This San Francisco 49ers team is maddening. After consecutive overtime losses, the 49ers have now lost four games by a combined 11 points. This Sunday, San Francisco will press on in their hunt for their ever elusive first win against the nation capital’s football team.
Washington QB Kirk Cousins, rumored to possibly join the Niners next offseason, will showcase his talent against a reeling 49er team. Cousins has a top-10 QBR of 62.0 and will seek to improve on an already solid start against a vulnerable 49er defense.
Washington returns to the field off of a bye week and will look at San Francisco as a speed bump as they embark upon their march towards the playoffs. The 49ers have yet to play competently in all three phases for a game, let alone a half. They will look to rectify their weekly mistakes as they again head eastward.
San Francisco kicks off at FedEx Field at 1:00 p.m. PT and can be watched on the FOX Network.
Essentials to win the game
The Niners must play soundly for four quarters in all three phases of the game and limit their penalties. Thus far, the 49er special teams unit has been sound and the most consistent. The 49ers currently have the second best special teams unit in the league with a 6.3% DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). The Niners are desperately in need of huge special teams play to either score or set up their offense with short fields.
Defensively, the San Francisco secondary has been a liability throughout the season. CB Dontae Johnson’s play has been inconsistent, and his corner counterpart, Rashard Robinson, has been paltry at best. S Eric Reid has been limited in practice and the addition of him to the active roster will bode well for a struggling secondary. On Tuesday, the Niners added veteran CB Leon Hall to bolster the position group. At this stage of his career, we will find out what is left in the tank.
DL DeForest Buckner has wreaked havoc this season and has been the 49ers best defensive lineman. Buckner is going to need the assistance of Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas to make things uncomfortable for Kirk Cousins.
Offensively, this unit could not be more frustrating. On a weekly basis, the 49ers manage to kill their drives with untimely penalties, drops, and turnovers. The offense will stall out drives, amass double digit deficits and, in the waning moments of games, roar back and give 49er fans hope of a comeback, only to snatch the rug from underneath them.
QB Brian Hoyer looks significantly worse than what his statistics purport and he will have to play better and more consistently if the Niners are to fare better against Washington. Against the Colts, 49er WR Pierre Garçon amassed 8 catches for 94 yards, and with All-Pro CB Josh Norman sidelined with broken ribs, Garçon will have more freedom to exploit the Washington secondary. TE George Kittle should be able to replicate his 7 catch for 83 yard and a touchdown performance that he had against the Colts. He has had his role increased weekly and Washington’s defense has been generous to tight ends thus far.
If San Francisco plays with consistency, they will make things interesting and put themselves in a position to have a chance to win.
Possible downfalls to avoid
If San Francisco allows space to Washington RBs Chris Thompson, Semaje Perine and Robert Kelly to inflict damage in the passing game, they will be annihilated. LB Navarro Bowman appears to be a ghost of his former self, likely affected by a gruesome knee and Achilles injury that zapped him of his athleticism. Although Bowman’s linebacking counterpart Ray Ray Armstrong has filled in admirably for the injured Reuben Foster, Armstrong and Bowman have proven to be liabilities in coverage. Leaving either Armstrong or Bowman 1-on-1 with the Washington running backs or TE Jordan Reed will prove to be deleterious.
If the Niners are unable to manufacture pressure on Kirk Cousins, he will have the requisite time to find WR Josh Doctson along the boundary and Jordan Reed up the seam. The Niners do not have much talent on the back end of their defense, therefore it is imperative that they get the assistance from their pass rush. If the 49er defensive line is unable to corral the Washington backfield, head coach Jay Gruden will dial up tons of play action passes.
If rookie LB Reuben Foster returns from the ankle injury he suffered in Week 1, he will be charged with covering Chris Thompson, Robert Kelly, and Semaje Perine coming out the Washington backfield or TE Jordan Reed. When healthy, Foster has Rookie of the Year potential, but after nursing an ankle injury and accumulating rust due to inactivity, this may be asking too much of the promising 49er rookie.
If Foster is unable to go, S Eric Reid would likely be charged with containing Jordan Reed. To keep Navarro Bowman from being exploited in coverage, look for San Francisco to play tons of zone. If they do, and the Niners are unable to get home and sack Kirk Cousins, the Washington QB will have ample time to pick apart a hapless 49er secondary.
This game will be a watershed moment in the careers of Navarro Bowman and Carlos Hyde. Bowman was spelled by Brock Coyle during several drives against the Colts. Like Bowman, Hyde sat on the sideline for a good portion of the second half, and found himself outperformed on the day by rookie RB Matt Breida. After the game, both Bowman and Hyde were discontent with being benched. Against Washington, Hyde and Bowman will both find themselves sidelined if they don’t step their game.
Washington will be able to take advantage of Bowman’s inability to move laterally, and will make the Niners pay if Bowman misses tackles. If healthy, the Niners will move Reuben Foster to the middle linebacker and move Bowman to the weak side.
Carlos Hyde will get the first knock at the Washington defense, and if he is unable to run effectively, Matt Breida will get another opportunity to eat away at Hyde’s carries. Hyde will bounce back this week with a 100 yard day and a touchdown. Matt Breida, who could have scored on an 80 yard run had it not been for shoestring tackle, will break a big run and will finish with 80 yards and a score.
The Niners receiving corps of WRs Garçon, Aldrick Robinson, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor and TE George Kittle will have solid games. Because the Niners will fall behind, Brian Hoyer will be constantly forced to throw the ball. Expect for them to combine for over 250 yards on the day.
Jordan Reed will be split out wide and used like a swiss army knife through the game. If covered by a linebacker, Reed will utilize his blazing speed to run past them up the seam and get huge chunks in the passing game. If Reed is covered by a safety in the redzone, Kirk Cousins will throw 50/50 balls that will render Reed impossible to defend. Reed will finish the day with 65 yards on the day and 2 touchdowns.
Expect CB Rashard Robinson to give up a truckload of yardage. The Niners will look to substitute Leon Hall to serve as an alternative throughout the game. However, the 49ers will be unable to contain Josh Doctson and company and Kirk Cousins will pass for over 300 yards for the day.
The Niners currently sit as a 10 point underdog. Last week ended the 49ers streak of beating the spread and they sit 3-2 against the spread for the year. Expect the Niners to rekindle their passion on frustrating bookies as they beat the spread, falling to 0-6 in a 30-23 loss.