The 49ers, embarrassed in back-to-back road games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks, return to Levi’s Stadium Sunday for the first of three consecutive homes games. Their opponent, the Denver Broncos, are in the mix for an AFC playoff spot after rattling off three straight wins.
Here are five players to watch when the 49ers battle the Broncos on Sunday:
WR Marquise Goodwin
Goodwin makes his return against the Broncos after being excused by the 49ers the last two games to deal with a family matter. The 49ers’ receiver is no stranger to adversity. Last season, Goodwin played against the Giants in Week 10 on the same day he and his wife, Morgan, lost their newborn baby boy due to complications during pregnancy. The presence of Goodwin’s world-class speed should open things up for Shanahan’s offense, while giving quarterback Nick Mullens another reliable target.
RB Jeff Wilson Jr.
Running back Matt Breida has been ruled out for Sunday after aggravating an ankle injury in Seattle. This opens up an opportunity for Wilson to put together back-to-back standout performances as the 49ers’ leader in the backfield. In Week 13 against the Seahawks, Wilson carried the ball 15 times for 61 yards and caught eight passes for 73. He led the 49ers’ offense in both carries and targets. Wilson’s likely to see a similar role Sunday against the Broncos.
RT Mike McGlinchey
The 49ers’ first-round rookie faces his toughest test of the season on Sunday against one of the NFL’s elite sack artists. Broncos pass rusher Von Miller has racked up 12.5 sacks so far in 2018. McGlinchey, on the other hand, has been Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked rookie offensive lineman this season, giving up four sacks in 13 games. The 49ers’ ability to keep Mullens upright will largely depend on McGlinchey, along with left tackle Joe Staley, and their ability to fend of Miller.
WR Dante Pettis
There isn’t a player on the 49ers’ roster whose stock has risen as quickly as Pettis. The 49ers’ second-round pick has capitalized on the absense of Goodwin and veteran Pierre Garçon over the past three weeks. In that span, Pettis has reeled in 13 passes on 20 targets for 218 yards and three touchdowns. He’s spent most of his snaps at Goodwin’s “X” position, and despite the speedsters return, it seems Pettis has earned a more prominent role on Shanahan’s offense. His utilization and impact on Sunday will be one to watch.
LB Pita Taumoepenu
The 49ers placed linebacker Dekoda Watson on injured reserve Monday with a calf injury. The loss of Watson opened up a spot for Taumoepenu, who was promoted to the active roster on Wednesday. The 49ers’ sixth-round pick in 2017 will play in his first game of the season against the Broncos after spending 2018 on the practice squad. The defense has been unable to generate consistent pressure off the edge, leaving an opportunity for Taumoepenu to showcase his development over the last four games of the season.