Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
For the first time under Kyle Shanahan the 49ers are over .500 and they are celebrating by spending the week in Youngstown, Ohio. The 49ers set up camp in Ohio this week between consecutive road games in the Eastern time zone in hopes of avoiding the dreaded body clock hangover that often affects West Coast teams playing games that start at 1 p.m. Eastern time. Heading into Week 2 against the Bengals, here are some players to watch:
Jimmy Garoppolo: While it is probably true that the quarterback is a “player to watch” every week, it is especially true this week for Garoppolo. Against Tampa in Week 1, Garoppolo did not play particularly well and left a number of plays (and points) on the field (in fairness to Garoppolo he did have 2 touchdown passes called back via penalty). Last week against Seattle, the Bengals defense held Russell Wilson to under 200 yards passing and held the Seahawks’ running game in check. For the 49ers’ offense to have success, Garoppolo is going to have to hit the throws that Kyle Shanahan schemes for him; he looked like he might still be shaking off some rust from not having played a full game in nearly a year.
Raheem Mostert: Due to Tevin Coleman’s ankle injury Mostert bumps up on the depth chart and should see plenty of action alongside Matt Breida. Mostert lead the 49ers in rushing against Tampa Bay and provided the team’s most dynamic runs, including a 15-yard touchdown that was called back because of a penalty. Mostert has shown flashes that he could be more than just a special-teams ace and will get another opportunity on Sunday.
The Offensive Line: The 49ers struggled to get their running game going against the Buccaneers, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry and on Sunday they will face a Bengals defense that allowed just 2.9 yards per carry against the Seahawks. Cincinnati showed some five defensive lineman looks against Seattle in an attempt to limit the Seahawks’ outside running game, and the outside zone is a staple of Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
The 49ers’ offensive line will also have their work cutout for them in the passing game. The Bengals defense logged 5 hits, 4 hurries and 4 sacks against the chronically-elusive Russell Wilson. The 49ers’ ability to have success begins up front.
Nick Bosa: The “Nick Bosa, this is your life” tour continues in Week 2. After making his NFL debut in his home state of Florida, Bosa returns to the Buckeye State where he starred for Ohio State. Bosa was able to consistently get pressure on Jameis Winston last Sunday. The Seahawks were able to harass Andy Dalton into 2 fumbles in Week 1 and the 49ers should look to do the same on Sunday. Bosa was held out of practice on both Wednesday and Thursday as he continues to recover from an ankle sprain, but if it is at all possible for him to go on Sunday, he will.
Ahkello Witherspoon: Witherspoon had a large challenge both literally and figuratively in Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans and Witherspoon rose to the occasion. Witherspoon played, perhaps, the best game of his NFL career allowing just 2 receptions on 6 targets and recording 2 pass break ups and 1 interception, which he returned for a touchdown. This week Witherspoon will likely see a lot of Bengals receiver John Ross who is the complete opposite of Mike Evans in many ways. Ross is a 5’11” speedster who clocked one of the fastest 40-yard dash times in the history of the NFL combine but has rarely been able to effectively translate his speed to the field. In their season opener against Seattle, however, Ross hauled in seven passes for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns; whether this is a sign that Ross is beginning to turn the corner remains to be seen. Regardless, Witherspoon will need to be on his game.
DeForest Buckner: Buckner has been the consensus best player on the 49ers defense the last couple of years and looked to be building on that reputation by recording his first double-digit sack season in 2018. The hope was that he would take another step forward in 2019, especially with the additions of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, but it did not get off to the best of starts. In the season opener against the Bucs, Buckner was largely a nonfactor (although he did make a key run stop late in the game). Buckner needs to rebound against a Bengals offensive line that is a little banged up coming into the game.
Dante Pettis: The curious case of Dante Pettis continues. Coming off of a rookie season in which he showed flashes of talent worthy of a top-flight wide receiver, Pettis has been largely invisible this offseason and heading into the regular season. On Sunday, Pettis logged just two snaps and was only targeted once, a reception for 7 yards. Fortunately for Pettis, none of the other receivers was able to capitalize on the opportunity. When asked about the lack of snaps for Pettis, head coach Kyle Shanahan took the blame. Pettis is worth keeping an eye on this week to see if he can earn more than two snaps or if he continues to be buried on the depth chart. The 49ers need a wide receiver (or two) to step up this season and they would love for Dante Pettis to be one of them.
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