The undefeated San Francisco 49ers have earned the right to be confronted with a trap game - a concept typically reserved for good teams overlooking bad teams. The 49ers are a good team now, and to the untrained eye, a 1-5 Washington matchup would seem like a recipe for an unpleasant surprise. Fortunately for the 49ers, there are a few factors at play that suggest it could get ugly in the nation’s capital.
Here are five players (or coaches) to watch in the 49ers’ Week 7 matchup:
The 5-0 49ers are favored by 9.5 points over Washington - a significant figure for any traveling team. Rest assured that Shanahan is going to do everything in his power to ensure the 49ers hit the over. The team’s head coach didn’t mince words when asked about his time in Washington as offensive coordinator under his father and head coach, Mike Shanahan.
“I enjoyed being able to work with my Dad and some other good coaches,” Shanahan said. When asked what he liked the least?
Trap game? Doubtful. Don’t be surprised if the 49ers hang 40+ on Washington Sunday, because there’s zero chance Shanahan is overlooking or underestimating his return to Washington for the first time as a head coach, despite the record of both teams.
S Jimmie Ward
Ward might’ve been the 49ers’ best defender on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. The oft-injured free safety made his return to the starting lineup in Week 5, and it didn’t take long to see why he’s remained a favorite of the coaching staff. Ward was instrumental in the 49ers’ defensive shutdown of the Rams. His two highlights came on consecutive plays, breaking up passes intended for Rams tight end Gerald Everett and receiver Cooper Kupp on third- and fourth-down, respectively. Washington’s passing attack isn’t nearly as potent as the Rams’, but rookie Terry McLaurin has shown the ability to beat defenses deep. Ward will have more opportunities to put his talents on display and solidify his spot at free safety.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Washington’s defense ranks 20th in passing yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. Their vulnerability should give Garoppolo a chance to let loose and put his talents on display against a defense that isn’t nearly as formidable as those he’s faced over the last couple weeks. Washington also ranks near the bottom of the NFL in rushing yards allowed, which should give the 49ers’ passing attack a chance to hit some big plays off play-action. A point of focus for Garoppolo should be holding on to the football after a two-turnover performance against the Rams, both in the red zone.
DL Solomon Thomas
Thomas has been the 49ers’ forgotten man on a defensive line stacked with talent. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead are all former first-round picks currently generating more buzz than Thomas. The former No. Three overall selection has begun to pick up steam over the past few weeks, though, according to Pro Football Focus. Against the Rams, Thomas played 25 snaps, more than twice the amount he played in the previous two games (11). He totaled two pressures, one sack, one hurry and one-stop against Los Angeles, earning a respectable 77.8 overall grade - his highest of the season. With D.J. Jones suffering from a hamstring strain, Thomas’ snaps may continue to climb against Washington. His impact among the 49ers’ dominant defensive front will be one to watch.
WR Dante Pettis
Despite a slow start, Pettis is beginning to establish himself as a consistent threat for Garoppolo. Outside of the game-winning touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday’s matchup with the Rams was the second-year wideout’s best game of the season. Pettis caught three passes on six targets for 45 yards - a modest stat line, but the game showed more. He nearly completed an incredible toe-tapping touchdown reception in the back of the endzone, but the Rams defender was able to push Pettis just out of bounds before his second foot came down. Pettis also ran an impressive out-route in the first quarter, taking Garoppolo’s pass 19 yards to the two-yard line. The 49ers scored on the next play. A groin strain has put rookie Deebo Samuel’s status for Week 7 in question. If Samuel can’t go, Pettis should receive the targets he needs to continue building momentum against Washington on Sunday.