Rushing defense is once again a main topic of conversation for the 49ers as they host the Denver Broncos in Week 14.
Coming off a matchup against the top-ranked Seattle rushing attack, San Francisco will have to figure out a way to slow down Denver’s fifth-ranked run game (132.5 yards per game).
Undrafted rookie running back Phillip Lindsay took control of the Broncos’ backfield early and hasn’t relinquished his grip. An incredible 6.1 yards per carry has pushed him to the fourth-most rushing yards in the league (937) while is ranked just 14th in rush attempts (154). He has also matched his production with ball security, having yet to put the ball on the ground.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said his defense needs to set the edge in the run game in order to have any success, something they didn’t do against the Seahawks who racked up 168 rushing yards on them last week:
“Guys were trying to make plays and it was very clear what they [Seattle] were trying to do offensively with attacking our edges. We did not do a very good job setting edges and that’s where all the breakdowns were, especially in the second half. Whether it was a ‘d-end’ trying to slip underneath the tackle, one of the DBs trying to slip underneath an out-block or whether it was just a corner just not setting it, getting the ball turned back inside the numbers, that was the breakdown in the run game. When you can’t stop the run, like I’ve told you all many times before, you can’t stop anything else.”
Bottling up Lindsay would give the 49ers a solid chance at a win, as Broncos’ quarterback Case Keenum has been average this year.
While Keenum has the 12th-most pass attempts so far (411), he’s ranked 26th in completion percentage (62.3) out of 34 qualified quarterbacks. He also has just 14 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions.
As always, turnovers will be huge for San Francisco. Denver comes in tied for fifth-most in takeaways (21) and fifth-least in giveaways (13). The 49ers have five times as many giveaways as takeaways.
Meanwhile, head coach Kyle Shanahan will be turning to his own undrafted rookie running back to maintain San Francisco’s 7th-ranked rushing offense.
Jeff Wilson Jr. will receive most of the carries this week due to Matt Breida’s bad ankle taking him out of Sunday’s game. Wilson Jr. is coming off a very good performance — 23 total touches for 134 combined yards — that he’ll look to build on against a mediocre Denver rush defense.
The Broncos have won three straight, against the Chargers, Steelers and Bengals.
The 49ers only win since Week 2 was against the fellow race-for-last-place Raiders.
I don’t see them getting blown out by Denver. But I also didn’t see them getting blown out by Seattle. So what do I know.
Regardless, I’ll go with the Broncos winning 28-18.