Is it premature to call a Week 2 matchup a “must-win” game? Probably not if you’re a member for 49er Faithful. Following a tough loss marred by missed opportunities in Minnesota last week, the Niners play host to a reeling Lions team that was thoroughly embarrassed by the Jets 48-17 on Monday Night Football.
Here are the matchups we’ll be keeping an eye on in Week 2.
San Francisco’s offensive line vs. Detroit’s front seven
If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: Games are won and lost in the trenches. Cliché? Maybe. True? Absolutely. And after being outmatched though not necessarily overwhelmed by Minnesota’s stout front seven in Week 1, San Francisco’s big boys seemingly get a reprieve against the Lions, as Detroit entered the season with the No. 26 run defense and the No. 24 pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Lions were gashed by New York’s backfield combo of Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell, who combined to take the rock 22 times for 162 yards, including a 62-touchdown rumble by Crowell, so Alfred Morris and Matt Brieda should get chances to shine after each showed small flashes against the Vikes.
Devon Kennard and Ezekiel Ansah each notched a sack for Detroit last week, yet only one player in the Lions’ front seven received a grade higher than 72.7 from Pro Football Focus last season (defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who received a 75.9 but recorded only 20 tackles as a member of the Titans in 2017).
Minnesota’s outmuscling of the Niners in the season opener can be chalked up to several factors: Injuries to starting right guard Mike Person and backup Josh Garnett, Mike McGlinchey being forced to take over at right guard and play the position for the first time in his life in his pro debut and an affluence of talent on the Vikings’ defense.
Look for the Niner offensive line to find its rhythm and fare far better against a Detroit crew that couldn’t stop a nosebleed on Monday night.
DT DeForest Buckner vs. LG Frank Ragnow and Detroit’s offensive line
How could any Niner fan possibly take their eyes off DeForest Buckner? The fast-rising superstar defensive tackle showed an incredible motor against the Vikings, kicking off his third pro season by routinely bull-rushing his way into the backfield and showing impressive agility to notch 2.5 sacks and seven tackles.
Buckner, who led the NFL with 19 quarterback hits last season but registered only three sacks, singlehandedly buoyed a pass rush that was one of San Francisco’s most glaring weaknesses coming into the season, though he’ll have a stiff challenge going up against a Detroit offensive line that was ranked eighth prior to the start of the campaign and did not yield a sack to New York last week, despite Matthew Stafford and Matt Cassel combining to throw 52 passes. Still, it wasn’t enough to prevent the Detroit line from receiving poor marks from PFF for its Week 1 performance.
Right guard Frank Ragnow, who received a dismal 41.2 grade from PFF in Week 1, will be charged with the unenviable task of trying to contain San Francisco’s resident force of destruction. And if Ragnow receives help from center Graham Glasgow (71.1 grade in Week 1), the door will swing open for DeFo’s linemates to take advantage of their one-on-one matchups.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Detroit’s secondary
It’s easy to include the starting quarterback in this article every week, but perhaps doing so is more appropriate than usual after Jimmy Garoppolo struggled mightily against the Vikings.
Jimmy G was certainly not the only Niner to have issues against Minnesota’s outstanding defense, but a strong performance against a lesser Detroit secondary would alleviate whatever concerns arose after the franchise quarterback was seemingly to blame for all three of his interceptions last week and sailed a few passes, most notably when he missed George Kittle in the back of the endzone for what could have been a four-yard touchdown.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Lions’ secondary as the league’s No. 12 unit heading into the season, but that didn’t stop Jets’ rookie quarterback Sam Darnold from completing 16-of-21 passes for 198 yards, two scores and an interception in Week 1.
Despite the major hiccup, Detroit’s secondary still boasts talented playmakers, including cornerback Darius Slay (88.1 PFF grade in 2017, eight interceptions last season) and safety Glover Quin (89.0 PFF grade in 2017)
Considering Detroit surrendered 48 points on Monday, however, this is still a plus matchup for San Francisco’s franchise signal-caller and a golden opportunity for him to play at the level he reached during the Niners’ late-season surge in 2017.
WR Dante Pettis vs. CB Nevin Lawson
From his first to his second game as a professional football player, Dante Pettis has arguably already gone from “top backup at all three receiver positions” to “featured player on the offense.” The Washington product turned in a mixed bag in his NFL debut last week, but his acrobatic 22-yard touchdown reception was a thing of beauty, and with Marquise Goodwin ruled out for Sunday, Pettis has been thrust into the limelight.
The rookie wideout could be matched up against cornerback Nevin Lawson, who received a poor 58 mark from PFF a season ago.
With Goodwin in street clothes, Garoppolo is likely to look in the direction of his young wideout, as evidenced by Pettis’ six targets in Minnesota (tied for third-most on the team). The elusive speedster, who broke two big plays against Minnesota and had a chance for an additional touchdown catch, is a threat to do serious damage anytime he touches the ball, and Lawson is certain to have his hands full trying to keep up.
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49ers vs. Bengals: San Francisco Week 2 Game Balls & Highlights
Game balls and highlights from the San Francisco 49ers’ 41-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of the 2019 NFL regular season.
On yesterday’s Locked On 49ers Podcast, host Brian Peacock provided a rundown of the Niners’ game — including game notes and key takeaways — and handed out four game balls to the San Francisco 49ers from their Week 2 blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The 49ers made a statement to the rest of the league during their second consecutive road victory to start the 2019 NFL regular season. Outside of a long garbage-time touchdown given up in the final minute of the matchup, the 49ers’ defense was dominant, finishing the game with four sacks, nine tackles-for-loss and one interception.
But despite holding the Bengals to just 25 yards on 19 rushing attempts, San Francisco’s offensive unit shined the brightest in Week 2 — which brings us to our first game ball:
49ers HC Kyle Shanahan
San Francisco’s offensive attack was nearly unstoppable in Week 2, and much of their success should be credited to 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who called one of his best games since arriving in the Bay Area over two seasons ago. The Niners tallied 572 net yards on offense at an 8.4 yards-per-play clip, and were forced to punt the ball just once during meaningful play, prior to the final two minutes of the game.
Shanahan — the 49ers’ de facto offensive coordinator — was always one step ahead of the Bengals’ defense, which was constantly confused by the Niners’ flurry of misdirection plays. With Cincinnati’s defenders forced to play both passively and reactionary, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took advantage by throwing for 297 passing yards and three scores. Garoppolo executed on the field, but he had Shanahan’s superb game plan to thank for his FexEx Air Passer of the Week nomination, as well as his 131.2 passer rating and his 11.9 yards-per-pass-attempt — both of which were tops in the NFL in Week 2.
49ers RB Matt Breida
Prior to the beginning of the regular season, many analysts wrote 49ers running back Matt Breida off as either a potential change-of-pace option in San Francisco’s backfield or a player who would simply ride the bench in 2019. But just two games into the season, Breida has officially put that talk to rest by claiming his well-deserved spot at the top of the 49ers’ running back depth chart, even after fellow RB Tevin Coleman eventually returns from injury.
Breida was electric on Sunday as he tallied 121 rushing yards on only 12 carries, and added 11 yards through the air on one reception. The former undrafted free agent may never be a 25-carry feature back, but it’s hard to ignore a runner who averages over 10 yards-per-touch. Breida’s outstanding Week 2 performance was highlighted by a 34-yard gain on a third-and-short run, where he looked a lot more like Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders than a bench player who should be relegated to the sidelines:
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 16, 2019
49ers Offensive Line
Although Breida has the speed and agility necessary to break off long runs after making defenders miss, he surely didn’t mind running through some of the gaping holes the 49ers’ offensive line provided on Sunday. Breida wasn’t the only beneficiary of San Francisco’s big men up front, as the 49ers’ trio of running backs graded out as the NFL’s top unit of the week by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Recent practice-squad RB Jeff Wilson found the end zone for a pair of scores in the contest, and dual-threat running back Raheem Mostert followed his blockers on long runs and screen passes en route to a spot on PFF’s “NFL Team of the Week” for Week 2:
#49ers RB Raheem Mostert @RMos_8Ball, LB Kwon Alexander @kwon and EDGE Ronald Blair @superblair are all featured in @PFF‘s NFL Team of the Week. The @49ers‘ running backs also graded out as the #NFL‘s top group of RBs in Week 2. https://t.co/zbfzmMtEs0
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 18, 2019
It was a near-perfect day for the Niners’ offensive line, as they also kept Garoppolo’s jersey clean for the vast majority of the game. But a dark cloud fell over the group in the third quarter of the team’s Week 2 victory, when left tackle Joe Staley sustained a fractured left fibula which will keep the 49ers’ top lineman out of action for approximately six to eight weeks.
49ers LB Kwon Alexander
Last week, linebacker Kwon Alexander received a game ball from Shanahan in the 49ers’ locker room after the team’s 31-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite his early exit from his Niners debut. Alexander was ejected from the contest when his helmet made contact with the helmet of former teammate Jameis Winston, when the quarterback awkwardly went to the ground at the end of a third-down scramble. In the limited time prior to his questionable ejection, Alexander looked like the player Shanahan and general manager John Lynch hoped to sign, as the 25-year-old linebacker flew around the field making plays and hyping up his teammates.
Last Sunday, Alexander earned his 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room and his passion for the game. This Sunday, Alexander earned Locked On 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room, his passion for the game and his production on the field. Alexander not only brought the same level of intensity to Cincinnati, but the linebacker was also one of the best — and most productive — players on the field in Week 2. With a key interception, three defended passes and six tackles, Alexander earned PFF “NFL Team of the Week” honors, and our final game ball of the week:
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 16, 2019
Listen to Locked On 49ers host Brian Peacock’s review of the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 2 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals — including game notes and key takeaways from the Niners’ second matchup of the 2019 NFL regular season — on yesterday’s Rapid React podcast:
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