Four Downs: Matchups, Players to Watch on MNF

Our 49ers.com writers are back to break down four pressing topics in the San Francisco 49ers home opener against the Los Angeles Rams on "Monday Night Football."

Let's get to what you should look forward to in this "Four Downs" update, presented by SunPower.

1st Down: What is the game's best matchup?@Joe_Fann: 49ers offensive line vs. Aaron Donald

San Francisco's players and coaches alike have had effusive praise for the Rams star defender. Donald has made a Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons, was named All-Pro in 2015 and is already one of the NFL's top defenders. It will take a collective effort to keep the interior defensive lineman at bay in Week 1. Chip Kelly explained that Donald specializes at shedding blocks, which makes it even more important to play to the whistle and limit his ability to make plays. Anthony Davis, who will be playing his first game in over a year and his first ever at right guard, will be called upon to help contain Donald.

@TaylorPrice: NaVorro Bowman vs. Todd Gurley

The NFL's leading tackler against last year's offensive rookie of the year? Sign me up for that. The Bowman-Gurley matchup will be fun to watch, but it won't be purely a one-on-one battle. Bowman will depend on his defensive linemen (Arik Armstead, Mike Purcell, Quinton Dial and others) to keep blockers away. Gurley, on the other hand, will need his o-line to control the line of scrimmage and get their hands on No. 53. If the 49ers can minimize Gurley's production (1,106 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in 13 games last season), it'll be that much harder for quarterback Case Keenum to carry the Rams offense to victory.

2nd Down: What is the position group to watch?

@Joe_Fann: Defensive line

There's a lot of uncertainty as to who will be in the lineup for the 49ers along the d-line. Will Arik Armstead be on a limited snap count after he missed the entire preseason? Will Quinton Dial's knee be good to go? Is Glenn Dorsey going to be active? What works in San Francisco's favor is its depth at the position. If any of the aforementioned players are limited or inactive, look for rookies DeForest Buckner and Ronald Blair III to see increased roles. Both Buckner and Blair showed well in the preseason and could have the opportunity to be difference makers against the Rams.

@TaylorPrice: Wide receivers

The 49ers brought in a pair of new wide receivers who are studying like crazy to get ready for Week 1. Jeremy Kerley figures to have a bigger role against Los Angeles. He's been with the 49ers since Aug. 29. For Rod Streater, it's a different story. The 6-foot-2 wideout was acquired via trade on Sept. 3. With five receivers on the current 53-man roster, San Francisco will need all of its pass-catchers to suit up on gameday. Look for Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton to lead the way as the newcomers (plus rookie Aaron Burbridge) get settled in the Bay Area.

3rd Down: What under-the-radar player makes an impact?

@Joe_Fann: Garrett Celek

Carradine was a wrecking ball in the preseason. The converted outside linebacker posted 10 tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits, a forced fumble and an additional tackle for loss. San Francisco enters the season with only three outside linebackers as Aaron Lynch is currently serving his four-game suspension. This means that all three, Carradine included, will be relied upon to create an effective pass-rush on Monday.

@TaylorPrice: Shaun Draughn

With Pierre Garçon recently cleared from the concussion he sustained on Aug. 26, it would make sense that the starting running back is not utilized wisely against the Rams. Draughn, the expected No. 2 running back, could very well have a bigger role in Week 1. Chip Kelly's offenses with the Philadelphia Eagles didn't shy away from using mulitple running backs. Kelly's 49ers offense was also very successful in running the football this preseason. So Draughn could be in line for a big role in the season opener. It's also easy to be an under-the-radar player like Draughn, who missed the final three preseason games with a back issue. Draughn, like Hyde, is healthy and ready to contribute.

4th Down: What is your bold prediction?

@Joe_Fann: Torrey Smith finds the end zone

Kelly has a history of successfully utilizing his No. 1 receiver. Now it's Smith's turn to fill that role. I expect the 49ers to find creative ways to feed their top wideout in addition to Smith's ability to take the top off of a defense. San Francisco didn't reveal much of the playbook during the preseason and didn't operate at their fastest tempo, either. Now the gloves are off, and it's time for the team's best playmakers to carry the offense. I don't think Smith will waste any time rebounding from what he said was a frustrating 2015 season.

@TaylorPrice: Eli Harold gets his first NFL sack

The second-year linebacker is a player you root for because of his easy-going nature. He's also a pass-rusher who has shown a lot of promise in his early career, but he hasn't recorded a sack. This could change against the Rams. With Lynch suspended, Harold will start on MNF. Furthermore, Keenum is not known for his mobility. If Harold plays a large number of snaps, the chances of his first sack look promising on Monday night.

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