The San Francisco 49ers are nearing the end of their stint at Youngstown, Ohio, where the team has stayed and practiced over the last week to prepare for Sunday’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. Coach Kyle Shanahan elected to keep the team on the East Coast after their Week 1 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rather than traveling back and forth from Santa Clara. The 49ers are hoping to maintain their momentum after the first 1-0 start under Shanahan, preparing away from home to face a Cincinnati team that gave the Seahawks all they could handle in Seattle in Week 1.
Here are five players to watch when the 49ers battle the Bengals on Sunday:
DL DeForest Buckner
Buckner was quiet against the Buccaneers on Sunday. The 49ers’ stud defensive lineman only managed two tackles, one quarterback hit and a tackle for loss in the season opener. Buckner’s 51.8 grade from Pro Football Focus was well below the 81.4 that he finished within 2018. The 49ers’ use of the “Wide Nine” alignment exposed Buckner to a healthy amount of double teams, contributing to the success of both Dee Ford and Nick Bosa along the edges. Buckner now faces a Bengals offensive line that gave up five sacks and a handful of pressures against the Seahawks. It’s safe to expect a more significant impact from the 49ers team captain in Week 2.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Surprised? Of course not. Garoppolo’s spotlight in Week 2 will remain just as bright after an inconsistent performance against the Buccaneers. It was the 49ers quarterback’s first regular-season action since tearing his ACL in Week 3 of 2018. Garoppolo missed some throws you’d expect him to make and made one you’d hope he didn’t make on a pick-six in the second quarter. He rebounded though, finishing 18 of 27 for 166 yards and a touchdown, with two scores called back to penalties. The key to Week 2 for Garoppolo will be consistency against a Bengals defense that allowed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to complete 70 percent of his passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Witherspoon might’ve had the best game of his career on Sunday. The 49ers’ third-year cornerback was active, to say the least, generating two tackles, three pass breakups and the game-sealing pick-six of quarterback Jameis Winston. Two of his batted passes came against Mike Evans, one of the league’s best wideouts. It was an impressive start to the season for Witherspoon after a strong training camp. He’ll now face a different challenge in Bengals receiver John Ross, who relies on blistering speed over size. Ross accounted for 12 targets, seven catches, 158 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks in Week 1. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 418 yards and two touchdowns, as well. The 49ers secondary and their ability to contain Cincinnati’s passing attack will play a major role in the outcome.
WR Deebo Samuel
Samuel surprised on Sunday when he was on the field for the starting offense’s first snaps. After the game, Shanahan said a nagging groin injury for second-year receiver Dante Pettis contributed to Samuel’s start and extended playing time. The rookie reeled in three passes on three targets for 17 yards, including an impressive grab on a slant route for 14 yards. Unfortunately, Samuel added a fumble on a sweep that was recovered by Tampa Bay. He also committed a false start on a play Shanahan said was intended for Samuel. Deebo will get a chance to redeem himself against the Bengals within what’s hopefully a more consistent 49ers passing attack. We’ll see if he retains his starting role for the second consecutive week.
LB Kwon Alexander
Alexander’s return to Tampa Bay was short-lived. The former Buccaneers linebacker was ejected in the first-quarter after a hit to the head of a sliding Winston. A short scuffle erupted between Alexander and his former teammates after the hit. Before the disqualification, the 49ers’ “Will” linebacker was busy, totaling three tackles and a near-interception. Assuming he avoids another egregious foul, we’ll get our first extended look of Alexander on Sunday against the Bengals. He and fellow linebacker Fred Warner will be relied on up to stay sound against the run while attempting to defend a Bengals passing attack that had a lot of success over the middle against the Seahawks.