The 49ers' defense got a much-deserved bye week after holding the Rams' offense to zero second-half points en route to the 49ers' 31-14 win in Week 8. Now comes a Chargers offense led by Justin Herbert, but with injuries to several key starters, their offense faces a tough test against the 49ers. The Chargers' offense is the 9th-best in terms of yards but 13th-best in terms of scoring but suffers with the 4th-worst rushing attack in the league.
The last time the 49ers' defense played on Sunday night, they allowed 9 points to the Denver Broncos. Here are the five players to watch on the defense as they look for a repeat primetime performance.
DE Nick Bosa
This game lost some of its luster for the Bosa family when Joey Bosa injured his groin in September and has been out since.
However, Nick will be active and will try to take advantage of a Chargers offensive line that is missing second-year left tackle Rashawn Slater. Slater has been replaced by rookie Jamaree Salyer who’s been fine in replacement, allowing 13 pressures in his five games while also not allowing a single sack.
On the right side of the Chargers line is Trey Pipkins (Pipkins is questionable at the time of writing), who has allowed 17 pressures in eight games this season. Bosa has slightly favored the left side of the offense, lining up against the left tackle 64 percent, and with the matchup being more favorable, that number could jump on Sunday night.
CB Mooney Ward
The 49ers are catching a break with both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams out. Instead, Ward will likely see a good rotation of DeAndre Carter and Josh Palmer, who has been solid, combining for 58 receptions for 628 yards and four combined touchdowns. But while those numbers have been solid, they’ve been as complimentary pieces to Williams and Allen for his limited time. Now Palmer and Carter, who is the Chargers' primary slot option, will have to step up and be options 1 and 2 in an offense that is desperate for some firepower.
LB Fred Warner
It feels like Warner has turned it on over the past couple of weeks. He’s led the 49ers' defense in tackles in two of the previous three games totaling 28 tackles in that span. He’s also been creating pressure with a season-high three pressures in Week 8 while also collecting his first sack on the season. Ekeler will create a unique challenge for Warner as Ekeler leads the Chargers in both rushing attempts and targets. Warner will also be responsible for tight end Gerald Everett on occasion as well, who has proven to be a more than capable receiver with 341 yards on 34 receptions this season.
LB Dre Greenlaw & LB Azeez Al-Shaair
The good news for Warner is he’s getting some reinforcements on Sunday night. Greenlaw missed the Week 8 game against the Rams, while Al-Shaair has been out since Week 3, but the linebacking corps will be back at full strength in time for Ekeler and Everett. With Allen and Williams both out and Ekeler being the main force for the Chargers' offense, if the linebackers can contain Ekeler, the Chargers' defense could struggle to move the ball on the 49ers' defense. With the 49ers' interior line dealing with injuries of their own, the second level getting healthy becomes a significant boost to the defense.