On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers take on the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High for their first prime time game of the season. DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Niners as 1.5-point favorites.
To give us a behind-the-scenes look, we reached out to Mile High Report to share a new look at our old friend Russell Wilson. Big thanks to Ian St. Clair for taking the time to answer my questions!
1. The Broncos had an incredibly busy offseason, which resulted in a different starting quarterback and head coach. After two weeks of seeing the rebuilt Denver team in action, what’s the opening figure for their major acquisition and new hire? More specifically, what do you think of 65-yard field goals?
It was a busy but exciting outdoor season. After a six-year spell that hadn’t seen this franchise since the doldrums of the 1960s and early 1970s, Broncos fans needed this off-season. Now they want to see it come together. Let’s give it an incomplete after two weeks. There is still so much football to play for Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett. The clock and game management is a resounding F, but then you look at how unlucky Denver has been in the red zone and goal-to-go, 0-for-6 and 0-for-5 in every crucial situation. If the Broncos go 50% in the red zone in both games, they’ll get outbursts, and the clock and game management issues the NFL world talks about aren’t that big of a deal. This goes without saying, but Hackett can’t help but think about ever kicking a field goal over 60 yards, writing it on a piece of paper, and burning it. Then he must go to a therapist or hypnotist and have the thought erased from his mind.Read:MLB Wild Card: Zach Eflin, Jose Alvarado help Phillies shut out Braves
2. From both a Fantasy football perspective, but also a better-for-attack perspective, why doesn’t Javonte Williams get the ball 20 times per game when he averages 5.5 yards per carry to start the season?
That’s the million dollar question right now. Williams is a special player and he has the ability/potential to become one of the best running backs in the NFL. I don’t know if it’s Hackett and his offensive staff thinking about it or thinking that “we should split bears”, but “Pookie” is what drives this offense. Make him the bell cow back. If he needs a breather, let Melvin Gordon come and hopefully not fumble. But Hackett has to drive Williams. Since joining Wilson, the sophomore running back looks and walks as Marshawn Lynch. Give him the stone. Run the attack through him and get Wilson ready for some play action. And speaking of the red zone and goal-to-go situations, give the rock to Williams and let him earn his way into “Angry Runs.”
3. Former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, whom Niners fans know well from his time with the team in the early 2010s (and who recently spent time in San Francisco practice), makes the phrase “defensive-minded” foreign . He is a guru on that side of the ball and his teams have always looked extremely skilled in that area. How have things looked under the new DC Ejiro Evero? Based on the last six quarters, he may have picked up where Vic left off.Read:Ben Roethlisberger talks Mitch Trubisky-Kenny Pickett situation
There was concern about what the Broncos defense would look like and play without Fangio. The issues with his tenure in Denver had nothing to do with the defensive side of the ball. That was actually the only one good over his three years here. Despite the rotten quarterbacks and attacks, Fangio’s defenses were consistently in the top 10, if not higher. So you can see why there was a little bit of concern about a freshman defensive coordinator in Evero.
The first half in Seattle was ugly, but, as you said, the last six quarters have been phenomenal. And this is just the beginning. The Broncos will have no starting middle linebacker, Josey Jewell, for the first two weeks, and Pat Surtain II did not play the Texans for most of Sunday’s game. Of course Justin Simmons is out in the upcoming games too. If Wilson and Denver can start finishing rides, this team is set up to be incredibly competitive and hard to beat. There is clearly excitement about Evero and his defense.
4. Whom the Broncos should Niner fans watch out for in this game? Is there an under-the-radar player who has already made a pleasant surprise or major contribution? (We are aware of the greatness of DJ Jones.)Read:Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III out 8-12 weeks after undergoing knee surgery
Let’s start on the attacking side of the ball. KJ Hamler is the speed and vertical threat in this offense. At the time of writing, it is still unclear whether the receiver will play on Sunday evening. Hamler didn’t play against the Texans. But I’ve been beating the drum that Hamler can be the Tyler Lockett in this Denver offense, and I’ll keep beating that drum until he gets life. We could see that on Sunday. In fact, I’d like to see Hackett yell a deep pass to Hamler on the first play of scrimmage.
On the defensive side of the ball, with Simmons out, Caden Sterns is next. Sophomore year safety had a strong rookie season and he built on that throughout training camp and preseason. And Sterns did that again on Sunday against Houston. He will play a big part in limiting the great play potential of this Kyle Shanahan attack. The other player for 49ers fans to keep an eye on is rookie cornerback Damarri Mathis. When Surtain left Sunday’s game, Mathis stepped up and played a very good game. Obviously the offense in San Francisco is a different beast, but Mathis didn’t give Brandin Cooks anything. If it’s up to Surtain, it sounds like he’s playing Sunday night. Anyway, Mathis is a player to look forward to on Sunday.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Niners on 1.5-point favorites with an O/U of 43.5…What’s your prediction for Sunday night’s game?
This will come off as a Broncos homer, and I totally get that. But at some point, the red zone mishap and goal-to-go situations have to turn. With so much focus on that problem here in Denver, and the fact that it is? Football on Sunday evening, Denver gets those problems corrected. And fans of 49ers know all too well the success Wilson is having against this franchise. The Broncos finish, DJ Jones helps make SanFran one-dimensional and the Broncos take the 31-17 victory.