The last time the San Francisco 49ers played on the road against the Denver Broncos was in 2014. Colin Kaepernick was San Francisco's QB1, Frank Gore was the team's leading rusher and Chris Borland led the 49ers defense in tackles. San Francisco matched up against a Broncos team headlined by quarterback Peyton Manning at Sports Authority Field in primetime for "Sunday Night Football."
Fast forward to 2022, and even in just one offseason, the Broncos have seen some dramatic changes to their team. Alongside adding Nathaniel Hackett as their new head coach, Denver has brought on eight rookie players and nine new veterans to their 53-man roster. Some are familiar faces to the 49ers.
Here's a list of Broncos players with connections to San Francisco:
The 49ers defense typically prepares to see Wilson twice a year. This season, their only battle with the QB is in Week 3. San Francisco has a long history with the former Seattle Seahawks signal caller, Wilson's record is 16-4 against the 49ers in his career.
"He still is great at – probably the best at – being able to extend plays," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. "Guys are able to find that soft spot in the zone and he's able to hit defenses who are not quite on it and create explosive plays. So for us, that's one thing we've been harping on is just Russell is still Russell. He can make you pay if you're not on it... We have to be on top of our game defensively or he'll make you pay."
This time around, Wilson will be connecting with a new set of receivers. In Denver's Week 2 game against the Houston Texans, Wilson threw for 219 yards, one touchdown, one interception and earned a less-than-average 66.4 QB rating. Wilson's performance against Houston's defense wavered after wide receiver Jerry Jeudy suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter of the game. Jeudy is questionable to play on Sunday night with his injury being "day-to-day," making wide receiver Courtland Sutton a most-likely top-target for Wilson. Sutton led his team in receptions last week, notching seven receptions for 122 yards.
San Francisco's secondary has a chance to capitalize in the Week 3 matchup due to Wilson's limited targets. CB Charvarius Ward recorded another impressive performance against the Seahawks last week, only allowing 27 total yards from his targets and notching his first interception as a Niner. San Francisco's secondary didn't allow a single touchdown from Seattle's offense and the 49ers enter Sunday night's game with a passing defense that is ranked first in the NFL.
The 49ers rush defense also finished their contest against Seattle with a stellar performance, only allowing 2.6 yards per carry. The longest run San Francisco allowed in last week's game was just eight yards from running back Kenneth Walker, who was soon stopped by S Talanoa Hufanga.
SF's ability to stop the run was a huge point of success for the team in Week 2 as they forced their opposing offense to become one-dimensional. The 49ers will look to carry over that success in Denver, where they'll face another run-heavy offense. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III were the Broncos leading rushers in Week 2. The two backs notched a total of 122 yards on the ground.
But Wilson is not to be counted out of the run game. Defensive lineman Nick Bosa will have to keep his eye on Wilson attempting to scramble out of the pocket, as he looks to notch another sack on the QB after taking him down in each game they faced-off last season. Bosa's sack count reached 3.0 after the 49ers first two games – the lineman will be up against a Broncos offensive line that allowed 3.0 sacks and seven quarterback hits in Week 2.
San Francisco has unfortunately faced a lot of injury on the offensive side of the ball. 49ers starting quarterback Trey Lance and leading rusher Elijah Mitchell have both been placed on the team's Injured Reserve list. Both RB Tyrion Davis-Price and TE Tyler Kroft did not practice this week and their game statuses are unclear. However, the team's star power has not been eliminated for the primetime contest. Jimmy Garoppolo is back under center for San Francisco and he'll most-likely have one of his top targets, tight end George Kittle, back in the offense.
"I'd be surprised if he doesn't play," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Friday morning on KNBR's Murph & Mac show.
Garoppolo threw for 154 yards (7.3 yards per average) and a touchdown, recording a 100.1 QB rating in Week 2. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk was the quarterback's top target, notching 63 yards on five receptions.
Deebo Samuel also flexed his "wideback" skills in last week's contest, recording 44 yards on five receptions and 53 yards on four carries.
One of the biggest matchups to watch in Sunday's contest will be Samuel up against Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain II. The CB left last week's game early after tweaking his left rotator cuff, however, he's also likely to get back into game action on Sunday.
"I think it's a high percent chance that I play," Surtain II said. "It was nothing serious, it was a minor injury, and of course I didn't want to get back in and make it worse (against Houston). Just to be on the safe side, I stayed out."
The 49ers run-heavy offense will be another point of emphasis leading up to their Broncos matchup. Denver's defense gave up 4.6 yards per rush on 15 carries from Texans running back Dameon Pierce.
The RB threat for the Broncos defense will likely be Jeff Wilson Jr., a veteran back who's impressed the team after playing in a starting role for the first time this season. Wilson Jr. led San Francisco's rushing offense, notching 84 yards (4.7 yards per carry) on 18 attempts. His production will be a key factor in the 49ers mission for their first road victory this season.