1. More Domination from the Defensive Line
I’m willing to put the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive line against anyone in the NFL, especially when the 49ers are facing one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts’ offensive line has given up 48 pressures and eight sacks this season.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has to have his linemen pulling at the leash to attack a weaker opponent.
Success this week starts and stops with defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who’s destroying every offensive line he’s faced. He’s notched 23 quarterback pressures, with six coming against Arizona last Sunday. Bucker needs to keep Colts’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett running terrified on Sunday.
Rookie defensive lineman Solomon Thomas played his best game as a professional last Sunday. He had five tackles – two for loss – one sack, four quarterback hits, and kept his opponent pushed into Arizona’s backfield most of the game. Thomas faced an inferior opponent last week and won the one-on-one battle. However, this Sunday he meets left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a much better tackle. Thomas needs to ride the wave from last Sunday into Indianapolis and continue to play at a high level.
Castonzo is the only real athlete on the Colts’ offensive line. Therefore, it’s going to be the job of the defensive line to continue their domination against a far weaker opponent. They need to shut down the small gaps in the interior of the line that running back Frank Gore likes to sneak through.
Thomas, outside linebackers Aaron Lynch and Elvis Dumervil need to set the edge and force Gore to bounce outside to a waiting middle linebacker. Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong had his best game as a professional last week, and has 21 tackles this season, eclipsing his former season high of 17 tackles.
Strong defensive line play that disrupts the run game and passing attack will prohibit Brissett from exposing a weak secondary, specifically cornerback Rashard Robinson.
2. Run Game: Power, Lead, Play-Action
The Colts have given up the 11th most rush yards on defense this season, giving up 451 yards on 112 carries, and allow 4 yards per rush. The 49ers rushing attack averages nearly 105 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.
The interior offensive line positions for the 49ers continue to struggle. So, against the Colts, the 49ers need to employ a power running attack that gets running back Carlos Hyde through the five or six-hole and into open space with just a hapless defensive back to beat.
Forgot running inside; this Sunday, pull the guards, run some outside zone, or even go elementary with a fullback lead through the four-hole.
The Colts are going to expect the 49ers to run, and that’s fine. We want the Colts to stack the box for two reasons:
One. The 49ers can blow throw Indianapolis’ linebackers and secondary.
Two. It sets up play-action for Hoyer.
I’ve mentioned this a few times this week, but Pro Football Focus issued some interesting numbers on Hoyer following the loss to Arizona.
Through four weeks, when Hoyer uses play-action, he is 26-for-39, with 313 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and has a 97.5 passer rating.
However, there is a severe drop in skill when Hoyer attempts all other throws. He’s 60-for-109, with 545 yards, three interceptions, and 57.3 passer rating.
Head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should want the Colts to play seven or eight men in the box. Let them bite on the play-action and let Hoyer employ the single skill in his arsenal.
3. Pierre Garçon, Trent Taylor, and George Kittle
A strong running game sets up the 49ers’ receivers to have a field day against the third worst pass defense in the NFL.
If we learned anything from the 49ers Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, we learned wide receiver Pierre Garçon needs the football. He’s the gasoline that fuels the fire of the 49ers’ offense.
Garçon had six catches in a loss to Carolina in Week 1, but he had seven catches for 142 yards against the Rams. It could be Shanahan called more plays with Garçon as the primary read, or the Rams' secondary is lukewarm garbage.
It doesn’t matter.
Whatever Shanahan called against the Rams needs to be called again against the Colts, and get Garçon lined up against Colts’ defensive back Vontae Davis as often as possible. Davis made his season debut last week as he was coming off a preseason groin injury He had six tackles in a loss to Seattle, but last I checked, defensive backs don’t play so well with injured groin muscles. A Garçon-Davis match-up is critical for the 49ers’ passing game.
With wide receiver Marquise Goodwin limited in practice, it’s up to rookie Trent Taylor to pick up some of the slack in Goodwin’s absence. Taylor isn’t the deep threat that Goodwin brings to the offense, but he’s an outlet for Hoyer when the pocket gets too thick or dangerous. Additionally, I’d like to see Shanahan continue to call Taylor’s number on drag, drive and jerk routes.
In Week 1, rookie tight end George Kittle had six targets and five catches. Oddly, those targets have fallen off since the opening weekend. He’s only been targeted eight times and made five catches for 56 yards in subsequent weeks.
Shanahan loves motioning his Y receiver across the formation or into the backfield. At times, the motion looks like split-zone, but usually, it’s just a simple run. Y-motion sets up play-action very well for Hoyer and allows Kittle to get into the flat or find himself in space.
We saw what Kittle could do with the football in preseason; now it’s time to increase his targets and see what he can do this Sunday.