49ers Week 7 primer: Can a banged up defense keep up with Peyton Manning?

You get the sense that at some point, all of the injuries and missing pieces the San Francisco 49ers are currently dealing with on defense will catch up to them.

As if being without NaVorro Bowman, Tramaine Brock, Glenn Dorsey, and Aldon Smith wasn’t enough, now Patrick Willis and Jimmie Ward will be added to the list of players the team will most likely be missing when the Niners travel to Denver to take on the Broncos. Neither injury appears to be long-term, but it’s enough to put serious doubt into whether or not Vic Fangio’s unit can continue its Houdini act against Peyton Manning and company.

Recent History

You’d have to go back four years to find the last time the 49ers and Broncos hooked up, as the two franchises met at Wembley Stadium in Week 8 of 2010. Both teams were in the midst of forgettable seasons, and came into the game with only three wins combined.

The Niners turned their quarterbacking duties over to Troy Smith, and his efficient game helped his team score 21 points in the fourth quarter to sneak out with a 24-16 win. Smith would complete 12 of 19 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. His performance was in no doubt aided by Frank Gore‘s 118 yards on the ground.

Kyle Orton threw for 370 yards for Denver (169 of which went to Brandon Lloyd), but was sacked four times by the San Francisco defense.

The 49ers would win three of their next four games, but still couldn’t get past six victories for the year. Denver would finish 4-12 which was their lowest win total since 1982.

Players to watch

The 49ers have played games without Willis or Bowman in the lineup, but never with both of them out at the same time. While Michael Wilhoite has played well with one of the All-Pro’s next to him, he’s never had to carry the load on his own. He’ll have to play the game of his life against a high powered Broncos offense. Rookie Chris Borland will also get a trial by fire, as he’ll be making his first career start opposite Wilhoite.

With Willis and (most likely) Ward out, look fore Denver’s dominant tight end to make an impact on the game. Julius Thomas has been a force all season, and already has nine touchdowns through five games. He’ll be a redzone target again for Manning this week, as the 49ers may have a hard time matching up with him.

Game-changing factor

It’s hard enough to stop Manning with a healthy defense, but it’s going to be even more difficult with a skeleton crew. Manning, who is two touchdown passes away from tying Brett Favre for the all-time record, will get to face a 49ers’ defense that isn’t close to 100 percent. The game could turn into a track meet, which favors the Broncos.

Stats to know

The Broncos are starting to hit their stride offensively, and have scored 72 points over their last two games. The 49ers’ offense has yet to score more than 26 points in a game (they were aided by defensive scores in Week s 1 and 6), and has only managed 13 touchdowns all season. To put that into perspective, that’s the same amount of offensive touchdowns as the 1-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Colin Kaepernick played his best game of the season in Week 6, as he threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns. The 49ers will need him to build off of that performance if they are going to stay with Denver on the scoreboard. After scoring 31 or more points eight times in 2013, San Francisco has only done it once this season. They’ll have to add another tally in that department if they’re going to get a win here. 

Bottom line

It’s not smart to sell the 49ers short, especially since their defense has still played so well despite its issues. If the offense is indeed about to click, they have as good a chance as any to come out on top in this one. Nothing has come easy though so far this season, and it looks as if Denver is just a better team right now (especially at home). The 49ers will go into their much-needed bye at 4-3 and in desperate need of their reinforcements to return.

Photo: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez


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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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