The San Francisco 49ers are back after a ten-day layoff. They travel east to face the Buffalo Bills in a Week 6 road contest. The game kicks off at 10:00 a.m. PT on FOX, and the 49ers are once again a sizable underdog. The line opened near a touchdown, but has climbed to +9. The 49ers are 1-4, coming off a fourth straight loss, while the Bills have won three straight to improve to 3-2.
There will be plenty to watch on both sides of the ball. I thought we’d pull up a few potentially key matchups for the game. Some of these are player vs. player, but given the team nature of football, these are often going to be position unit vs. position unit, or position unit vs. player. What other matchups will you be watching?
Colin Kaepernick, Carlos Hyde vs. edge defenders
There will be plenty to watch in the passing game, but I am most fascinated by the implications of Colin Kaepernick’s return to the zone read. Blaine Gabbert spent the first few weeks handing off to Hyde almost every time. Eventually we saw Gabbert start to keep it more, but it never felt like the threat was truly feared by the defense. We don’t know where Kaepernick is compared to 2014 or 2013, but the threat of the unknown could mean even more for the zone read.
Michael Wilhoite, Nick Bellore vs. LeSean McCoy
The run defense vs. LeSean McCoy is going to be a complete effort. I won’t pretend it all falls on Wilhoite and Bellore. That being said, their instincts will be essential to slowing down McCoy. Earlier this week, in discussing Bellore, Jim O’Neil talked about how he was hesitant at times in diagnosing the play, rather than relying more on instincts. Considering Bellore has not played much ILB in the past, that is understandable. But if the 49ers run defense is going to improve, there needs to be more instincts, and less waiting. It could (and at times will) burn them, but it needs improvement.
Rashard Robinson, Tramaine Brock vs. Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin
We’ll see Walter Powell plenty as the third receiver, but Woods and Goodwin are the two primary receivers. The Bills run game is what this is about, but the 49ers will want to take advantage of their potential edge on the outside. Robinson has yet to record an interception, but the emerging playmaker could help flip this game if he can get his hands on a Tyrod Taylor pass.
Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner vs. Tyrod Taylor
Much like with Shady McCoy, the 49ers will need a total team effort to contain the mobile Taylor. The 49ers invested first round picks in Armstead and Buckner, with the hopes they could impact in the pass rush coming up the middle of the defense. They’ll need to get to Taylor, or at least force him into oncoming outside linebackers to slow down the Bills.
Joe Staley, Trenton Brown vs. Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander
The 49ers pass protection has been better than its run blocking. They’ll need a big performance on Sunday, facing a Bills pass rush that Football Outsiders ranks No. 4 in adjusted sack rate. Gabbert struggled with consistency, but it was usually not due to lack of time in the pocket. Holding off Hughes and Alexander will be important for seeing where this offense can potentially go with Kaepernick.