1. What is the secret to stopping the read option?
The 49ers haven’t been running the read option much in the past two games — in fact, they’ve only run it 16 times total for 26 yards. This is partly because the rest of the league has developed tactics to defend against it. Against Green Bay, the Packers had one of their outside linebackers rush right at Colin Kaepernick at the snap, and if the 49ers ran the read option, the defender would have a clear lane to sack Kaepernick. Either the 49ers will need to use a variation with the read option, or try to win games without it.
2. How does this team respond to losses? Getting beat by your rival stings, do the 49ers take out their frustration on the Colts or overlook them?
Last season, the 49ers were 5-0 in games following a loss. When they were blown out 42-13 in Seattle last season, they responded next week by defeating the Patriots on the road. Statistically speaking, this team thrives in responding to losses, and I expect them to do the same this coming Sunday. However, the Colts are a good team with an outstanding quarterback, so the 49ers will have to bring their “A-game.” In no way should they overlook the Colts.
3. Will this be Frank Gore’s breakout game? He’s been held to 60 yards on 30 carries this season, way below his career average. Or has Gore hit the dreaded 30 year old wall?
Gore claimed in an interview earlier this week that teams were putting “eight or nine men” in the box because they wanted to shut down the 49ers’ run game. It has worked so far, as the 49ers rank 17th in the league in rushing and Gore has been a non-factor. I don’t think age is the issue, I think it’s that defenses are better prepared and Gore will have to elevate his game even higher if he wants to succeed. The Colts are 27th in the league in defending the run, so perhaps Gore will have a chance to breakout on Sunday.
4. How are the 49ers planning to attack Andrew Luck? With Jim Harbaugh being his former coach, I imagine he has a creative way to lock Luck down.
It’s certainly fascinating to think that Jim Harbaugh worked so hard at Stanford to help improve Luck and make him the No. 1 overall draft pick last season, and now he will have to find a way to defend his former star. Harbaugh admitted that Luck didn’t have a lot of weaknesses, but as usual, the tight-lipped coach didn’t say anything about a gameplan. With the addition of Trent Richardson to the Colts’ offense, the 49ers will have to prepare to defend the run as well as Luck’s arm.
5. What do the 49ers need to do to win and what is your final prediction?
The 49ers need to be able to establish the run game and get off to a strong start. These two things were big reasons why they have become one of the NFL’s elite teams, but they did neither against the Seahawks. They will obviously have to gameplan against Andrew Luck as well and find a way to contain him. It should be an intriguing matchup that draws some national attention. But given that the 49ers are playing at home following a tough loss, I’ll give them a 21-14 win.