Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The 49ers’ defense may get more attention at times, with their physical style of play and pro bowlers and all pros at multiple positions, but the offense has obvious star power as well in the form of Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. Just ask the Packers how good the 49ers’ offense can be. If the Colts hope to slow down that unit enough for the offense to be on the field in a position to put up points and get a lead, there will be a lot of pressure on the linebackers this week. With leading tackler LaRon Landry out, defensive leaders Cory Redding and Antoine Bethea both questionable, and Pat Angerer doubtful, the pressure on this unit gets ramped up even more. If they can counter the offensive punch the 49ers bring this week, the game will be much more manageable for the Colts’ offense.
There are three keys for the linebackers this week to contain the multi-talented Kaepernick and the rest of the aforementioned stars for the San Francisco offense.
1. Getting pressure on Kaepernick
It’s one of the oldest clichés in the defensive coaches’ book, but the most important thing to do against any quarterback is to get to them and hit them. The offensive line in San Francisco is one of the best in the league, lead by Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, and Anthony Davis. It will be a challenge getting to Kaepernick but if the defense is going to have any chance at stopping the potentially high powered offense the 49ers put on the field, they will have to find a way to put pressure on him and force him to make quick decisions. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman had a very good game last week against Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins with two sacks, but outside linebackers Robert Mathis, Eric Walden, and Bjoern Werner will be counted on the most to get pressure on Kaepernick and not force the secondary to cover receivers so long against a player like him that likes to run around outside the pocket, something that hurt them Week 1.
2. Containing Kaepernick’s running ability
In his relatively short NFL career, 18 regular season games, Kaepernick has averaged 29 rushing yards per game, but those numbers increased from 31.3 yards per game last year to 54.5 this year. The difficulty the defense as a whole had Week 1 against Terrelle Pryor showed that they have a need for improvement against mobile quarterbacks, and Kaepernick is one of the best of that type in the league. Even though he can pick apart a defense from the pocket, he is even more dangerous as a runner as he has shown numerous times in his career. If the Colts’ linebackers are going to be able to contain his running ability, they will have to do a better job of setting an edge and forcing him to go back inside where the help is. Against Pryor in Week 1, the linebackers collapsed down too much, giving him room to get around the outside where there was not much help in tackling. There is no doubt the coaching staff saw this on the film as well, so the linebackers need to carry this over into the game.
3. Not biting on the play action
Kaepernick’s running ability is well known to all teams around the league. With Frank Gore in the backfield alongside him, there is a great one-two punch for the 49ers. The two-man running game can be a dangerous weapon, especially when they fake the run and get one of the best tight ends in the league in Vernon Davis to slip behind the linebackers. Now that Landry is out and Bethea could potentially miss the game as well, the safeties will be a big weakness in the secondary. If there is any hope to contain Davis and the other receivers coming across the middle, the linebackers will have to stay honest and trust what they see instead of selling out on the run completely. The passing threat in San Francisco may be just as concerning as the running game, even without Michael Crabtree in the lineup. The linebackers will need to be in their pass coverage when they are supposed to if they are going to stop the receivers trying to sneak in behind them.
This game is a concerning one for the Colts this week. Adding in new acquisition Trent Richardson will no doubt help the offense get some balance, but the injury questions on the defensive side of the ball lead to the concerns about containing Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49ers offense. There will be plenty of demands on the linebacking core to step up and fill the gaps that these potential losses will leave.