With the San Francisco 49ers (4-2) on a three-game winning streak they will need to ride that momentum in their second consecutive primetime matchup, as they lock horns with the AFC Champion Denver Broncos (4-1). A team that loves to gamble with the big play as Broncos QB Peyton Manning has the green light to take chances deep, it will be up to the 49ers defense to keep everything in front of them.
A task easier said than done as Manning has a plethora of weapons at his disposal including touchdown leader TE Julius Thomas (9), this will undoubtedly be the toughest matchup for the 49ers defense this season. Thomas who happens to be Manning’s favorite target in red zone opportunities as seven of his nine touchdowns came inside the 20-yard line, will need to be contained early.
#Broncos Julius Thomas has ignited their offense by scoring team’s first TDs in 4 of 5 games this year while 7 of 9 TDs came in red-zone!
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) October 14, 2014
In fact, in four games this season it was Thomas who scored the team’s first touchdown to jump start the offense. So with Thomas likely being an early first-half target, how can the 49ers contain the big-bodied tight-end? Hard to say considering 49ers ILB Patrick Willis left the Rams game due to a turf toe injury while walking away in a boot, it may come down to the next-man up and that is rookie third-round pick ILB Chris Borland.
Borland who currently leads the team in special-teams tackles may have the dual task of also relishing the “Mike role.” A position that requires the linebacker to cover the tight-end on the strong-side, Borland is smart enough to take on that responsibility. Borland who labeled himself a “student of the game” just days after being selected, will likely make his first career NFL start and showcase what he has learned thus far during his rookie campaign.
However, Borland will not be the only one responsible for the Pro Bowl tight-end as FS Eric Reid and SS Antoine Bethea will need to provide help over the top. Two players that are building a strong rapport with each other, it has been the play of Bethea that has been a pleasant surprise in pass coverage evident by ranking second on the team in that category with a 5.0 grade according to Pro Football Focus.
With the 49ers preparing for another high-octane offense in the Denver Broncos, it will be Borland who will need to showcase his pass-coverage skills as Manning will likely try and pick on the rookie on those underneath routes. A smart, intelligent, and savvy football player don’t be surprised if he makes some rookie mistakes as I predict Thomas to have a solid fantasy football day with a stat line similar to seven catches for 75 yards and one touchdown.