Five 49ers to watch as team looks to bounce back vs. Bengals in Week 8

Five 49ers to watch as team looks to bounce back vs. Bengals in Week 8 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SANTA CLARA — The No. 1 player to watch for the 49ers in their Week 8 game against the Cincinnati Bengals is the quarterback.

There. That was simple.

Unfortunately, there is just enough uncertainty that we will not project whether it will be Brock Purdy, returning from a concussion and two consecutive losses, or Sam Darnold making his first start with his new team.

Purdy appears to be trending in a positive direction as he and the team navigate the NFL's return-to-play protocol. But we are not going to project his status for Sunday’s game at this stage in the week.

So, we’ve decided to focus on other positions as the 49ers face a big game against the Bengals (3-3) before taking off to enjoy their bye week.

Here’s a look at the 49ers’ top five non-quarterbacks to watch:

5. CB Charvarius Ward

Charvarius Ward already had one interception on Monday night. And it looked as if he would land another just before the end of the first half.

Instead, Minnesota Vikings rookie receiver Jordan Addison out-wrestled Ward for the ball, stayed on his feet and finished off the pivotal 60-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

That play is one of the few blemishes on Ward this season. But the challenge gets a lot more difficult on Sunday when Ja’Marr Chase comes to Levi’s Stadium.

“He can do everything,” Ward said of Chase. “He can line up in the slot, line up outside, quick game. [When the] ball is in the air, he’s pretty good. Route running, he’s pretty good. When the ball’s in his hands, he turns into a running back.

“He’s a true No. 1 receiver. I have a lot of respect for him.”

Chase is far-and-away the Bengals’ top offensive threat. He has 50 receptions for 556 yards and three touchdowns in six games.

Ward and the rest of the 49ers’ defensive backfield will be tested often, as Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow can be expected to target Chase at least a dozen times.

4. DT Arik Armstead

Before the 49ers made huge financial commitments to Javon Hargrave and Nick Bosa, the team signed defensive tackle Arik Armstead to a lucrative contract in 2020.

Armstead was coming off a 10-sack season and played a huge role on the team that advanced to the Super Bowl.

Armstead is an every-down player whom the 49ers rely upon to be a stalwart in the middle of their defense.

The team’s pass rush has not been as consistent as defensive coordinator Steve Wilks would like to see, perhaps, forcing him to call for more five-man pressures to turn up the heat on opposing quarterbacks.

Armstead has been the 49ers’ third-best pass-rusher who has gotten close but has only a half-sack to show for it. And this could be a game where he breaks loose while the Bengals’ pass protection focuses on Bosa and Hargrave.

3. RB Christian McCaffrey

OK, we can put to rest any thoughts about the 49ers deploying a running back rotation or Christian McCaffrey sharing the load with Elijah Mitchell or Jordan Mason.

If that was ever going to happen, it would have been Monday night when McCaffrey was questionable with an oblique strain.

McCaffrey played every snap. He had 18 touches and accounted for 96 yards from scrimmage with touchdowns rushing and receiving.

McCaffrey has been a touchdown machine. If he gets into the end zone on Sunday, he’ll match Baltimore’s Lenny Moore with at least one touchdown in 17 consecutive games to tie the NFL record.

“He's unbelievable at it,” Shanahan said of McCaffrey’s ability to cross the goal line. “I think he's done it since I heard about it growing up in Denver, to college, to whatever team he's on. He knows how to get into the end zone.”

2. DE Nick Bosa

Bosa and Burrow kept in touch during training camp when both players were in line for record-breaking contract extensions.

Burrow became the NFL’s highest-paid player with a five-year contract extension that averages $55 million per season. The 49ers made Bosa the highest-paid non-quarterback with a five-year extension that pays him $34 million annually.

Both players are keys to their respective teams, but neither has gotten off to the start they had envisioned.

Bosa admits his 44-day contract holdout slowed him down at the beginning of the season. Burrow experienced a setback with a calf injury early in training camp.

Bosa has 2.5 sacks through seven games. He is far behind his pace of a year ago, when he registered 18.5 sacks in 16 games.

He might need to get a few hits on his old college friend, Burrow, in order to slow down the Bengals’ passing game.

“If you just stay the course, [the sacks] eventually come if you put yourself in the right positions,” Bosa said. “It’s a really long year, so hopefully in the biggest moments, that’s when they’ll come.”

1. K Jake Moody

When Jake Moody pushed his first-half field-goal attempt wide right on Monday night, it did not take a stretch of the imagination to see where this thing was going.

The rookie entered the NFL with high expectations. The 49ers decided to move on from veteran Robbie Gould, who remains unsigned. And they selected Moody with the No. 99 overall draft pick to take his place.

Things started out just fine with Moody connecting on his first nine field-goal attempts.

Then, disaster hit when he missed a 41-yard field goal in the closing seconds at Cleveland in Week 6.

He missed his next try against Minnesota, and there had to be obvious concern inside the 49ers organization.

But Moody ended on a high note with a 55-yard field goal. Earlier this season, he hit a 57-yarder. On the season, Moody is 11 of 14 on field goals and 24 for 24 on extra points.

This game is big for Moody. He’ll be kicking at Levi’s Stadium, where he has yet to miss. The last thing he needs to hear are groans from the home fans.

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