The 49ers obviously do not want a repeat performance in the wake of what happened against Denver. Without revealing or risking too much, the team will look to put forth a much more impressive showing against San Diego in the second-ever NFL game at Levi's Stadium.
The 1-1 Chargers were pummeled by the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks 41-14 last week, so they too will be looking for a rebound of sorts versus San Francisco.
Again, we should not expect to see either team's starters go late into the game—perhaps no more than a quarter at best.
Let's evaluate some matchups to pay attention to this Sunday.
49ers Run Defense vs. RB Ryan Mathews and Co.
San Francisco's run defense has not exactly been stout against opponents thus far during the preseason. They allowed 237 rushing yards against Baltimore before shoring things up a bit against Denver, allowing 87.
Granted, a large number of the 49ers' starters saw little to no playing time in each of these two preseason games, but we should expect Vic Fangio's defense to try to clamp down a little harder on the rushing attack from San Diego.
Chargers running back Ryan Mathews missed the game versus Seattle after averaging 3.8 yards per carry during the team's preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 7.
San Francisco's first-team unit will have to do this without All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman—who continues to recover from injury—and perhaps with a second-team D-line comprised of guys like Tank Carradine, Mike Purcell and Quinton Dial.
Stopping the run has been paramount to the 49ers' fortunes in recent years. Getting this unit back on track will again be vital in determining the success of the forthcoming season.
Carlos Hyde vs. Chargers Run Defense
On the flip side, we will want to see the 49ers rushing game again establish itself as one of the best in the league.
Like the game against Denver, No. 1 back Frank Gore will likely see only limited action. This opens up further opportunities for the rookie Carlos Hyde to potentially take the game over early on.
We saw some impressive carries from Hyde against Baltimore, but the Ohio State standout amassed a mere 11 yards on four carries—averaging 2.8 yards per carry—versus a much-improved Denver run defense.
There is no doubt that coaches and fans alike want Hyde to become a dynamic threat in short order. Going up against a San Diego defense that allowed 1,725 rushing yards last season (12th-best in the NFL) won't necessarily be an easy task, but the opportunities should be there.
Also expect San Francisco to give depth backs Jewel Hampton and Alfonso Smith some carries late in the game.
Phil Dawson vs. Levi's Stadium
Veteran kicker Phil Dawson's two field-goal misses last week are obviously a sign for concern.
Dawson completed 88.9 percent of his attempts last season, but the two gaffes in his Levi's Stadium debut are hopefully not a sign of things to come.
Said Dawson, via Mindi Bach of CSN Bay Area:
I didn’t kick them as well as I would have liked to, but I didn’t feel like I completely mishit the ball either. I kicked pretty solidly in pregame, felt like I had a good plan for what to do and the flags and the whole deal. And then I get in the game expecting everything to go right to left, aim a little right, and it went right. So you can’t aim right and have it go right. Note to self. Honestly, I don’t think I’m going to have that place figured out anytime soon. The best you can do is show up on those game days and figure out a way to get them through.
Let's hope that this is just a small misstep in Dawson's otherwise productive 49ers career. If it continues, however, the 39-year-old may be in for a long season.
49ers Quarterbacks vs. Turnovers
Blaine Gabbert, Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson each committed turnovers in Sunday's loss to the Broncos.
Both Gabbert and Bethel-Thompson threw an interception each and Johnson fumbled a snap while under center.
All of this factors into the discussion regarding which quarterback will be Colin Kaepernick's primary backup during the regular season. While Gabbert retains the edge given his contractual obligations, whoever doesn't turn the ball over has to emerge as the favorite here.
This is what head coach Jim Harbaugh has argued, via Maiocco:
In terms of a backup quarterback, it’s as simple as who doesn’t turn the ball over. They’re turning the ball over. All of them have. There’s nobody to elevate. Whoever doesn’t turn the ball over will be the backup quarterback.
In spite of Gabbert's likely No. 2 assumption, none of San Francisco's quarterbacks have exactly risen to the challenge of being the primary backup just yet.
We'll see if this area improves against San Diego.
49ers' X-Factor of the Week: CB Kenneth Acker
Given his stellar play over two games, this moniker could easily be given to second-year pro defensive tackle Quinton Dial, who is earning consideration for the starting job, per Eric Branch of SF Gate.
But perhaps the biggest surprise—and likely the only positive—from San Francisco's most recent loss is rookie sixth-round pick Kenneth Acker.
During a five-snap span in the third quarter, Acker deflected a pass in the end zone, drew an offensive pass interference penalty and had a would-be interception (negated by an offsides call to fellow rookie Aaron Lynch).
Acker still remains a long shot to make the final 53-man roster.
He has some stiff competition. The 6'0" corner out of Southern Methodist is going up against veterans like Chris Cook, Perrish Cox and Darryl Morris, along with fellow rookies Jimmie Ward and Dontae Johnson on the 49ers depth chart.
Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver figure to be the starters for San Francisco during the regular season.
But Acker's stellar play against Denver certainly drew plenty of attention, and he has been a standout in practice over the past week, per Maiocco.
Acker still has plenty of hurdles to overcome if he expects to make the roster, but the fact that he has something to fight for is enough to warrant our attention this weekend.