and the 49ers have been a feisty football club at times this year.
I caught up with David Fucillo from Niners Nation to find out a little bit more about this 49ers team and how they might present some challenges for the Broncos this weekend.
1. How much have injuries played a role in the 49ers 2-10 season?
They’ve played a huge role. You lose your potential franchise quarterback in Week 3 like the 49ers did with Jimmy Garoppolo, and things are going to go south. The other particularly notable injury was to Jerick McKinnon. The 49ers invested a sizable chunk of change to bring in McKinnon and he was lost to a torn ACL a week before the start of the season. You lose two of your biggest offensive pieces, and bad things are going to happen.
That being said, this was not a Super Bowl contender prior to the injuries. The 49ers entered the season with a shot at the playoffs, but most 49ers fans figured a 9-win season would be a really solid year for this team. They are still in the middle stages of the rebuilding process. The upside to the Garoppolo and McKinnon ACL tears is that they occurred early enough in the season that they should be good to go at the start of the 2019 season. Getting them back will be huge, but so will having potentially the #1 overall pick and $70 million in cap space. This offseason is huge for this team and if the team struggles in 2019, we could start seeing assistants fired, or at least firmly on the hot seat.
2. When are the 49ers at their best? Is it running the ball, throwing it, great defense?
It’s running the ball. Nick Mullens can put up yards, and the defense has its moments, but this is a team built around the run. That should not surprise anybody given that Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner are involved. Shanahan did big things in the passing game in Atlanta, Cleveland, and Washington, but those teams were built around strong rushing attacks. 2017 UDFA Matt Breida has been one of the better running backs in the league. He won’t play this weekend, but 2018 UDFA Jeff Wilson is off to a solid start to his career. He made his debut in Week 12, with 33 rushing yards behind Breida. Last week, he had 61 rushing yards and 73 receiving yards.
You can expect to see a lot of Wilson this weekend. Breida is more of a finesse back who can find holes and avoid tacklers. Wilson can do that, but he is a physical back who seems to enjoy punishing defenders. Look for him to take on linebackers and defensive backs head on.
3. Do you think the 49ers will turn things around next year?
I’m generally an optimist, so I do think they will improve. Of course, getting Garoppolo and McKinnon back will automatically upgrade this team. If they don’t improve on this year, something has gone really wrong. The big question for me is less about the offense and more about the defense. The team has had some injuries, most notable losing defensive back Jimmie Ward for the season to a broken arm and dealing with several injuries to strong safety Jaquiski Tartt. Additionally, the team released 2017 first round pick Reuben Foster after he was arrested for domestic violence -- although he had regressed this season after a strong rookie season.
The defense has struggled in part because the team has not invested much in their pass rush. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has 9.0 sacks, but they get no consistency from the edge. Adding Nick Bosa or Josh Allen next April could be huge, and they have the money to go after a DeMarcus Lawrence if he is not franchised. The defense is young, but if they add one or two big time pass rushers, there will be few excuses if they don’t improve next year.
4. What is your score prediction for the game?
The 49ers are not a good team right now, but I think they can at least be competitive in this one. If they can contain Phillip Lindsay, they can turn this into a low-scoring close affair. I’d recommend betting the under on this game because that Broncos defense won’t be giving up many points to the 49ers. The 49ers are the worst team in the league at forcing turnovers, so the offense will need to do its best to avoid giving up the ball. If they can avoid giving up any turnovers, I think we see the 49ers lose somewhere along the lines of 23-20. An upset is possible, but either way, this game will be close.
Thanks David! And good luck to your team... after this week anyway.