In divisional matchups, the lesser-known players have as much of a say in the outcome as the stars of the game do. Here are two X-factors that’ll help decide tonight’s game for the 49ers on each side of the ball.
Since the departure of Kendrick Bourne, the 49ers began a search for their next third-down target. Enter Jauan Jennings. According to Jeff Deeney of PFF, since the beginning of 2021, Jennings has been targeted 27 times on third down. He has 20 receptions and has converted 18 for either a first down or TD.
With so much attention drawn to the other 49er’s weapons, Jimmy Garoppolo locks on to Jennings. And with all the discussion about “tipping plays” this week, the biggest “tell” is Jennings on the field on third-downs.
Kyle Shanahan wants methodical, time-consuming drives to wear defenses down and keep his defense fresh. The only way to do that is to convert on third down. Currently, the 49ers rank 6th in the NFL on third-down at nearly 46 percent. However, that number has increased in the past two games, with 55.5 percent against the Rams and 53 percent against the Chargers.
Given the high altitude in Mexico City, the 49ers will need to keep their defense fresh on the sidelines. Jennings is the key to that. It definitely feels like Jennings has heard all the OBJ chatter. He responded with a “don't forget about me” performance.
Ebukam is officially listed as questionable for Monday night. There is optimism that he will return after his one-game absence. Ebukam has become incredibly valuable as a pass rusher, but his contributions in slowing down the run are overlooked.
The Cardinals will decide between Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy at game-time. Ebukam is needed to keep Murray in the pocket or pressure McCoy, who wants to get the football out quickly. The defensive line rotation will be paramount in helping slow down this pass-happy, spread offense for Arizona.
Ebukam has totaled two or more QB hurries in six of his eight games. Three of his eight games ended with three or more hurries. According to PFF, Ebukam has 19 “stops,” which constitutes a tackle that results in a failure for the offense.
Ebukam’s return is a welcome sight for 49ers fans as this team continues to return impact players.