The 49ers need a win against the Colts. Falling to 2-4 and losing after the bye against a 2-4 Indianapolis club would send San Francisco down a 2021 path that only ends in disaster.
A strong team-wide is vital for the 49ers, who have myriad issues to iron out to get back to the playoff-caliber club they expected to be going into the year, big games from these six players are especially important:
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The No. 1 key for the 49ers’ bouncing back after the bye is quarterback play. Their offense with Garoppolo under center in Week 2 through the first half of Week 4 averaged just 4.8 yards per play. That can’t continue after the bye. Indianapolis has the 29th-ranked pass defense by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, and Garoppolo has to take advantage in his first game back from a calf injury.
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San Francisco re-signed Armstead in hopes he’d be an impact playmaker on the defensive line. He’s generated 18 pressures through five weeks per Pro Football Focus, but he has just one sack to show for it. Whether Armstead starts putting up sacks is less important than his consistent pressure from the interior. Colts quarterback Carson Wentz is liable to turn the ball over, and Armstead collapsing the pocket from the inside is when the 49ers’ defense is at its best and affecting opposing quarterbacks.
RB Elijah Mitchell
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It’s clear Mitchell is the 49ers’ best running back. The rookie sixth-round pick returned from a shoulder injury in Week 5 and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. The problem is he earned only nine attempts. Mitchell has 189 yards and a touchdown on 45 carries in three games this season, and his speed getting to the edge is unique to San Francisco’s roster. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start hitting some home runs in the run game the more he plays in this offense.
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Speaking of Wentz’s penchant for giveaways, the onus is on the 49ers’ secondary to come up with some plays. Wentz will throw up some interceptable balls. This is a perfect opportunity for Ward to notch his first interceptions since 2016. A great game from the 49ers’ veteran safety likely begets a great game for the entire defense.
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At some point Aiyuk has to get more involved in San Francisco’s passing game. His 15 targets in five games simply aren’t enough for a playmaker as explosive as he is. The 49ers need players who can create chunk plays while tight end George Kittle is sidelined, and Aiyuk is the perfect player to fill that role. Again, the Colts pass defense is not good and Aiyuk should have plenty of opportunities to get the ball in space where he can turn short throws into long pickups in a hurry.
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The Colts pass rush off the edges doesn’t offer a ton for their defense. McGlinchey needs to ensure it stays that way. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is the team leader in pressures, and their two top defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Al-Quadin Muhammad have accounted for just 5.0 sacks. If McGlinchey can put together a clean sheet as a pass blocker it’ll allow Garoppolo to take advantage of a shaky Colts secondary. If he also churns out a good game on the ground the 49ers offense could have a big night all around.