Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


49ers vs. Colts: Top 4 matchups to watch for San Francisco in Week 5

Oct 6, 2017 at 8:10 PM


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The San Francisco 49ers visit the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5, and these four one-on-one matchups will play major roles in determining whether or not the Niners pull off their first victory of 2017.


Week 5 might provide the first real chance for a San Francisco 49ers victory over a quarter of the way through 2017.

The Niners visit the 1-3 Indianapolis Colts, who are coming off an ugly 46-18 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football a week ago. And with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder) sidelined, that's one particular matchup head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. don't have to worry about.

But there are a number of other key matchups the 49ers will have to win if they hope to end their four-game losing streak to start the season.

Let's take a look at four key one-on-one matchups for San Francisco in this contest and see what the Niners will have to do in order to pull off the win.

DeForest Buckner vs. Jeremy Vujnovich


Second-year defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has easily turned into San Francisco's best defender this season, ranking No. 1 among Pro Football Focus' list of interior defenders with an overall grade of 93.2.


Buckner will often line up opposite Colts left guard Jeremy Vujnovich, who boasts a PFF grade of 37.6.

Needless to say, this is a matchup favoring Buckner and the 49ers. While Buckner's sack totals haven't popped off the chart -- just one through four games -- his ability to wreak havoc upon opposing offensive lines is a major reason why PFF ranks him so high. And as I broke down over at Niner Noise in a film-review piece, Buckner's role in Week 5 will be even more important.

A week ago, the Niners registered six sacks and 16 quarterback hits against a questionable Arizona Cardinals O-line. Indianapolis' O-line isn't particularly better, ranking just three spots ahead of Arizona (No. 31) in PFF's pass-blocking efficiency rankings.

Vujnovich has been a major reason why the Colts have had issues up front.

So look to Buckner to be a major factor for San Francisco's defense in Week 5, picking up where he left off a week ago.

Rashard Robinson vs. T.Y. Hilton


With the Colts utilizing wide receiver Kamar Aiken out of the slot, No. 1 cornerback Rashard Robinson will have his hands full facing off against top Indy receiver T.Y. Hilton.

The Colts passing offense is hurting without Luck, currently ranked 29th in the NFL with just 722 yards through the air. Hilton has 289 of those yards, though, and it's likely Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett targets this one-on-one matchup like many other opposing offenses have done to Robinson over the course of this season.

Robinson's 2017 struggles are pretty apparent. The second-year defensive back is ranked 105th out of 109 qualifying corners, according to PFF, with a lowly 36.2 overall grade.

And the reason this particular matchup could pose a problem for Robinson and the 49ers is a similarity to another player with whom Robinson had struggles early this preseason, Kansas City Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill.

HIlton (5-foot-10, 183 pounds) is equally built and has a similar skill set to Hill (5-foot-10, 185 pounds). Both are shifty and plenty speedy on the outside, and fans can easily remember Robinson getting burned by Hill when the Niners visited the Chiefs last August:


Robinson's ugly start to 2017 could see a nice turnaround if he's able to limit the damage Hilton is capable of producing.

Joe Staley vs. Jabaal Sheard


Like the 49ers, the Colts pass rush hasn't exactly gotten off to a solid start. Both teams currently have nine sacks -- tied for 21st in the league.

Overall this season, San Francisco has done a decent job in pass protection, especially from the tackle positions. But one of the major matchups to watch in Week 5 will be between veteran left tackle Joe Staley and Colts EDGE Jabaal Sheard.

Sheard has just one sack through four games this season. But, like Buckner, Sheard has been a pocket-wrecking force off the edge. PFF currently grades him at 85.6 -- No. 12 out of 95 qualifying edge defenders.

Staley, who hasn't been a liability in pass protection this season, could handle this one-on-one battle without much issue. But it's what happens around Staley that matters. San Francisco's O-line has had trouble within the interior. If Staley is solely occupied with Sheard on passing downs, Indianapolis' interior defenders might be able to overtake linemen Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Kilgore, who have both struggled in pass protection this year.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer wouldn't have the ability to step up in the pocket to avoid Sheard if his front blockers aren't holding their respective blocks, potentially presenting a problem for San Francisco's passing game.

Speaking of Hoyer...

Brian Hoyer vs. Himself


Four weeks of action have shown Hoyer isn't anywhere close to living up to the expectations Shanahan had when the Niners signed the veteran as a free agent.

Sure, Hoyer hasn't been aided by multiple dropped passes -- 12 total, which are the most by any team in the NFL.

But that doesn't answer the majority of Hoyer's issues under center.

While there might be rumblings the Niners should make the switch from Hoyer to rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard, Shanahan is still backing his starter, and stated as much during his Friday appearance on KNBR 680's Murph and Mac Show:

To make things easier on a quarterback, you've got to play on a very high level around him. You try to get the run game going, you try to get some completions to where you get the ball in guys' hands and allow them to make plays. The more you can do that, the easier you can make it for him and usually it breeds a little bit more confidence and it takes some pressure off the guy. You don't want a guy to feel like he has to play perfect.

Who knows where Hoyer's confidence level is right now, but one can't assume it's very high. It's why one might expect Shanahan to dial up plays in which Hoyer can have some easy success, namely play-action, where Hoyer has been particularly effective this year.

But play-action requires the running game to be working, and it has to be called under the right circumstances.

So that puts pressure on San Francisco's running game too, as well as Shanahan being able to dial up appropriate plays to put Hoyer in a position to succeed.

Good thing the Colts own the last-ranked defense in the NFL this season.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
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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