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3 keys to a 49ers victory: Blowout incoming vs. the Commanders?

The 49ers are heavily favored on the road against the Commanders.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers saw their six-game win streak come to an end against the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas in a tough 33-19 loss this past week, dropping them to 11-4 on the season with two weeks left.

Now, their focus shifts towards the Washington Commanders, who possess one of the worst records in the NFL at 4-11.

The 49ers will likely need two straight victories to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which starts Sunday against the Commanders.

However, San Francisco comes into the matchup with some health concerns. Defensive tackle Arik Armstead (foot, knee), safety Ji’Ayir Brown (knee), wideout Jauan Jennings (concussion), offensive tackle Jaylon Moore (concussion), and tight end Ross Dwelley (ankle) have all been ruled out.

As a result, the 49ers called up safety Erik Harris and wideout Tay Martin from the practice squad to serve as depth pieces.

Heading into the game, the 49ers are seen as 14-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with the over/under placed at 49.5 points.

Here’s what you need to know about the 49ers’ opponent on Sunday.

Opponent Preview

The Washington Commanders came into the year with mixed expectations, as they re-signed young defensive tackle DaRon Payne to a massive extension prior to the beginning of the offseason.

However, after two early victories, the Commanders lost five of their next six games, outlining the direction of the team in 2023.

They were clear sellers at the trade deadline, acquiring draft capital for edge rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young, who was moved to the 49ers.

It has been tough sledding for Washington as of late, as the Commanders have lost their last six games, dropping their record from 4-5 to 4-11 and into a projected Top-5 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Commanders enter Week 15 with significant injury concerns. Safety Percy Butler (wrist), center Tyler Larsen (knee), offensive tackle Charles Leno (calf) and cornerbacks Kendall Fuller (knee) and Benjamin St-Juste (concussion) are all out, while quarterback Jacoby Brissett (hamstring) and offensive tackle Andrew Wylie (elbow) are questionable.

Recently, the Commanders made a quarterback switch, benching struggling starter Sam Howell for veteran Jacoby Brissett, although the former may start in place of the latter due to injury.

Washington has a below-average offense in both yards per game (327.5) and points per game (20.6), which they’ll put to the test against a 49ers defense that just gave up a season-high 33 points to the Baltimore Ravens.

Defensively, Washington has really struggles, allowing 384.3 yards and 30.2 points a game, which are both 32nd in the NFL.

Even if Jacoby Brissett plays, this game could be destined for a blowout.

Keys to the Game

Aggressive attack: Being aggressive may sound like a scary sight to 49ers fans after their Week 16 loss to the Ravens, but the matchup calls for San Francisco to dare the Washington defense.

The Commanders allow 261.6 passing yards a game, the second-worst mark in the NFL, and will be down corners Benjamin St. Juste and Kendall Fuller, as well as safety Percy Butler.

Brock Purdy will be looking to bounce back from his four-interception game and gets the perfect matchup to do so.

But, being aggressiveness doesn’t necessarily mean employing a pass-only approach, as the Commanders struggle against the run as well, giving up 122.7 yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry.

However, all cards should be on the table in a favorable offensive matchup for the 49ers, who will have all of their weapons available for the game.

Something to note? The Commanders are struggling against running backs in the passing game this season, allowing nearly 5.5 catches per game to the position.

While the numbers may be slightly inflated by Breece Hall’s 12-reception game last week, running backs have hit five receptions in seven of the past eight games against the Commanders.

Turnovers: Turnovers are always a crucial portion of the matchup, but they may be even more important in Sunday’s matchup between the 49ers and the Commanders.

All season long, Washington has struggled in the turnover department, as they rank last in the NFL with a -0.7 turnover margin per game.

Meanwhile, the 49ers are among the top five in the NFL in turnover margin, as they rank No. 3 in generating turnovers at 1.7 a game.

The Commanders may have to turn back to Sam Howell once again given Jacoby Brissett’s hamstring injury, despite naming the latter the starter earlier this week, which could be a factor in the turnover differential.

Howell has thrown 17 interceptions this season, the most in the NFL, including one in five consecutive games.

Now, the 49ers are 8-1 when they’ve won the turnover battle this season, but they are coming off a five-turnover outing against the Ravens.

Which side of the 49ers will come out on Sunday against the Commanders?

Red zone: Interestingly, one of the more comparable areas between the 49ers and the Commanders is the red zone.

The 49ers have been one of the league’s best red zone teams all season, as they rank second in touchdown conversion rate at 67.2 percent, which has increased over the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Commanders are the league’s fifth-best red zone team, converting at a 64.4 percent clip, which includes an 89 percent rate over their past three games.

The main difference between the two teams? San Francisco ranks third with 3.9 red zone trips a game, while Washington is 18th with only three trips a game.

Defensively, both teams are similar, as the 49ers allow touchdowns on 51.2 percent of opponent red zone drives, good for 11th in the NFL, while the Commanders allow seven points on 55.3 percent of those drives, standing at 18th in the NFL.

While the spread is fairly significant in favor of the 49ers, the red zone battle is still one to watch.