49ers Week 8 primer: London calling

The San Francisco 49ers bring their four game winning streak overseas to take on the 0-7 Jacksonville Jaguars. The trip to London will count as an away game for the Niners as they look to run their record to 6-2 before getting a much needed bye in Week 9. Will the 49ers continue to roll or can the Jaguars shock America (and the United Kingdom) and pull off a major upset?

Recent history

While it’s a very small sample size, the Jaguars are one of eight current NFL teams that the 49ers are below .500 against all-time (1-2).

The teams met for the first time in 1999 in a game most 49er fans would like to forget. San Francisco jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before the Jaguars put up 41 unanswered points. Steve Young played one of the worst games in his career, going 9-26 with 96 yards and two interceptions. Jerry Rice had two catches for 17 yards. It was not a good day. The ’99 Jags would go onto the AFC Championship game while the 49ers would lose Young for good a few weeks later and finish 4-12. 

The teams would square off two more times in the 2000’s and split the games. In 2005 a good Jaguars teams barely slid by a rebuilding 49ers squad by the score of 10-9. The only touchdown of the game came on a 13 yard run by David Garrard. San Francisco could not muster much offense behind rookie Alex Smith and their leading wide receiver that day was Jason McAddley with 38 yards. There was a rookie running back by the name of Frank Gore who made some noise in this game with 79 yards rushing and 57 more through the air.

The teams last meeting was in 2009 when the 49ers would finally get in the win column 20-3. The 49er defense sacked Garrard six times and rode two Alex Smith touchdown passes to a comfortable win.

Players to watch

Colin Kaepernick had not been running much in 2013. Other than Week 2 in Seattle when he rushed for 87 yards (mostly due to running for his life), Kaepernick had not eclipsed more than 22 yards rushing in a game. In Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans, the 49ers unleashed their quarterback and went back to incorporating some read option plays. Overall, Kaepernick ran 11 times for 68 yards and scored his first rushing touchdown of the season. Did this signal a return to the read option or was it just a one time shift to mix up their approach?

“Sometimes you bring it out,” Jim Harbaugh said of the read option. “Then, we put it away. We will bring it back out. It’s such a great tool to have. It’s such a club in our bag.”

Regardless of whether or not Kaepernick keeps running, he has played well over his past two games and should continue to do so in Week 8. The second year starter is 29-of-50 for 451 yards and two passing touchdowns the last two weeks and may be able to pad his stats a bit against a bad Jaguars’ defense.

While the Jaguars don’t have much to write home about, they have actually gotten some decent production out of their wide receivers. Justin Blackmon was suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy but has come on strong since his return. He’s been targeted 38 times in three games and has 25 catches for 384 yards and a touchdown. Cecil Shorts is also having a good year on the outside with 491 yards receiving which is good for 21st in the league.

Safeties Donte Whitner and Eric Reid are both banged up so the Jaguars may take some shots down field with Blackmon and Shorts. Should Whitner and/or Reid not be able to play, C.J. Spillman and Craig Dahl would fill in. When that pairing was inserted into the lineup in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans, it resulted in a 66 yard touchdown pass to Chris Johnson.

Game changing factor

The Jaguars are bad. Really bad. Where to even start? They have only six offensive touchdowns this season (or one less than Peyton Manning threw for in Week 1 alone) and have only scored an NFL low 76 points through the first seven weeks.  Their quarterbacks, Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, have combined for three touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Jaguar runningbacks are averaging only 2.9 yards per carry (31st in the NFL) and their 63 yards a game average is last in the league.

The defense is also abysmal, giving up a league high 222 points. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 105.0 and have thrown 15 touchdown passes to only three interceptions. In addition to getting shredded through the air, the Jaguars have also given up 1073 yards on the ground and nine rushing touchdowns. No other team has even given up 900 yards rushing let alone 1000. 

Stats to know

The San Francisco defense has 11 takeaways during their four game winning streak and have turned each of those into points. They have scored seven touchdowns and four field goals, giving them 61 points off turnovers in that span. The 49ers have put up 132 points the last four weeks which means 46 percent of those have come after the defense has taken the ball away. Jacksonville is averaging two turnovers a game.

Bottom line

Given how well the 49ers have been playing and how historically bad the Jaguars have been this season, the game in London during Week 8 shouldn’t even be close. There is always the possibility that playing out of the country could cause San Francisco to be a little out of sorts or they could possibly take the Jacksonville lightly. Even if that does happen, this should be enough of a mismatch that the Niners can overcome it. Look for the 49ers to run their win streak to five games and go into their bye in great shape at 6-2.

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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