Tomorrow, the stumbling 4-2 Niners face will off against an ailing 3-3 Titans in what is sure to be a tough game for both teams.
Not the opening line you expected to read, is it? If before the start of the season you told me I’d write it, I’d have told you that you were crazy. But we’re six weeks into the season, and both teams might just be in very different places than we’d expected them to be.
Don’t get me wrong; the San Francisco 49ers certainly have the better chance at winning this matchup. After watching them play Seattle, I can’t help but think that the Niners certainly have every tool to beat the Titans.
While Jake Locker is expected to play, he might not be at 100 percent yet. A sprained knee and hip could make him noticably less mobile in the pocket, and lets face it, Tennessee’s O-Line isn’t the best in the business.
Don’t believe me? Watch how often Ryan Fitzpatrick got flushed last week. I see no reason to expect anything less from Justin Smith, Corey Lemonier and Ahmad Brooks.
Lets look at some keys for Sunday’s game.
First: Running Game
This has been a big one in (almost) all of the 49ers wins. In the Harbaugh era, the Niner running game has finished the season 19th, 8th, and 4th in yards per game. So far they’re sitting 4th overall and making the run game work for them. If it ain’t broke, don’t even try fixing it. Playing to strengths is part of football. Important to note is that while Frank Gore gets better with more touches, the guys calling plays just need to remember not to make the team one-dimensional.
Second: Defensive Pressure
I felt like a lot of fans were terrified at the idea of losing Aldon Smith for an indeterminate amount of time. Like they’d forgotten that there was a time not too long ago, where he was just a young pass rushing rookie who played situationally, sort of like how Corey Lemonier has been doing so far. Collapsing the pocket on Jake Locker is going to be key Sunday.
Third: Maintain Solid Defense
Chris Johnson hasn’t been much of a factor this year for the Titans, averaging a dismal 3.1 yards a carry with zero touchdowns. That’s right: CJ2K has no TD’s this year.
Historically strong linebacker play puts San Francisco in a position to dominate this matchup. While injuries to the defensive line could make the defense even more porous than usual, the 49ers 20th ranked rush defense should wrap this up fairly painlessly.
Fourth: Smart Secondary
There is going to be little argument provided when I say that over the last two weeks, Tramaine Brock has been on fire. Donte (W)Hitner is playing lights-out and hasn’t allowed a TD this year. Eric Reid has been amazing as a rookie (I’m still looking for his ceiling, actually).
Rounding out the nickel package we see on the field all the time are Terrell Brown and Carlos Rogers, who by all accounts, are playing pretty darn good football.
Fifth: Passing Offense
Sigh. Where to begin. An eye-opening first game, an abysmal game against Seattle, a slight rebound against Indy, a decent game against the Rams, a terrible game against the Texans and we’re looking at a very different 49ers passing game from last year.
This, more than just about anything, is the most frustrating storyline out of San Francisco this year. Looking back and the end of the season, this is now where I expected them to be. Stay the course, though. Things will open up, if the run game gets going. Just ask Vernon Davis.
Okay, I’m guilty. I admit, I scream at the television when I recognize what sort of play the Niners offense is going to run prior to the snap. Mostly, because if I can predict it, you can be sure whatever defense is on the field has figured it out too.
The Niners play designs can be some of the most creative in the game, but sometimes, just sometimes, they get too creative. Why bring a nuke to a knife fight? At least 19 times out of 20, I agree with the direction the 49ers’ coaching staff takes in games. These are smart, win-oriented men who know what they’re doing. The most important thing here, is to keep it together and not get overwhelmed by the opponents game plan.
All right, to be fair, these keys aren’t any big secrets. At least not to any fans, and certainly not to any of the coaches.