Gary Plummer played 12 NFL seasons, including four years with the San Francisco 49ers. The former linebacker was also a member of the 49ers Super Bowl XXIX championship team, and has been the team’s radio color analyst since 1998. 49ers.com will catch up with Plummer every week this season to find out what he believes will be the keys to the 49ers upcoming game. Enjoy his most recent "Points of the Game" column in which breaks down the keys to the 49ers Week 15 matchup against the San Diego Chargers.
49ers Offense vs. Chargers Defense
This is the best defense the 49ers have played this season and they’ve faced some pretty tough defenses already. Far and away this is going to be the best one. Most 3-4 defenses start up front and San Diego is no different. They have three very good, very physical guys. Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire and Antionio Garay, they have all done well this season.
The linebackers they have are solid too and the same can be said for the secondary.
Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips already has 10 sacks this year and can’t be forgotten by the 49ers. He has 14 tackles-for-loss too. He’s a speed rusher who gives offensive tackles fits. I would highly suggest they put a tight end on Phillips’ side and chip on him before he runs a route. Same goes for running backs, they can also chip on him as they go out into their routes. Phillips is a dynamic football player. He makes things happen for them defensively, so stopping his production is the biggest key to the matchup.
49ers Defense vs. Chargers Offense
The Chargers should be much better than their 7-6 record indicates, but turnovers have hurt San Diego all season. With the 49ers defense coming off a five-turnover performance against Seattle last week, I see that being a big factor in the game, but not the biggest.
A lot of attention goes to Philip Rivers and rightfully so, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL today. But what most people don’t realize is that any Norv Turner coached team will try to run the football because it sets up the play-action pass.
Rivers might be the best deep-ball thrower in the NFL, but those deep balls aren’t nearly as effective if they’re not able to run the ball. San Diego features three running backs and they’re all different.
Mike Tolbert is a pounder. He’s a converted fullback and he runs hard between the tackles. They change up the pace with rookie Ryan Matthews and speedy change-of-pace back Darren Sproles. Matthews is a physical runner too, but has more of the slashing ability. He finishes runs, but it’s important to note that he doesn’t play much in passing downs.
If you see Matthews in the game, alert, it’s likely going to be a run.
Key to 49ers Special Teams
The 49ers know they have a challenge this week tackling Sproles on kickoffs and punts. His longest kick return this year is 39 yards and he’s averaging almost 25 yards a return on kickoff, which is good, but not great. He hasn’t had a great year, but that’s no reason to not think he can’t break a big return.
On the other side of it, they have struggled on special teams. Already this year, San Diego has had four punts blocked. That’s unbelievable. They’ve literally lost games because of their special teams. It’s shored up by acquiring players throughout the year, they’ve gotten a little better, but that could be an area of strength for the 49ers in this game.
Player to Watch
People didn’t expect him to have the best game of his career last week, but you do expect good decisions to be made by Smith. He did that time and time again last week. He’ll have to do it again this week and get the ball out quickly against a prolific pass rush.
If he does that, he won’t have to have a quarterback rating of 130.9 like he did against Seattle. He just has to be consistent and give the offense opportunities to move the football.
Coaching Point of the Game
I think it’s important for the 49ers to not try and do too much with this game being such a short turnaround from the Seahawks win. Essentially, you have to change your gameplan every week in the NFL, but I’d like to see the 49ers not change too much. They should continue to emphasize what they do well and then if an adjustment has to be made in the game, go to something you’ve done in a recent game that will be a good adjustment or countermove.
I want to see if the 49ers can handle the intensity of a team that is fighting for a playoff berth. I want to see if they can match the intensity of a team that’s won the AFC West three years in a row and comes into Thursday night with the league’s top-ranked defense and second-best offense.
As a player in the NFL, you want to challenge yourself and see if you’re up for that challenge. I think that’s the biggest point of all. This game is a measuring stick for the 49ers.
To hear more from Plummer, tune in to the 49ers pregame radio coverage on 107.7 KSAN/FM "The Bone" starting at 2:30 p.m. with kick-off beginning at 5:20 p.m.