Yesterday, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson posted a look at under-the-radar players to watch in Sunday's game, with a few thoughts from me on 49ers players. Today, I am posting a look at why each team will win on Sunday, with a look at offensive and defensive reasons. I am providing a couple reasons the 49ers will win, while Josh is providing his thoughts on why the Colts will win.
When looking at how the Colts can win any game, it always starts and ends with Andrew Luck. Luck is good enough to keep his team in games and to even win games that he doesn't get much help in. Obviously, when looking at why the Colts will win you don't have to go any further than Andrew Luck. But let's do just that for the sake of discussion.
The Colts have a very talented receiving corps in Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, and Coby Fleener. Luck certainly has targets to throw the ball to and this week the team made a blockbuster trade to get Trent Richardson, pairing him up with Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown as the Colts' running backs.
The Colts obviously have the skill players to make it work, so why hasn't their offense been anything special yet this year? The offensive line. The unit, supposed to be much improved from last year, is only marginally improved - if that. A case could be made that they're even worse. Andrew Luck is on pace to be knocked down 112 times this year - up from 83 last year, which was still the highest number in the league.
Against a 49ers defense that has arguably the best front seven in the entire league and features the pass rushers Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, protecting Andrew Luck is going to be key. The offensive line has already given up seven sacks this year (although, to be fair, a few of those are on Luck). There is no doubt whatsoever that the main key offensively for the Colts is protecting Andrew Luck.
The addition of Trent Richardson should pay immediate dividends as well. Chuck Pagano made it clear that he was going to play and play a lot on Sunday, saying that they "did not bring him in to be a water boy." Talent-wise, he should really help a team that actually has done very well running the ball with less talented backs than Richardson (the Colts are currently fifth in the NFL in rushing).
In his first game with the team after arriving in Indy just a few days prior, I don't really have huge expectations for him in terms of production, but I think this move should cause the 49ers to pay more attention to the run game than they initially were planning to, and it should cause the Colts to play with more confidence.
After losing three offensive starters in less than a week and starting off with a 1-1 record that felt more like 0-2 to many Colts fans, things weren't looking great for the team. Then they went and got a premier running back and all of the sudden, the excitement is back and it's heightened among the team as well. This team should come out with something to prove on Sunday and with added confidence - something that hopefully translates to a win.
Along the same lines, I think the players and coaches realize that this is a big game for Chuck Pagano and a win in San Francisco over the 49ers would do huge things for this Colts team's reputation and Pagano's as well. There's no doubt in my mind that the Colts will be up for the game, and we saw last year that emotion for this team plays a big role. The motivation should be there on Sunday, that's for sure.
This one will be shorter, I promise, and that's because it's much simpler. It all really comes down to whether or not the Colts can stop the read option that the 49ers run with the mobile Colin Kaepernick, who is also a very good passer. The Colts faced a mobile quarterback in week one in Oakland's Terrelle Pryor and the defense looked terrible against it, and this Sunday they play a much better quarterback in a read option offense.
Chuck Pagano has been adamant and repeatedly stated that he and several of the league's other premier defensive coaches have a way to stop the read option. And while they won't directly say it, everything they say points to exactly how they're going to do that, and honestly it's a smart plan - hit the quarterback.
In a read option offense the quarterback has no special privileges until he completely carries out his fake or gets tackled. Defenses will start really hitting the quarterbacks (legally) and eventually, teams will begin going away from it. Pagano has repeatedly stated that he has a way to stop it, and I believe him - but if it doesn't work this week, the issues will be magnified by Pagano's statement.
So here's the way the Colts can win: hit Colin Kaepernick. Hit him when he's running. Hit him when he's carrying out the read option. Hit him when he's in the pocket (and do it all legally, without drawing a flag, I might add). The Colts have had major trouble getting to the quarterback this year and have struggled against mobile quarterbacks too. But really, their struggles against Pryor were all an issue of being out of position a lot. Pagano and his staff no doubt are coaching the players as to where to be on each play and if they listen, the defensive plan laid out by Chuck Pagano will likely work. It's not an easy task at all and not many people are expecting the Colts to be able to do that, but if they can, they'll win the game.
The 49ers need to establish the run this weekend to take care of business against the Colts. The loss of LaRon Landry at safety potentially opens up more of that second level for the 49ers to get more yards from the ground game. The 49ers had the best run-blocking offensive line last season, but they have struggled to establish the run thus far this season.
The Seahawks stuck eight and nine players in the box at times last Sunday in large part because they have confidence in their secondary handling the 49ers receivers in one-on-one battles. The Colts are dealing with injuries at both safety positions, and even if healthy, the Colts secondary does not match a Seahawks secondary that is probably the best in the league. Ideally the Colts will feel uncomfortable placing eight men in the box, thus opening the door for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter to make some plays.
The 49ers defense can help the team win this game with a strong pass rush. This becomes a bigger issue in light of Aldon Smith's arrest Friday morning on suspicion of DUI and marijuana possession. There is no word on Smith's status for Sunday, but it would not surprise me if he was deactivated for Sunday's game.
Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta are the primary backups at outside linebacker, with Lemonier most notable for 49ers fans as an impressive rookie in the preseason. Lemonier is the guy 49ers fans would look at to step up. He showed tremendous speed and athleticism as a pass rusher in the preseason. He hasn't had a chance to impact things yet, but his opportunity could be coming soon.
The 49ers need to get hands on Andrew Luck, and force him into a certain level of discomfort. The 49ers secondary is inconsistent at times, and needs the help that comes from forcing Luck to make decisions a lot quicker. This is particularly true for Nnamdi Asomugha. He comes on in nickel situations, and while he can still cover well, his speed is lacking. The 49ers cannot let Luck find time in the pocket to pick apart the defense.