For the third consecutive week, the San Francisco 49ers lost a one possession game. While the team has shown an ability to play their opponents close, they have failed to emerge victorious. Coming into the year, many thought the New York Jets would struggle to win a single game. That focus has now shifted to the remaining winless teams, chief among them the San Francisco 49ers. A matchup with the Indianapolis Colts without injured quarterback Andrew Luck is perhaps the best opportunity the 49ers will have to get into the win column. They can secure the first win of the Kyle Shanahan era by following three 49ers keys to victory.
Week Five San Francisco 49ers Keys to Victory
Win the Field Position Game
With Luck sidelined, the Colts will start second year quarterback and backup Jacoby Brissett. For most of his career, Brian Hoyer has been a backup quarterback. This battle of signal callers is far from a marquee matchup. Each team will want the opposing quarterback to have to drive as far as possible. Whichever team can win the field position game will have a huge advantage in deciding the outcome of the game.
The Colts are tied for third in the NFL with six interceptions. Rookie free safety Malik Hooker has three interceptions, and appears to be the next great defensive playmaker. Hoyer has thrown four interceptions in his four games in a 49ers uniform. Unless Hoyer is picked off on a deep ball, an interception will put the 49ers at a huge disadvantage in the field position game.
The 49ers, however, have a secret weapon to give them a field position advantage. Bradley Pinion so far has been one of the most accurate punters. He is tied for second with the most punts within the opponent’s twenty yard line. He also is second in opposing return yards. Forcing Brissett to lead the Colts on extended drives is the first step to securing a 49ers victory.
So far, the 49ers have been one of the least disciplined teams. The 49ers have had the second most penalties in the NFL, and have been penalized the third most yards. Racking up penalty yards is a recipe for losing in the NFL. With the 49ers lack of talent and experience, they cannot gift their opponents extra yardage and expect to win.
Another aspect of the lack of discipline that was apparent in their week four loss to the Arizona Cardinals was the amount of drops they had. Tight ends George Kittle and Logan Paulsen both had critical drops. Sure-handed Pierre Garçon had two drops, surpassing his season total from 2016. Mentally, the 49ers need to remain focused and disciplined in order to beat the Colts.
With Kyle Shanahan being a rookie head coach, and Robert Saleh being a first time defensive coordinator, the 49ers lack experience at two critical coaching positions. The 49ers lack of discipline could be attributed to this. However, Shanahan and Saleh both appear very bright and hard working. As the season goes on and they improve at their positions, expect the 49ers discipline woes to come to an end. Perhaps a drop-free, low penalty victory against the Colts will be the turning point.
Continue their Pass Rushing Success
When it comes to the 49ers pass rush, it is either a famine or a feast. Against the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers had zero sacks. However, the 49ers had six sacks against Cardinals, and three against the Seattle Seahawks. With three first round picks along the defensive line, the strength of this team should be a consistent pass rush. In order to win this game, the 49ers will need to continue the pressure they were able to generate against the Cardinals last week.
Despite the inconsistency of the pass rush, it cannot be overstated the impact of DeForest Buckner. Buckner is the highest graded defensive line player in the NFL. He is constantly generating pressure, despite only having one sack. The Colts have the 28th ranked pass protecting offensive line. Buckner wreaking havoc on this line will set a winning tone for the defense, and the team in general.