The San Francisco 49ers visit the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2, and the Niners have a chance to start the season 2-0 by pulling off a road win. If so, these five matchups will be crucial for head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co.


The San Francisco 49ers haven't started a season with a 2-0 record since 2012. That year, of course, the Niners made it all the way to the Super Bowl under then-head coach Jim Harbaugh.

After dispatching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-17 in Week 1, the 49ers now have a chance to go up 2-0 on the young 2019 season as they take on the 0-1 Cincinnati Bengals on the road in Week 2. The Bengals are coming off a tough 21-20 road loss against the Seattle Seahawks, dominating nearly every statistical category in that game aside from the one that mattered most: the score.

First-year head coach Zac Taylor seems to have reinvigorated Cincinnati's offense, sparking embattled quarterback Andy Dalton to a league-leading 418 pass yards and two touchdowns in Week 1.

San Francisco will want to limit Dalton, of course, perhaps looking to continue its turnover trend after forcing three interceptions in Tampa last week.

To do that, the Niners will have to take advantage of some key matchups this Sunday. Here are five to watch during the game.

Nick Bosa vs. Andre Smith


The Bengals are going to be without starting left tackle Cordy Glenn this week, meaning backup tackle Andre Smith will get the start. One of Smith's primary assignments will be handling the pass-rushing duties of rookie EDGE Nick Bosa, who picked up his first sack at the NFL level on Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. Bosa, who has been hampered by an ankle injury since training camp, is expected to play in Week 2.

While Bosa's total snap counts are expected to be limited during the game, it will be hard for the Niners to keep his prowess off the field for long.

Smith, meanwhile, allowed one of Dalton's five sacks in Week 1 and also surrendered five pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

49ers Slot Receivers vs. B.W. Webb


The Bengals surrendered just 160 pass yards to the Seahawks in Week 1. But their defense did have some issues defending long passes down the center of the field.

One advantage the Niners may want to exploit is coverage from Cincinnati's nickel cornerback, B.W. Webb. Webb, 29 years old, has been a journeyman defender for the vast majority of his career. Over that span, Webb has allowed opposing quarterbacks to toss for a cumulative 104.5 passer rating when targeting him, per PFF.

It's unclear how head coach Kyle Shanahan will deploy his wide receivers in this contest. Second-year wide receivers Richie James or Dante Pettis could see an uptick in slot use this game, or Shanahan could decide to use veteran wideout Marquise Goodwin's speed out of the slot to create some field stretching down the middle.

Either way, look for San Francisco's slot players to be a major focal point for Shanahan's offense.

Weston Richburg vs. Sam Hubbard


No team surrendered more yardage in 2018 than the Bengals (6,618). Yet this same defense allowed only 232 yards in Seattle, which is quite the accomplishment.

A big reason why was due to the efforts from defensive tackle Sam Hubbard, who was a beast against the Seahawks running game and also picked up two sacks and four quarterback hits. He's emerging as the kind of player capable of taking over a game.

Negating Hubbard's efforts will fall primarily on center Weston Richburg, who saw his first on-field action in 2019 last week after spending nearly all the offseason recovering from knee surgery. While right guard Mike Person had one of the better pass-blocking efforts for San Francisco last week, Richburg surrendered two pressures in Tampa Bay. If he's not on point this Sunday, that number could increase, endangering quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo within the pocket.

Running Back Matt Breida vs. Bengals Run Defense


With running back Tevin Coleman (ankle) out, fellow runner Matt Breida figures to get the lion's share of carries in Week 2. His backup, Raheem Mostert, will see field time, too. But Breida is the player to watch here.

The Seahawks struggled to get much of anything going, offensively, in Week 1 -- a testament to Cincinnati's defensive efforts. Considering Seattle led the league in rushing in 2018, the Bengals holding the Seahawks ground game to a mere 72 yards and 2.9 yards per carry is impressive.

But Seattle is far more a power-run team than San Francisco, often using interior runs to wear down a defensive front. This played right into the strengths of the Bengals defense, namely players like Hubbard and fellow defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

Look for Breida to be featured on runs to the outside, taking advantage of a suspect Bengals linebacker corps.

49ers Secondary vs. John Ross


With wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) out, the Bengals made full use of their speedy wideout, John Ross, in Week 1. All he did was post a cool 158 yards on seven receptions for two touchdowns.

Remember, Ross ran a 4.22 40-yard time during his NFL Scouting Combine workouts back in 2017.

San Francisco cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Richard Sherman did an excellent job limiting Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, their top target, back in Week 1. But the short, speedy Ross presents an entirely different challenge than that of Evans, who relies more on his size and physicality at the point of the catch.

Ross could be a problem for a 49ers secondary still boasting some questions early this season, despite a strong outing in Week 1. A wise move, however, would be for the Niners to use one of their own speedy players, safety Tarvarius Moore, to provide over-the-top coverage on Ross. Keeping two defenders on him might be a wise move for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

The 49ers and Bengals kick off on Sunday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. ET from Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
  • Peter Panacy
  • 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.