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49ers preview: Week 2 matchup against injured Bengals

For the first time since Week 17 in 2017 against the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49ers won a game on the road. Exactly 615 days without a win on the road led to the first 1-0 start in Kyle Shanahan’s head coaching career.

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Following their Week 1 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 49ers stayed on the east coast for their matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. Coming off a loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, the Bengals return home with a roster that’s in pretty rough shape.

Instead of flying home between matchups, the 49ers practiced in Ohio, so the team has had time to adjust to the time zone.

49ers defense can smother depleted Bengals offense

The Bengals are down multiple key players on offense. With left tackle, Cordy Glenn out with a concussion, the 49ers defensive front should be able to consistently pressure Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. As we saw last week, the 49ers pass rush was able to force Bucs QB, Jameis Winston, into making multiple bad throws, resulting in three interceptions and two pick-sixes. The Bengals offensive line allowed five sacks last week to Seattle, and this week, it could be more of the same.

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Early on in the Bengals offseason program, star wide receiver A.J. Green fell victim to an ankle injury which kept him out all of training camp and into this season. Green is reportedly out of his walking boot and even running, though he will not be ready in time to face the 49ers.

With Green sidelined for another week, that leaves John Ross III and Tyler Boyd as the Bengals two starting receivers. Both are very fast and can take the top off a defense, but have also struggled with drops and have been inconsistent in their careers thus far. 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh said this about the Bengals speedy wide receivers this week:

When you talk about this system and the things they run, it is, they press you vertical, they stress you and they’re going to take their shots down the field. It’s an important game for both safeties and really our entire defense to make sure that we eliminate all those explosives.”

Arguably one of the biggest losses the Bengals offense may face would be running back Joe Mixon. One of the best back in the league, Mixon acts as a dual threat out of the Bengals backfield. Rushing for 1,168 yards in 2018, Mixon also caught 43 passes as a running back. As of Friday, Mixon is listed as “questionable’ for Sunday’s game. If Mixon is ruled out, expect veteran Giovani Bernard to get the bulk of carries on Sunday.

49ers offense needs to show up

Last week against the Bucs, the 49ers offense put up a combined 256 yards, the fifth-worst in Week 1. There’s no question that the 49ers defense carried them last Sunday, but they simply cannot rely on their defense creating 14 points every week.

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The inconsistencies begin and end at the quarterback position. Last week, Jimmy Garoppolo was 18-of-27 passing (66%) for 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception returned for a pick-six. Two touchdown passes to George Kittle were called back on penalties, so Garoppolo’s day could have been much better with three potential touchdowns instead of just the one.

If Garoppolo can continue to shake off the rust from not playing football for almost an entire season, he will be able to fully utilize an abundance of weapons. In Week 1, 17 of his 18 completed passes were under ten yards. For more success, the 49ers will need to air out the ball more, and tap the speed of Marquise Goodwin, Deebo Samuel, and Dante Pettis.

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Another key to the 49ers success on offense is their running game. In Week 1, Tevin Coleman injured his ankle on the first play of the game. Coleman played through the injury, only to exit later in the first half, and the 49ers have for now lost their starting running back for the foreseeable future.

With Coleman out, the backfield will be shared by Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, with a little bit of Jeff Wilson Jr. sprinkled in, if he is indeed called up from the practice squad. Both Breida and Mostert have proven to be above-average rushers in Kyle Shanahan’s offense and should handle the increased workload just fine.

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Last week, the 49ers rushing attack combined for 98 yards on the ground. In 32 attempts, they posted a 3.1 average, below-average for a Shanahan offense. In 2018, the 49ers averaged 4.5 yards per attempt. Of course, this sample size is just one game, but if Garoppolo remains inconsistent in the passing game, the offense will need its running game to step up.

49ers injury reports

After a strong Week 1 performance, No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa will look to build off his NFL debut. Bosa recorded his first career sack against the Bucs and, despite playing well, Bosa can still improve in Week 2 if he ends up playing.

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Saleh said about Bosa’s Week 1 performance:

Yeah, again with the rookies, that first game, there’s always going to be
something to learn from. … I anticipate Nick, he’s a football junkie, so he’s going to look hard at the tape. I’m sure his pops looks at the tape and I’m sure his brother [Los Angeles Chargers DE Joey Bosa] will look at the tape. He’s getting a lot of football knowledge and he’s getting a lot of thoughts, so I’m not really worried about him being able to evolve as a football player.”

Bosa is still working his way back from a high-ankle sprain he sustained at the beginning of training camp, which flared up a little bit last Sunday. Shanahan gave an update on Bosa after Friday’s practice.

Shanahan said:

“We went all walk-through today. So, I’ll watch individuals full-speed but I didn’t see that live, I’ll watch it on tape when we get back to the hotel and seven-on-seven was the only live period. He looked good walking through everything. So, we’ll talk to him, see how he looked in the individual and make a decision probably Sunday morning.”

Strong safety Jimmie Ward and cornerback Jason Verrett may also be healthy enough to play Sunday. Verrett was held out Week 1, as he too is recovering from a high-ankle injury. Ward underwent surgery last week for a broken finger after dealing with other injuries throughout training camp.

With strong performances from Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon last week, Verrett will likely act as a rotational piece at cornerback. Ward, who has been overtaken by newly-converted safety Tarvarius Moore, may also act as a rotational piece in the secondary.

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