BRONCOS

The Broncos game plan for beating the 49ers in Week 3

Sep 24, 2022, 8:10 AM
Jimmy Garoppolo...
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are 1-1 after two games. Simply put, they haven’t looked good this season in either game. On the road against a bad Seattle Seahawks team, the Broncos beat themselves and lost a close one. At home against a bad Houston Texans team, the Broncos almost beat themselves and barely won.

The Broncos are facing their toughest test of the 2022 season, and they get this matchup with the rest of the league watching on Sunday Night Football. At least the game is at home, although that didn’t matter last week as the dumb penalties from Week 1 continued into Week 2. This time in Week 3, the Broncos are going up against the San Francisco 49ers.

How will the Broncos attack the 49ers on both sides of the ball? Let’s take a look.

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When the Broncos Run the Ball

I honestly don’t care who gets to run the ball, I just want a larger commitment to the ground game against the 49ers. Stop me if you’ve heard this before; Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon have the same number of carries this season. After two games, Williams and Gordon both have 22 carries. They both are over 100 yards rushing with Williams at a total of 118, and Gordon has a total of 105 yards on the ground.

That’s a good number for both backs – in a single game. The Broncos need to run the ball a lot more, and with Williams as the starter he could have 22 carries in a single game on average. Even with that larger workload, there’s still plenty of work for Gordon on the ground – if the team wants to run the ball more often. Having a larger commitment to the run would help settle things down for the offense. Not only will the offense play with more discipline behind their rushing attack, but they should also be able to get stronger as the game goes on.

The 49ers are excellent when it comes to stopping the run. In Week 1 against the Chicago Bears, the field was soaked with rain puddles and the 49ers were tested with almost 40 carries on the wet ground. Even with that heavy workload for the Bears’ running backs, they didn’t rush for over 100 yards as a team. In Week 2 against the Seahawks, the 49ers built a 20-0 lead at halftime and Seattle didn’t even run the ball 15 times in total. When they did run, Seattle could barely muster 2.5 yards per carry. As I said, the 49ers are tough against the run.

The benefits of running the ball impact both sides of the ball. The 49ers should stuff the run at times, but the Broncos must stick with the rushing attack even when it isn’t working early so it can work later in the game. The Broncos also need to keep their defense fresh, and that could happen if they run the ball effectively on Sunday night.

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When the Broncos Pass the Ball

This week, the Broncos are going to be shorthanded at the wide receiver position. The main player to watch here is Jerry Jeudy (rib/shoulder), but he’s not the only wide receiver who has an injury concern during the week of practice leading up to Sunday night. Jeudy missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but on Friday he was able to get in a limited practice. By practicing on Friday, Jeudy should be available to play on Sunday night, but his status is unknown currently.

K.J. Hamler (knee/hip) missed the game against the Texans, but he’s on track to play against the 49ers. After two days of being limited, Hamler was able to register a full practice on Friday. This is great news for the Broncos, especially if Jeudy misses the Week 3 contest. Hamler is a different receiver from Jeudy in terms of size and playing style. However, he can get open with his quickness and speed. Plus, Hamler is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. Add in his speed creating the team’s best deep threat, and you can see how important having him on the field will be on Sunday.

Tyrie Cleveland was not on the injury report on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, Cleveland was listed as limited with a hamstring injury. On Friday, Cleveland did not practice. This is a bad sign for his availability, but he is listed as questionable for the game.

It’s looking like the Broncos are going to be forced to feature Courtland Sutton more than usual. He’s already the leading receiver for the Broncos, and he’s been Russell Wilson’s favorite receiver from day one. In two games, Sutton has been targeted 18 times and has 11 catches for 194 yards. He doesn’t have a touchdown yet, but that could change with such an expected large role against the 49ers.

Sutton can’t do everything, so Wilson needs to find other receivers or tight ends to help against the 49ers. Guys like Jeudy (if he plays), Hamler, Montrell Washington, and Kendall Hinton need to step up their game on Sunday night.

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When the 49ers Run the Ball

The 49ers are like a future version of the Broncos offense – or they could be like a past version of what we’ve seen on the offensive side of the ball in Denver. During the Mike Shanahan days, any running back could have great success in the wide zone system. Now, during the Kyle Shanahan days in San Francisco, the 49ers can turn to backup after backup running back and still run the ball effectively. This is the offense the Broncos are running this year, but they aren’t as good as the 49ers at implementing wide zone concepts.

Elijah Mitchell began the 2022 season as the starter for the 49ers, but a knee injury in Week 1 has caused them to turn to veteran Jeff Wilson as their lead back. With Mitchell on Injured Reserve and expected to miss eight weeks, Wilson takes over in the backfield to showcase his talent. Wilson is a patient runner who understands how to maximize yardage on every wide zone carry he gets. I like the way he will get to the entry point of the run, and as the offensive line is flowing in front of him, Wilson quickly chooses to bend, bang, or bounce. Defenders who guess where he’s going usually guess wrong, and Wilson has the quickness and burst to gash a defense regularly.

Behind Wilson, the 49ers have more talented backs. Their 2022 third-round pick Tyrion Davis-Price is questionable with an ankle injury, but they could easily turn to undrafted free agent rookie Jordan Mason to give Wilson a breather. Even if their depth is tested further, they have a talented veteran in Marlon Mack who was just activated off the practice squad. It sounds crazy, but even if they were to go deeper then former starter Tevin Coleman was just signed to the practice squad.

No matter who is in the backfield, the 49ers have the will and skill to run with great effectiveness against the Broncos. We might see inside linebacker Josey Jewell return to the field after missing the Texans’ game. Jewell is a disciplined player, and that will help against a backfield with players who understand how to make a defender’s mistakes work against them.

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When the 49ers Pass the Ball

Jimmy Garoppolo is the best quarterback the Broncos have faced this season. I felt much better about this matchup when second-year pro Trey Lance was the projected starter. Lance was injured in Week 2, and now he’s lost for the season. The 49ers are once again turning things over to Garoppolo. It’s a double-edged sword for them to be sure, but it’s bad news for the Broncos because he’s much more experienced than Lance was. They won’t be able to pick on a young quarterback this week. They’re also facing a 49ers’ passing game with their full complement of weapons.

Superstar tight end George Kittle is going to make his 2022 season debut on Sunday night. A groin injury has caused him to miss the first two games, and even earlier this week he was limited in practice. However, on Friday Kittle practiced in full and has no injury designation. He’s going to play, and that’s terrible news for a Broncos defense that has historically struggled against tight ends. If a painfully average tight end like Colby Parkinson (Seahawks) can shred the Broncos defense, what is a superstar like Kittle going to do?

Even if Kittle is mostly used as a blocker or eased back into action as a receiver, the 49ers have plenty of other weapons to move the ball with. The most dangerous wide receiver on the team is actually a wide back; his name is Deebo Samuel. He’s a bully with the ball, and the 49ers use him as a receiver who can turn short passes or handoffs/tosses into long gains. His strength and determination are tough to match, and the Broncos defense is going to have their hands full with a player who never backs down from a challenge.

If Kittle and Samuel are somehow contained, the Broncos defense needs to worry about Brandon Aiyuk. A former first-round pick (2020), Aiyuk has just 11 targets in two games but I’m throwing out the season opener when breaking down film on him. First, the weather conditions were horrible. Second, Lance didn’t know how to find him. You saw in Week 2 against the Seahawks when Garoppolo took over just how much he likes throwing to Aiyuk with eight of his 11 targets this year coming in that game. Not only is Aiyuk a dangerous route runner, he’s also a player Garoppolo trusts when throwing deep. Garoppolo is not a great deep-ball passer, but when he does launch one downfield it’s usually in Aiyuk’s direction.

It could be a big night for the 49ers passing attack. The Broncos need to make the 49ers a one-dimensional team by stuffing the run. If they do that, they’ll dare Garoppolo to beat them through the air. Unfortunately for the Broncos, that’s a distinct possibility.

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The Broncos game plan for beating the 49ers in Week 3