COMMENTARY | After coming off a 32-30 win over the Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers have improved to 4-2 on the season. Next up, the 49ers will travel east to take on the Tennessee Titans (3-3).
Despite sporting just a .500 record, the Titans are no pushover. With their much-improved defense, Tennessee is capable of hanging with any opponent. Through six games, the Titans are ranked in the top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed and sacks. It is safe to say the 49ers will need to fight tooth-and-nail if they want to lock up a Week 7 win.
Below are five things to watch for when the two teams take the field on Sunday afternoon:
Delanie Walker Going Up Against His Former Team
Longtime 49er Delanie Walker will face off against his old team for the first time in his career. Playing in the shadow of Vernon Davis for seven years, Walker is now a focal point of Tennessee's offense after signing a four-year deal in the offseason. In six games, Walker has 20 receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns. His best statistical season took place last season, where he secured 21 receptions for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
Although the first-year Titan is still friends with some of his former teammates, there's no question that he'll want to put on a show. Patrick Willis and Co. better be ready for Walker's best effort.
Containing Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson has the burst to break open any game. He's an electrifying player, but the former 2000-yard rusher has struggled to produce. Johnson is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry to go along with one touchdown.
The 49ers' run defense needs to be disciplined against him. Right now, San Francisco is ranked 20th in rushing yards allowed, far below their 2012 standing (fourth). Injuries to starting nose tackle Ian Williams and backup Glenn Dorsey did not help matters, but as a whole, Vic Fangio's lockdown run defense appears to have lost some of its elite form from a year ago.
Four years into his NFL career, Alterraun Verner is beginning to distinguish himself as a shutdown cornerback. After ranking 26th in pass defense last year, Verner has helped boost the Titans to 10th this year. Not only can the young corner lock down opposing receivers, but he also has a nose for the ball, snatching four interceptions while recovering two fumbles.
Verner may limit Boldin in terms of the number of receptions that he will make. However, if Boldin can make that one catch to secure a first down to keep a drive going, or get his offense in a manageable down-and-distance situation, he would be fulfilling his role.
Will Vernon Davis Post Another Huge Stat Line?
Davis is proving that he is capable of being the team's top receiving option. Having scored a touchdown in four of the fives games that he was active, the Titans will make him a top priority to defend. While the Titans feature a top-flight secondary, they have allowed opposing tight ends to score four touchdown receptions against them.
It will be a challenge for Davis to produce another 100-yard outing, especially after his performance against Arizona. But given what he has accomplished thus far combined with his role in the passing attack, don't be surprised if he reaches the end zone for a third consecutive contest.
Can the 49ers' Offensive Line Stave off the Titans' Defensive Line?
The Titans don't have any flashy names on their front-four. But as a collective group, they work well together and each member on the defensive line can generate pressure on opposing signal-callers. In turn, it will be vital for the 49ers' offensive line to win their one-on-one blocking assignments.
This matchup features a battle of each team's strengths. The unit that wins in the trenches will have a big advantage in claiming victory for their respective organization.
Travis Chan is a native of the Bay Area and a lifelong fan of the San Francisco 49ers.
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- Delanie Walker
- Alterraun Verner
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- Vernon Davis