The first big test of the 2022 season has arrived.
There’s no doubt Jimmy Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel, Nick Bosa and the 49ers are a tough matchup. The San Francisco (1-1) defense is no joke and when the offense gets rolling it’s near impossible to slow down.
At DraftKings Sportsbook the Broncos (1-1) are underdogs for the first time this season, with the line at +1.5. That’s after Denver opened as a -2.5-point favorite earlier in the week.
To preview the game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the 49ers, the players to watch and what to expect in Sunday night’s game with Tyler Austin from Niners Nation.
MHR: How are Niners fans feeling after the first two weeks of the season? Tied into that, what’s the reaction to Trey Lance’s injury and Jimmy G once again the QB?
Austin: This is a question whose answer varies wildly from fan to fan, so I’ll try my best to paint a full picture.
Right off the bat, it always feels good to beat the Seahawks, unless the guy your team spent three first round selections to bring in to revolutionize the offense because he has an arm to attack the whole field and the athleticism to take designed runs to the house or scramble for a big gain when a play breaks down suffers a season ending injury.
Now, of course, there are some people who feel that the return of Jimmy G might actually raise the ceiling on what this team can accomplish, given his proven track record. On the other hand, others feel his return spells doom because we’ve already seen what Jimmy G is capable of in the biggest moments, and it’s not enough to get the team over the hump to a Super Bowl win.
The truth most likely lands somewhere between these extremes. Could Trey Lance have developed into a player who could lead this team, powered by its awesome defense, on a deep playoff run in 2022? I believe so.
However, is it also nice to have a quarterback with proven success with the team still on the roster in the wake of Lance’s injury as opposed to handing over a Super Bowl roster to Brock Purdy a.k.a. Mr. Irrelevant? Without a doubt.
Two years ago, when the Niners essentially lost Nick Bosa, Raheem Mostert, and Jimmy G for the entire season in a Week 2 win against the Jets, things felt much, much worse. It sucks that Lance will have his development put on pause for a year, but he’s still only 22. The odds are he will recover and bounce back.
But there’s a silver lining. This season doesn’t feel completely over. The team still has some glimmer of hope to compete because they have a quarterback who has, at the very least, performed at a level high enough to win in the past. Even if we know that road can be bumpy, it still could end up at a division title, and possibly more.
Sorry for the extremely long-winded reply, but Niners fans are going through it.
MHR: What’s the thinking on the Broncos game? And how much help/insight does the defensive coaching staff get from playing Wilson so much over the last few seasons?
Austin: The immediate thinking is something like, “I would literally give anything to beat Russell Wilson.” It’s to the point that I might actually be more invested in taking down the Broncos than our biggest division rival/tormentor. Even the most laid back and lovable dude ever, former Niners left tackle Joe Staley, came out and said, and I quote, “I hate Russ.”
As to what insight the defensive coaches might have about facing Wilson, I think they certainly have some leg up by facing him year in and year out, regarding his tendencies, but I believe the San Francisco game plan pretty much lives and dies on the same thing every week: The Defensive Line.
Can Nick Bosa and company get pressure, and in the case of Wilson, minimize his ability to scramble and create out of structure, which takes discipline at all three levels. If they can, I like their chances of keeping our old friend in check.
MHR: The spread at DraftKings Sportsbook has moved from favoring the Broncos to now SanFran -1.5. What do you think of the current spread and how would you bet it?
Austin: To be honest, I was pretty surprised to see the line move that dramatically, but looking at the last couple weeks, I can understand wanting to get the Niners + points in this one. I do feel it’s more likely than not, given the history of facing Russ with Jimmy G at quarterback (he’s 1-4 against him), that this game will be close if the Niners win it, which makes that -1.5 an intriguing number.
Could it come down to a field goal, and the Niners win by three or two to cover the spread? Absolutely.
MHR: What are your keys to the 49ers getting the win on SNF? Who are the players on both sides of the ball that Broncos Country should keep an eye on?
Austin: Offensively, the Niners thrive when they’ve established the run game. It sets up pretty much everything else that Kyle Shanahan wants to do, and he’s not afraid to smash that button early and often, even if it’s not working right away.
Currently, the Niners starter, second year back Elijah Mitchell, will be out for about half the season, leaving backup Jeff Wilson Jr. to fill the role. Beyond that, third rounder Ty Davis-Price, who got the second most snaps as a RB last week is now out with a high ankle sprain.
So, expect a heavy dose of Wilson Jr., Deebo Samuel in the backfield, and undrafted free agent Jordan Mason, who beat out more established runners to make the 53 man out of camp. The combination of those three might just be the key to success against the Broncos and anyone else the Niners play.
Defensively, I have to spotlight strong safety Talanoa Hufanga. The second-year man out of USC was selected in the 5th round, and saw limited playing time in 2021 behind Jaquiski Tartt, but made enough of an impression to let the vet walk this offseason. In the first two games, he’s proven that to be a wise decision, as he’s made an incredible leap and become one of the most highly rated players at his position.
He’s already totaled 17 tackles, 3 PBUs, and 1 INT, looking equally comfortable in the pass game or in the box against the run. I’d say keep your eyes peeled, but honestly the man’s hard to miss. He plays like the flowing locks that pour from the back of his helmet are on fire.
MHR: What are your expectations/predictions for Sunday’s game?
Austin: As I said above, I do expect this to be a closer game than the beatdown the Niners delivered last Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson always brings his A++ game against the Niners, and I have to imagine the offense will begin to round into shape. So, why not against his old punching bag?
However, I believe the Niners have a more complete and talented roster, which over the course of a whole game should bear out in the favor of a 49ers’ victory. Wilson has gotten older, and his elusiveness isn’t what it used to be, if the line can consistently harass him that should allow the offense to put up enough points to win.
49ers 20 Broncos 17
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