The 49ers have lost 5 games in a row to start the 2017 season. The last 4 of those games have been lost by a combined 11 points, so this is a bad team that is losing a lot of close game. Obviously the 49ers are a team in the beginning of a major rebuild. So the fact that the team is in a lot of these games is encouraging, but this is a fan base and team that needs a win in a bad way.
This week the team travels across country to play the Washington Redskins. HC Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator of the Redskins when the team drafted Cousins in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Cousins is playing under the franchise tag this season and will be a free agent at the end of the year, assuming the Redskins don't tag him again. The question if Cousins will play in red and gold in 2018 won't be answered until after the 2017 season, now he's still a Redskin and this 49ers defense is going to need to find a way to slow him down. I'll take a look at key match ups in this game for the 49ers.
Force the running backs inside
Last week in Colts RB Marlon Mack had 3 key runs in the game, one being a long run in overtime setting up the game winning field goal for the Colts. All three of these runs Mack broke outside and got the edge on the 49ers defense for long gains. This week Redskins RB Chris Thomson is a similar style player and could be an issue for this 49ers defense. Shifty RBs that catch the ball out of the backfield have been an issue for this team. They will need to play sound coverage on the running backs to limit the big plays. Setting the edge will be a big part in keeping the RBs from big runs. The Strength of this defense is in the middle of the defensive line. Force the RBs to the inside by keeping contain on the outside. DL Arik Armstead and DL Solomon Thomas need to be better setting the edge this week.
Avoid the big play
The Redskins offense has been a lot of underneath routes in the passing game this season, but they do take a few deep shots per game. A lot of those deep targets are going to WR Terrell Pryor. This offense is similar to the system that the 49ers run, as it has deep routes built into a lot of the plays. Kirk Cousins has shown that he can throw the deep ball. The 49ers are going to have to respect that, especially when dealing with Pryor. Look for the 49ers free safety to be shaded in the direction of Pryor a lot in this game.
Offensive line for the 49ers needs to have a big day
This season under former 49ers head coach and current Redskins defensive line coach Jim Tomsula the defensive line has been the strength of the Redskins defense. The 49ers are going to need to block these guys well to give the running backs some space and to keep QB Brian Hoyer upright. The unit is having a better year than expected and has been one of the few bright spots on the offense. Pass protection has been the strength of this offensive line. Unfortunately Hoyer hasn't done a lot with the time that he has been given.
Hoyer needs to play a complete game
Brian Hoyer has been hot and cold this season. He has been so frustrating to watch due to the inconsistency of his play. He's shown why he was brought in by Kyle Shanahan to run his offense at times. Other times he's shown why he’s played on so many different teams in his career. He has trouble seeing the whole field, missing guys who are open, even when it’s his first read. Shanahan seems like he is going to stick with Hoyer for the time being. If this team has any chance of going into Washington and getting a victory, #2 is going to have to put together 4 good quarters of football, especially in the 4th when it really matters.
RB Carlos Hyde or RB Matt Breida
Carlos Hyde was on the sideline for a lot of the 2nd half in week 5. Shanahan said he was riding the hot hand in Matt Breida. Hyde was benched shortly after dropping a pitch, then missing a block in pass protection ruining a drive early in the 2nd half. Breida filled in well for Hyde and had a couple of explosive runs. Game flow will have a lot to do with which guy gets more touches, but as of now Hyde is the starter. Shanahan spoke about this saying Breida will get a lot of touches after Hyde starts and he will continue to ride whoever has the hot hand.
Get the ball to WR Pierre Garcon
Garcon is clearly the 49ers best WR. He’s been featured heavily in games for good reason. Garcon played for the Redskins last season and signed with the 49ers in the off season. The Redskins know Garcon well, they know what he does well and what he doesn't. They will look to lock Garcon down and force Hoyer to look elsewhere. Hoyer will need to trust Garcon and force feed him the ball.
The 49ers are clearly not a playoff team and the focus will be on developing the team for the future. Shanahan is trying to install a new culture for this team and a win on the road against a tough NFC East team will be a step in the right direction. Shanahan beating his old team in their house would just be a bonus.