The Bills may not be the best team in the league, but if the 49ers don't take this game just as seriously as if it were the New York Giants coming to town (they'll be here in Week 6), they could find themselves in a two-game hole to the Arizona Cardinals. That is, if the Cards win their contest against the St. Louis Rams.
I'm not counting on another mental lapse like the one we saw in Week 3, but stranger things have happened. The 49ers need to be sharp this week, because we know that on any given Sunday, any team can lose.
Here are a few things I'm going to be looking for when the game begins that could submarine their chances.
One of the ways the 49ers got beaten in Minnesota was their inability to stop the Vikings from successfully running their quick screens on the perimeter—something the Jets started doing early in the game, but moved away from for whatever reason.
Most NFL teams attack defenses vertically in this day and age, but the 49ers are pretty darn good at covering downfield. The weakness of this defense is that they can get burned in the screen game.
Donald Jones and Stevie Johnson are both really good after the catch, and if the Bills decide to take what worked for the Vikings and apply it with these two, the 49ers could be in for some trouble.
Don't Fall Asleep on Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller
We all know that the 49ers front seven is one of the best in the NFL at stuffing opponents' running games.
Through four games this year, this team has only faced one team (the Vikings) that was willing to stick with the running game. Adrian Peterson carried the ball 25 times against this unit, and though the sledding was tough, his continued efforts opened things up for Christian Ponder and the passing game.
The Bills' strongest asset on offense—Ryan Fitzpatrick's 12 touchdown passes notwithstanding—is their running game. Jackson and Spiller are two dynamic playmakers, and now they're both back on the active roster and getting healthy.
So far this season, the Bills have run a surprisingly balanced offense compared to most teams. Fitzpatrick has attempted 125 passes, and the Bills have run the ball 123 times.
As good as the 49ers' defensive line is, I don't expect to see Chan Gailey abandon the running game; and if this defense has even one lapse, both of the Bills' star running backs are capable of taking it to the house for an easy six.
Will Alex Smith Have Another Sub-Par Game?
Anyone who frequents this site knows that I'm one of Smith's biggest supporters. I have a deep appreciation for his ability to make smart decisions, and I can't overstate how important it is to this team that he takes good care of the football.
That said, Smith's last two games haven't been stellar. He's completed 36-of-66 passes for 347 yards with one touchdown and one interception, good for a passer rating of 68.18.
Some have said he's in a mini-slump, but I'll attribute his rough outings to the two-game road trip.
I'm hopeful that some home cooking will bring an improvement, but if Smith struggles again this week, the outcome of the game may not be as one-sided as most of us think it will be.
Will Greg Roman Continue Pounding the Rock?
I watched the game against the Vikings with an incredulous stare. I couldn't believe that Roman abandoned the run in the first half of that game.
Frank Gore only ran the ball 12 times, and most of those carries came in the second half. On the flip side, Smith passed the ball 35 times.
Roman amended his ways against the Jets, as the 49ers ran the ball 44 times while Smith and Colin Kaepernick combined for only 22 passes.
It was just what the doctor ordered, and I'm crossing my fingers hoping the Bills will get the same treatment.
The Bills have the No. 28 ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing 137 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. Opposing teams have also scored six touchdowns on running plays—tied with six other teams for the second-worst in that category.
If Gore gets his carries, the 49ers will win.
If Roman gets another wild hair up his rear, I question the outcome.
This is a game the 49ers should win handily.
I don't expect the team to come into the game flat-footed, and I don't expect the outcome to ever be in question.
That said, the NFL is full of surprises on a weekly basis.
Stay tuned, folks, and make it loud on Sunday at Candlestick Park.
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