San Francisco 49ers vs Denver Broncos: 49ers' Preseason Week 2 Game Preview
The biggest story, of course, will be the football debut of Levi's Stadium—the 49ers' new home located in Santa Clara, Calif. roughly 45 minutes south of their long-time home Candlestick Park.
Levi's Stadium will certainly be one of the prominent topics, as viewers from around the country will catch their first glimpses of this state-of-the-art stadium in action. Indeed, it will be hard for spectators to focus entirely on the on-the-field action as they check out what this new venue has to offer.
But for the 49ers, it will be business as usual—the remaining preparations that will lead into the regular season with nothing short of a sixth Super Bowl title in view.
San Francisco is 0-1 in the preseason after dropping their first bout to the Baltimore Ravens 23-3 on August 7. Following the game, both teams entered a three-day joint practice before the 49ers headed back west to prepare for the upcoming matchup against Denver.
The 49ers had some questions to answer following their loss in the preseason opener. The situation along the offensive line bore some weight as did a number of injuries.
Hopefully the 10 days of rest in between games provides some necessary relief.
While it is still the preseason—and preseason records mean essentially nothing—San Francisco's ongoing evaluation of its roster is a necessary and beneficial step in ensuring how this team formulates itself during the upcoming season.
Let's take a peek into what we can look for as San Francisco hosts Denver in this second week of the preseason.
49ers' Preseason Week 1 Recap
It is hard to look too far into San Francisco's 23-3 loss against Baltimore on August 7. As with many teams during this phase, the preseason is merely a testing ground for some of the depth and roster-bubble players looking for their chance to shine.
Sure, it gives bona fide starters a chance to freshen up against NFL competition for a few drives at most, but there really isn't much more to it than that.
But the 49ers have plenty of points to evaluate before Week 1 of the regular season. Some of those points surfaced against Baltimore.
Two areas drew much of the concern—the right side of the offensive line and the 49ers' once-vaunted defense.
Starting with the O-line, we can still draw up worry surrounding the ongoing holdout with guard Alex Boone. Joe Looney started in his place and did a decent job. Hoopers Judge of Niners Nation does a great job of breaking down Looney's game film.
Around him, however, tackle Jonathan Martin and center Daniel Kilgore did not have particularly inspiring games. This forced San Francisco to abandon many attacks to the right side of the line, which gave Baltimore the chance to focus on the 49ers' attack from the left.
While Looney performed well enough, the need to get Boone back might be more apparent now than before.
During second #49ers drive, Ravens too quick for the 49ers o-line on runs to the right.— Kevin Lynch (@klynch49) August 8, 2014
The defensive line also raised some significant questions.
As stated by Christian Gin of Examiner.com, the majority of San Francisco's second-team D-line struggled against Baltimore's defensive front. Nose tackle Quinton Dial was the lone exception.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway was the NFL debut of Tank Carradine at defensive end. He looked good at times and figures to be an integral part of the D-line behind Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
Fortunately, the 49ers' secondary played exceptionally well per Gin, and they will have to again against the pass-happy offense employed by the Denver Broncos. That should be a matchup worth watching.
Back on offense, Carlos Hyde shined in his NFL debut before being handing the duties over to likely practice-squad addition Jewel Hampton. He posted five carries for 39 yards per Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News and also contributed nicely in pass-blocking schemes.
Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert was pretty bad. There isn't any way to get around that, but it does beg the question whether or not the 49ers will entertain the possibility of Josh Johnson getting the nod as San Francisco's No. 2 quarterback.
Special teams also put in a good effort, and it will be interesting to see how the 49ers try to replicate this against Denver.
News and Notes
The 49ers have endured a slew of injuries thus far into the preseason.
While most of these—such as the injury they kept No. 1 wideout Michael Crabtree off the field against Baltimore—are not particularly serious, a few raise some eyebrows.
Starting cornerback Tramaine Brock is among the latest hobbled by injury, as reported by Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
Vic Fangio said Tramaine Brock won't play Sunday as he rehabs an ankle injury. The hope is that he comes back next week.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) August 13, 2014
This keeps the 49ers' No. 1 corner out of the action against the Broncos, which, in turn, puts more pressure on the secondary to keep up with Denver's pass attack. Of course it does open up opportunities for bubble players like Perrish Cox, Darryl Morris and Kenneth Acker to get some more looks.
The 49ers have activated defensive tackle Ian Williams from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list per Larry Hartstein of CBS Sports, so at least San Francisco's D-line depth will be a bit stronger moving forward.
Helping along the D-line will be Justin Smith and Ray McDonald—both of whom have resumed practice this week per CSN Bay Area.
Alex Boone's Holdout
The ongoing stalemate between Alex Boone and the 49ers' front office continues into the week before San Francisco's second preseason game.
Both sides remain far apart in the discussion over a new contract for the vastly underpaid guard. Boone won't report until a new deal is on the table, and the 49ers have a precedent where they won't offer one until a player is in camp.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area went into detail describing the latest out of this situation:
Boone’s camp is not holding out for some crazy salary, according to sources. But, obviously, they’re seeking a significant bump from his current salary that ranks 43rd in the NFL among guards. Meanwhile, 49ers president and chief negotiator Paraag Marathe does not want to set a precedent of players holding out to get what they want. The 49ers’ stance has always been that they’ll only talk about a new contract once the player reports.
Who knows exactly how this winds up playing out, but the 49ers clearly need Boone back on the field given some of the problems experienced along the O-line against Baltimore. Teams have inquired about a trade for Boone per Maiocco, but such a deal seems unlikely.
Anyone who watched quarterback Blaine Gabbert against the Ravens saw his struggles.
Josh Johnson, on the other hand, was far more impressive in this brief sample size.
This does bring up an argument whether or not Johnson should get the nod as San Francisco's No. 2 guy under center instead of Gabbert.
But Maiocco points out that this is something easier speculated as opposed to being fact:
He remains the clear favorite for the backup job. In fact, something fairly dramatic would have to occur for him not to break camp as the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback. The 49ers made quite an investment to acquire Gabbert. Yes, they gave up a sixth-round draft pick. That’s not a big deal. But the 49ers also picked up the final year of Gabbert’s rookie contract, which includes a fully guaranteed salary of more than $2 million.
Essentially, Gabbert's job is safe based on the money owed to him alone. Whether or not the 49ers elect to keep three quarterbacks on the roster remains to be determined.
Demarcus Dobbs, CB—Questionable
Ray McDonald, DE—Probable
Justin Smith, DE—Probable
Michael Crabtree, WR—Probable
Lawrence Okoye, DL—Questionable
LaMichael James, RB—Questionable
Marcus Lattimore, RB—NFI
Trey Millard, FB—NFI
Keith Reaser, CB—NFI
All injury statuses courtesy of CBS Sports.
The 49ers defensive front will get some reinforcements now that Ray McDonald and Justin Smith have returned to practice, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. This unquestionably helps this thin unit within San Francisco's defense, but it is hard to determine whether or not they will play against Denver.
This author's guess would be that they see some action at the start of the game before giving way to some of the 49ers' depth players. This should help in providing some rest to a unit that was overworked on August 7.
Lawrence Okoye's possible absence may hurt a bit in terms of depth, but Maiocco reports that X-rays on his injured ankle were negative.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree's situation is worth noting. He has returned to practice, per The Contra Costa Times (h/t R.J. White of CBS Sports), but is also working through the hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined thus far.
The 49ers will likely not take a chance on further injury when it comes to Crabtree. They want him at 100 percent by Week 1, so there is no need to rush things.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
The August 17 matchup between the 49ers and Broncos will carry far more weight in regard to the game's significance as opposed to what actually may transpire on the field.
There is the debut of Levi's Stadium for starters. There will be those who cite "what could have been" had the 49ers bested the Seahawks last year.
But those storylines are moot when it comes to looking at what should garner our attention during Week 2 of the preseason. Here are some things worthy of our eyes.
49ers Secondary vs. Peyton Manning & Co.
Okay, so we probably won't see a lot of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on Sunday—perhaps a drive or two before he gives way to backups Brock Osweiler and Zac Dysert. But even Manning recognizes the challenge as stated via Taylor Price of 49ers.com: "It’s not like a huge preparation when you’re playing against these guys, but it’s a good test when you play the 49ers. It’s a physical game. It’s a team that we’ll play again in the regular season, a 3-4 defense, and so [there are] lots of things we can get out of this."
Whoever it may be under center, the 49ers' secondary will be in for a test.
We know how much changed in the defensive backfield during the offseason. We also know that cornerback Tramaine Brock will be out. Additionally, Chris Culliver and Chris Cook have minor knee issues per Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News.
#49ers Tramaine Brock's ankle sprain to keep him out Sunday vs Broncos & won't practice until next week. Cook, Cully have minor knee issues— Cam Inman (@CamInman) August 13, 2014
This opens the door for some fringe players like Perrish Cox, Darryl Morris and Kenneth Acker to get some playing time. Keen observations will emanate from rookie first-round pick Jimmie Ward as well.
49ers Offensive Line vs. Broncos Defense
Denver's defense improved over the offseason, which lends itself to being a worthy challenge against San Francisco's front five.
The 49ers' O-line struggled against Baltimore and won't want to repeat the same mistakes it made just over a week ago.
This means players like Jonathan Martin and Daniel Kilgore will have to perform better. Further fueling the question is the health of players like Martin, Anthony Davis and Adam Snyder—all of whom were absent from practice at portions this week per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
No Jonathan Martin or Adam Snyder (or Anthony Davis) at today's #49ers practice. Will be interesting to see who lines up at RT.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) August 13, 2014
The right side of the line was a liability against Baltimore, so it is obviously a portion the 49ers want to shore up before squaring off against the Broncos.
Blaine Gabbert vs. Himself
There isn't much need to further bash on quarterback Blaine Gabbert any longer, but Gabbert simply needs to be better against Denver on Sunday.
As stated by Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area earlier, Gabbert is still in a strong position to retain the No. 2 quarterback job. While his first game in a 49ers uniform was anything but inspiring, Gabbert has shown some good moments in camp.
Like San Francisco's first game against Baltimore, we should not expect anything more than a couple of drives out of Colin Kaepernick. This means a lot of Gabbert and, potentially, Josh Johnson.
If Gabbert can show decent improvement over his most recent lackluster performance, it will be all for the better. But shaky performances can get into a quarterback's head, so it will be interesting to watch just how he delivers in his second test.
49ers' X-Factor of the Week: Carlos Hyde
Without spending half a slide talking about the accolades and potential impact of rookie running back Carlos Hyde, we should expect another solid outing by this promising young back against Denver.
We all know how much the 49ers love to run the football. With No. 1 back Frank Gore resting, a heavy workload should be placed on Hyde against Denver's starting defense early on.
Keep in mind that the Broncos allowed 1,626 rushing yards last season—good for seventh in the NFL—and they have improved their 14th-ranked defense overall during the offseason.
But we have already seen that Hyde can be a workhorse, emanating from his strong performance against the Ravens on August 7.
Granted, the 49ers are pretty thin at the running back position, so we shouldn't expect Hyde to "take over the game" for any long duration.
But it would be worth predicting that his time on the field will provide some bona fide impacts.
He is a special back. There isn't much doubt to that.
As stated previously, we cannot take too much away from preseason games. First-team units can look impressive while second- and third-team units can throw away the game.
The reverse can also happen.
But let us try to break down the predictions for the fun of it.
The 49ers will continue to protect some of their most valuable assets during the game. Guys like Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore will see little playing time, perhaps none at all in Gore's case. Other first teamers will get limited reps, giving way to some of the depth and fringe players on San Francisco's roster.
The Broncos should be expected to follow similar standards. An injury to Peyton Manning could prove disastrous in the most obvious of scenarios.
San Francisco will again look to run the ball early on, giving Carlos Hyde the bulk of work in the first half. Just before halftime, we should expect to see backs like Jewel Hampton take over. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman may experiment with some elaborate passes from time to time, but this will still be a run-first team.
Up front, the offensive line will remain a question mark. Ongoing evaluations of players like Jonathan Martin, Joe Looney and Daniel Kilgore—among further backups—should be closely monitored by the 49ers' coaching staff. Should they show some improvement, the situation will be that much better.
San Francisco's secondary under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell will have to overcome the injury sustained to Tramaine Brock and potentially sidelining injuries to Chris Culliver and Chris Cook. But the depth players have something to prove, so perhaps they step up.
The defensive line gets some reinforcements with Ian Williams, Ray McDonald and Justin Smith, so perhaps they won't be as gassed as they were on August 7. Quinton Dial's noteworthy performance against the Ravens could again be a focal point in determining the 49ers' depth chart up front.
The 49ers struggled against the run versus Baltimore, so look for Fangio and Co. to try and solve that issue. Whether or not the Broncos can get their own ground game going will hinge on just how effective this element is.
Final preseason scores mean almost nothing, but if the 49ers want to win, they will need to generate more push along their O-line. This will help someone like quarterback Blaine Gabbert, especially if he receives the bulk of work for much of the game.
San Francisco's defense will need to stop the run as well—something they were once renowned for but struggled with against the Ravens.
At the end of the day however, it is hard to envision any scenario where the 49ers lose their first NFL game at Levi's Stadium. It will be a home-field advantage of epic proportions, second only to the eventual regular-season debut in Week 2.
There may be some ugly moments, but the 49ers figure out how to hash this one out.
Prediction: 49ers: 24, Broncos 17
All statistics and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers news, insight and analysis.
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