Sunday night features two teams looking to get their seasons back on track as the San Francisco 49ers host the Indianapolis Colts in primetime. The Colts enter the contest looking to build off their Week 6 outing, where the team notched its second win of the season, in part thanks to a dominate outing by the offense. Meanwhile, San Francisco should not only be rested coming off of their Bye, but also will see the return of several players making their way back to the field from injury.
In advance of Sunday's tilt, Colts.com writer JJ Stankevitz joins to break down several storylines, matchups to watch and areas of concern for both clubs in Week 7. Without further ado, here are this week's Four Downs.
1st Down: Key Stat Worth Noting Heading into Week 7
@KeianaMartinTV: Red Zone Efficiency and Third Down Conversions
I'll point out a positive and a negative. A positive – while the 49ers last three games might tell a different story, San Francisco has managed to be quite efficient when in the red zone – actually, preforming better than almost the entire league. When in the red zone, the 49ers are scoring on just under 91 percent of their drives, the second-best mark behind only the New Orleans Saints (92.86 percent). And those scores aren't just field goals, the 49ers are actually crossing the goal line.
Now on the contrary, the team has struggled to make it into the red zone as their third down conversions have been an area of much needed improvement. Through five games, the unit has converted on just 35 percent of their third downs, ranking 25th in the league. Sustaining drives has been a point of emphasis for the offense coming out of the Bye. Sunday offers the 49ers an opportunity to get back on track against Indy's 22nd-ranked third down defense who sits 31st in stopping opponents in the red zone.
@JJStankevitz: Ball Security
Carson Wentz led the NFL with 15 interceptions in 12 games last year with the Philadelphia Eagles. This year? He has one interception in six games and the lowest interception rate (0.5 percent) in the league. And only Wentz and Tom Brady have just one "turnover-worthy play" as graded by Pro Football Focus among quarterbacks who've started every one of their team's games so far.
His reunion with Frank Reich in Indianapolis is off to a strong start, with that emphasis on ball security and decision-making paying off in a big way.
And it hasn't been because Wentz has been timid. Over the last three weeks — as the ankles he sprained in Week 2 healed — Wentz has started to engineer the kind of explosive plays Reich saw him have in 2016 and 2017 with the Eagles. Wentz completed passes of 51 and 52 yards in the Colts Week 6 win over the Houston Texans, and adding in Jonathan Taylor's 83-yard run, they became only the second team in the NFL this season to have three plays of 50+ yards in a game.
So Wentz is generating explosive plays and taking care of the football. That's a winning combination — even if the Colts record is 2-4 right now.
2nd Down: Areas of Concern Heading into Sunday night.
@KeianaMartinTV: Can the 49ers Offense Finally Get into a Rhythm?
For the most part, San Francisco's defense has done its job and gave the offense plenty of opportunities to win the 49ers these last three games. Needless to say, the unit has come up short a handful of times, in particular, failing to sustain drives. "Identity" has been a word that's been thrown around the last few weeks, and the hope is that the team has a refreshed and refocused mindset coming off of the Bye. Left tackle Trent Williams said the 49ers "list of wrongs is not that long," but by the same token have been costly. San Francisco's offense currently sits in the middle of the road in a number of categories, including a 14th-ranked rushing offense that's averaging a modest 4.3 yards per carry.
The ground game has always been a staple of the 49ers offense and rediscovering its explosiveness could be key in the unit's success, especially in what's expected to be a muddy matchup on Sunday. If the 49ers can get their rushing attack back on track, San Francisco can return to helping out its defense and get back to playing complementary football.
@JJStankevitz: Colts Passing Defense
The Colts were dealt a gut-punch this week when second-year safety Julian Blackmon suffered a torn Achilles during Wednesday's practice. Blackmon was coming into his own over the last few weeks as a run defender, and his ballhawking skills are highly regarded among his teammates.
Without Blackmon, the Colts could turn to veteran Andrew Sendejo, special teams All-Pro George Odum or 2017 second round pick Josh Jones, the latter of whom was signed to the practice squad this week. But the Colts pass defense has already been an area of concern this season — only the Detroit Lions entered Week 7 allowing a higher passer rating allowed than the Colts (111.2). And the Colts are 27th in the NFL with 94 pressures generated, per PFF, so they're not getting after opposing quarterbacks enough to help out the back end of the defense, too.
The good news is the Colts have done a good job turning the ball over — they're fourth in the NFL with 12 takeaways and third with a plus-seven turnover differential — but they'll need to improve their pass defense as the season goes on, and will now have to without an ascending talent in Blackmon.
3rd Down: Biggest Storyline Heading into the Primetime Matchup
@KeianaMartinTV: Trent Williams' Availability
Trent Williams has been one of the most consistent players for the 49ers this season. He's also been recognized as the best-graded offensive lineman in the league through the first six weeks of the season, per Pro Football Focus. He's been dominant in the run game and has allowed just six total pressures as a pass-blocker, with none of them being sacks. Heading into the weekend, his availability is in question as the left tackle has missed two of the 49ers practices heading into the primetime matchup.
Williams dealt with an elbow injury back in Week 4 and is also working through an ankle injury he re-tweaked on Monday. Should Williams be unable to go, fifth-round rookie Jaylon Moore is likely the next man up San Francisco's left tackle spot, who played admirably in his place during the preseason and in spurts of the veteran's absence. While Moore's play has been encouraging, the 49ers certainly would like to have their best player on the field to help re-ignite their season.
@JJStankevitz: Jonathan Taylor's Ascension
Somewhat quietly — maybe not if you have him on your fantasy team — but Jonathan Taylor is putting together an outstanding second season in the NFL. He's third among qualified running back with an average of 6.7 yards per touch (behind Falcons Cordarrelle Patterson and Washington's J.D. McKissic) and he and Deebo Samuel are the only two players in the NFL with multiple plays of 76+ yards this season.
Taylor is sixth in total rushing yards (472) and seventh in yards per carry (5.4). His ascension to the upper echelon of NFL running backs will be a big story — especially if the weather forecast in Santa Clara holds and Sunday night is a rainy, soggy quagmire.
4th Down: Most Intriguing Matchup to Watch in Colts vs. 49ers
@KeianaMartinTV: Fred Warner vs. Jonathan Taylor
San Francisco's All-Pro linebacker was extremely complimentary of Indy's ball carrier, calling him one of the best players he's faced during his college career at BYU. As JJ just mentioned, his talent has continued to blossom in the Pros. Taylor is off to a hot start, adding four touchdowns on the ground to 210 receiving yards on 15 receptions and another score through the air. He's coming off of a season-high outing where the running back posted 145 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns in the 31-3 win over the Houston Texans.
Meanwhile, Warner and the 49ers 18th-ranked rushing defense will have their hands full against Taylor on Sunday, who obviously is eyeing an encore outing. The 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher an NFL-high 25 straight games, and aim to continue that streak on Sunday by keeping Taylor at bay.
"He looks kind of deceptive on tape, but he's got breakaway speed. He runs the ball hard. He's a really good back. So, obviously, we're going to have to bring all 11," Warner said.
@JJStankevitz: DeForest Bucker's Return to Santa Clara
I mean, it's DeForest Buckner, right? I don't know if this is a classic "revenge game" since there will always be a special place in the 2020 All-Pro's heart for the 49ers. He started his family in the Bay Area and came so, so close to the NFL's mountaintop with the 49ers. He clearly has fond memories of San Francisco and while he admitted this week is a "a little personal" he added he's not motivated to prove the 49ers wrong for trading him.
"I'm past that," Buckner said. "I shifted that perspective a little bit last year. It was early on for sure. I kind of shifted that mindset to I'm going to prove to the Indianapolis Colts why they paid me. I'm going to do everything in my power, I'm going to pour my heart and soul into this organization and show them why they made the decision to pick me."
Buckner only has two sacks but is eighth among defensive linemen with 20 pressures entering Week 7. The sacks will come for him. Will it be this week at his old stomping grounds?