Keys to the Game: 49ers at Broncos


The 49ers travel to the Mile High City to square off against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Following a 1-2 start – one rife with turnovers, bad clock management, and zero second half offense – the 49ers have regrouped, and now find themselves with a respectable 4-2 record.

Winning their fourth game in-a-row is a tall order, but not as far-fetched as the ‘experts’ would have you believe.

Let’s breakdown what the Red and Gold must do to continue their winning ways.

Keys to the Game: 49ers at Broncos

1.) Keep Peyton Manning off the Field

The 49ers must minimize the number of possessions that Manning has in this game. If he’s allowed 10-plus chances to score, then this game will only be won in shootout form.

How do you keep Manning off the field? By running the ball.

This is a recurring theme, but for good reason. Everything the 49ers do on offense starts with the ground game. A solid rushing attack keeps the defense fresh, tires the opposing defense, creates better match-ups for receivers and tight ends, and it keeps Colin Kaepernick away from pressure, which leads to turnovers.

There’s a reason the ol’ Leatherheads pounded the football.

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By running the ball, Peyton will remain sidelined and the rising Kaepernick will have a chance to win the game. Stealing a win in Denver won’t be easy, but it is possible, especially because of Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. Expect 30+ carries from the duo in the lung-bursting altitude of Sports Authority Field.

2.) Force Manning to Move

The Seattle Seahawks scribed the blueprint on how to stop Manning in last year’s Super Bowl. A defense must create pressure and crumble Manning’s pocket, otherwise he’ll pick you apart. Manning is excellent in all facets of quarterback play, but the evidence has always shown that he’s less effective under pressure.

This is illustrated perfectly in the following chart by Pro Football Focus:

49ers’ defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, is not renowned for blitzing, but rest assured he knows the weaknesses in Manning’s game.

The problem, however, is that the 49ers are decimated by injuries, most of them along the front seven.

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Patrick Willis is out for the game, NaVorro Bowman won’t appear until Turkey Day, and the return of Aldon Smith is still a full month away. Tramaine Brock will play and provide a spark in the secondary, but with Manning, pressure is what truly matters.

Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Ian Williams, Michael Wilhoite, Chris Borland, and Dan Skuta – this is your 49ers’ front seven. While far from shabby, they must play their best game of the season to manufacture a win.

Fangio is up to the task. Let’s see how he performs in Sunday’s chess match with Manning. And oh yeah, there’s a record to keep at bay.

3.)  Test the Broncos’ Secondary

Kaepernick played one of the best games of his young career last Sunday. He was fluent in the pocket, yet still managed 34-yards rushing on three carries.

This is the Kaepernick that all of us want.

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  • Vernon Davis is healthy, and the rapport between Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin is back to where it was in 2013. This offense has a plethora of weapons, and if Kaepernick utilizes them, they will be tough to stop on Sunday.

    Rahim Moore, Chris Harris Jr., and Aqib Talib are the playmakers in the Broncos’ secondary. Still, they are beatable, and Kaepernick knows it.

    Kaepernick has completed 12 passes of 20-plus yards this season. With a balance between running and throwing, I expect Kaepernick to test the back end of the Broncos’ secondary. We’ve yet to witness a quality seam-route connection between he and Davis – that should change this week.

    To be the best, you have to beat the best. Let’s see what Kaepernick’s got.


    This is a tough game to dissect. The realist in me says that stopping Manning with an injury-depleted defense is impossible, especially with Brett Favre‘s touchdown record set to fall.

    But  the biased homer in me says the Niners will win this game. Manning holds lofty stats against most teams in the NFL, but not the 49ers. The Niners are one of just two teams (Browns are the other) in which Manning has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (6-5).

    Does this mean anything? Not really, but it does provide hope. The Niners – primarily the always fiesty Jim Harbaugh – believe they can win this game, and relish the underdog role.

    In the end, I’m a true Faithful. Niners win, 27-23.