Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

How the 49ers can beat the Colts on Sunday Night

Rohan Chakravarthi
Oct 24, 2021 at 4:00 PM--

Move over San Francisco Giants and their 107-win season. The 49ers are coming off their much-needed bye week and will face the Indianapolis Colts tonight at Levi's Stadium on Sunday Night Football.

While it certainly felt good that the Dodgers were eliminated Saturday, it's time to get to the real action: an injury-ravaged San Francisco 49ers team.

With a bye week during Week 6, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was able to heal the calf contusion that kept him out of San Francisco's Week 4 and 5 losses to the Seahawks and Cardinals, respectively.

While Trey Lance is still healing from the knee sprain he suffered in his first NFL start, Garoppolo and nickel cornerback K'Waun Williams were able to get back on the practice field and are set to start Sunday against the Colts.

Sunday Night's matchup is an important one for the 2-3 49ers as they still remain playoff-hopeful, but need to get back on track over the next two weeks in order to remain in the race.

With that said, let's get into the offensive and defensive keys for a San Francisco win.

1. Passing Offense

When you think of the 49ers, it's always the running game that first comes to mind, given Kyle Shanahan's offensive scheme.

But, in order to get any offensive traction, the 49ers will have to rely on their passing game Sunday.

Why? Well, the Colts defensive DVOA ranks 1st against the run and 29th against the pass.

With a stout defensive line led by former 49er DeForest Buckner, it'll be hard for San Francisco to run up the middle, meaning the outside run game and the passing game are the most viable options.

Surprisingly, despite all of the media hate towards him, Jimmy Garoppolo has done fairly well for the 49ers in his three starts that he completed, averaging 257 yards per game and ranking well in expected points added per play over that stretch.

Indianapolis will also be without starting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and safety Julian Blackmon, weakening an already-poor secondary that ranks 29th in defensive DVOA.

The rainy forecast in Santa Clara may work against San Francisco's favor, but they'll need to establish the passing game to get a shot at winning this game.

2. Elijah Mitchell, we need you

Elijah Mitchell has been a fantastic surprise for the 49ers after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

With injuries to Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., Mitchell has stepped up as San Francisco's lead back and performed admirably in that position.

Last week, with the 49ers utilizing Trey Lance heavily, Mitchell received only nine carries for 43 yards, compared to Lance's 16 carries. With Jimmy Garoppolo's lack of mobility, expect more from the rookie running back, as he looks to operate in that outside-zone scheme.

Mitchell, who has 189 yards on 45 carries for the season, will likely draw his fourth career start, as fellow rookie Trey Sermon, who got only one carry in Week 5, should back him up.

3. Offensive Line, hold your ground

The offensive line was a disaster in Week 5 from the get-go, as Trey Lance was constantly pressured in his first NFL start.

Now, with Trent Williams being doubtful with ankle and elbow injuries, rookie tackle Jaylon Moore is set to receive his first NFL start.

Williams, who currently is PFF's highest graded run-blocker, will be a key loss should he not play, which might significantly hinder the outside-zone scheme.

Jimmy Garoppolo's return will certainly relieve pressure from the offensive line as his quick release and decision-making should set up the quick game nicely with proper execution.

But, the interior line will have stop DeForest Buckner from wreaking havoc in the backfield, which wasn't the case in Week 5 against J.J Watt and company.

In addition, the 49ers must be disciplined at the line of scrimmage, which also wasn't the case in Week 5 with a multitude of holding penalties from Trent Williams and Mike McGlinchey.

With another touch matchup in the Indianapolis defensive line, limiting the amount of penalties will maximize the offensive opportunities, which is necessary for a team that significantly struggles to score early.

With that, let's move to the defensive keys for the game.

1. Pass Rush has to get to Carson Wentz

In the offseason, first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans stressed a more aggressive defensive approach, stemming from the defensive front and branching out to the rest of the defense.

The pass rush, consisting of Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Arik Armstead, has easily been the strongest position group for the 49ers, as the trio has combined for nine sacks and 26 pressures, per Pro Football Reference.

The Indianapolis Colts have gotten some much need reinforcements, as Quenton Nelson was activated off Injured Reserve ahead of Sunday's game, but tackle Braden Smith has been ruled out. While the interior pressure may struggle to surface, the 49ers need their pass rush to get to Carson Wentz, who's been pressured 64 times already this season.

Despite key injuries to all three levels of the defense, San Francisco has been fairly impressive this season, allowing the fifth least yards per game. Still, the lack of turnovers created has hurt them, which is why it's important that the pressure reaches Wentz to create unfavorable situations.

Another key reason that the pass rush needs to come through? Defensive penalties.

The 49ers have been one of the NFL's most penalty-ridden team, as they lead the NFL in pass interferences on the defensive side of the ball, which has costed them in several crucial instances.

Quick pressure on Wentz would result in less pressure on the defensive backs, which is what DeMeco Ryans preaches in his defensive scheme.

And, if you have any doubts about the 36-year old rookie defensive coordinator, remember that he's the only coach to have held that Arizona offense to 17 points all season.

2. Limit Michael Pittman

Michael Pittman is a special player, let's get that straight.

The second-year has been the Colts's best receiver this year, catching 31 passes for 403 yards in just six games, stepping up with T.Y. Hilton starting the year on injured reserve.

While Hilton came back against the Houston Texans, he's once again out Sunday against the 49ers along with Parris Campbell, leaving Pittman as the lone starter available for the Indianapolis receiving core.

Pittman, who stands at 6'4 and weighs in at 223 pounds, is a physical receiver, which is a good matchup for either Emmanuel Moseley and Josh Norman, who both match well in press coverage.

Moseley has been especially impressive this season in coverage, stepping in as the top corner in San Francisco's secondary after Jason Verrett's ACL tear in garbage time during the Week 1 win against the Lions.

While Indianapolis will likely navigate their offense through running back Jonathan Taylor, Pittman is the only proven commodity in the receiving game for San Francisco, so it'll be important to limit him at all costs.

Tune in Sunday Night on NBC as the 49ers host the Colts in a likely rain-fest, where the game could be seen as a must-win to get the season back on track.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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