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Broncos vs. 49ers: 3 key storylines to watch for San Francisco in Week 14

Dec 9, 2018 at 7:32 AM


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The San Francisco 49ers have a chance to play spoiler against the playoff-hopeful Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium in Week 14, and here are some key storylines to watch for the Niners during this contest.


At 6-6, the Denver Broncos are desperately clinging to the hopes of squeaking into the playoff picture at season's end. The 2-10 San Francisco 49ers, however, can throw a proverbial "monkey wrench" into those plans.

Coming off an embarrassing 43-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week, head coach Kyle Shanahan is still rolling with quarterback Nick Mullens under center. Mullens' life should be somewhat easier, as wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is poised to return from a two-game personal leave of absence. Shanahan and Co. missed Goodwin's speed and field-stretching ability in Weeks 12 and 13, so it's not impossible to assume the Niners offense looks a bit more efficient against Denver.

That said, San Francisco will be without running back Matt Breida, who has been declared out with an ankle injury. This will mean more of undrafted rookie tailback Jeff Wilson, who managed 61 yards on 15 carries and also added eight receptions for 73 yards during the 49ers' loss to the Seahawks last week.

Denver, meanwhile, will be dealing with some significant problems of its own, so let's start there.

Defensive Focus on Phillip Lindsay


The Broncos suffered a serious offensive loss earlier this week, losing wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a season-ending Achilles injury in practice. After trading away fellow wideout Demaryius Thomas earlier this season and also losing tight end Jeff Heuerman to a ribs injury, Denver's passing offense is likely going to take a serious hit down the stretch.

Yet there's rookie running back Phillip Lindsay.

Breida ranks third in the NFL this deep in the season with 5.6 yards per carry. Impressive, sure. But Lindsay is leading all qualifying rushers with an astounding 6.1 yards per attempt. And with 937 yards to his credit this year, it wouldn't be a shock to see what likely will be a run-heavy Broncos offense in Week 14 help him surpass the 1,000-yard plateau.

Meanwhile, San Francisco's run defense comes into the contest allowing a respectable 4.2 yards per carry -- 10th best. Whichever side gets the edge in this crucial matchup likely winds up winning the game.

George Kittle Poised to Make History


The 49ers also have a player who could reach a major milestone in Week 14, tight end George Kittle.

Kittle, who is sitting at 893 receiving yards on the season, is just 72 yards shy of the franchise's season-high record set by now-Washington Redskins tight end Vernon Davis, who did so back in 2009 with 965 yards. Additionally, Kittle needs 107 receiving yards to become the first Niners pass catcher to record 1,000-plus yards in a single year since former San Francisco wide receiver Anquan Boldin did it back in 2014.

Kittle was held to just 48 receiving yards two weeks ago versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but managed 70 more yards in Week 13 versus Seattle.

Denver enters this contest allowing an average of 63.9 receiving yards to tight ends in 2018.

Von Miller vs. Mike McGlinchey


Despite their offensive woes, which will increase with the loss of Sanders, the Broncos are still boasting the 11th best scoring defense, currently, but are allowing 6.6 yards per pass play -- good for 19th. Still, that doesn't change the fact Mullens and his pass blockers will have to include one of the better pass rushes in the NFL, comprised of the rookie, Bradley Chubb, and perennial Pro Bowl EDGE Von Miller.

Not surprisingly, Miller leads all Broncos defenders with 12.5 sacks on the season. Preventing him from getting to Mullens will primarily fall upon rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey, whose 96.8 pass-blocking efficiency ranks third among all rookie offensive tackles, per Pro Football Focus:


To date, McGlinchey has allowed four sacks and 16 quarterback hurries on the year. But if he's able to hold his own and prevent Miller from being a game changer, Mullens' efforts should be notably easier.

So will those of the 49ers offense, for that matter.

The Niners and Broncos kick off on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 4:05 p.m. ET from Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.
  • 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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