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Week Eight: 49ers v. Colts Preview

The 49ers and their fans are a chippy bunch. Their mentality going in is to suggest that the Colts "have not beaten anyone," and that the 49ers are just the kind of "tough" team that will tame the paper tiger Colts. The problem with this thought process is the Colts have indeed beaten quality teams, one of which is the 49ers division rivals: The Arizona Cardinals. The Colts walked into University of Phoenix Stadium on a short week not long ago and beat the snot out of Kurt Warner and his Red Bird teammates.

So, unless the 49ers feel their division is lunch meat, it's pretty safe to say that the "they haven't beaten anyone" phrase is a load of moose crap. For more info debunking this, check out this article at 18to88.

Also, with the 49ers defense allowing players like Matt Schaub to throw 4 TDs in one game and letting Matt Ryan drop 329 yards and 2 TDs on them at home, then talking tough while you are traveling to face Peyton Manning and the Colts offense is probably not the best strategy.

And while it might be fun for fans to say "the Colts haven't played anyone," the silliness of that statement is further dismissed because players like Peyton, Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, Kelvin Hayden, Matt Stover, and Gary Brackett have all been there, done that. They most certainly have "played someone" in their careers, and all have big, shiny rings to prove it.

When you look at these teams, the Colts are NOT a good match-up for the 49ers, and if the 49ers think that by changing certain aspects of their defense this will give them an edge, they've got another thing coming.

Make no mistake, the 49ers must win this game. They were blown out at home three weeks ago by the Falcons and were beat on the road by the Texans last week. If they lose this game against Indy, they drop three in a row and lose ground against the Cardinals. 49ers coach Mike Singletary is a proud guy, but I get the sense that sometimes he lets his pride and his emotions cloud his thinking. During the Falcons game, some Atlanta players were saying Singletary was trash talking to them during the game. The Falcons responded by slapping Singletary and the 49ers in the face with a 45 point butt-whipping. Singletary apologized afterward for his remarks to Atlanta Falcons guard Harvey Dahl, which redeems Singletary somewhat. However, head coaches trash talking opposing players during games is not the kind of example the head man for a franchise should set. Just my opinion.

For two games now, the 49ers pass defense has been exposed. Matt Ryan shredded them four weeks ago, and after a bye week of preparation, the Texans Matt Schaub went crazy on them. To fix their defense, the 49ers coaches are taking the defensive playcalling duties away from stud linebacker Patrick Willis and giving them to free safety Dashon Goldon. SF hopes that this change will free up Willis to make more plays, and aid in getting plays in quicker to counter the Colts no-huddle offense.

Having the defensive backs get the calls before Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning is finished with his famous presnap gesticulations is vital for the 49ers if they are to have a fighting chance against the Colts' No. 1-ranked passing offense.

"It's one less thing that Pat will have to think about," coach Mike Singletary said. "If there's a mistake back there (the secondary), nine times out of 10 it's going to reveal itself on the scoreboard. If it's on the back end, it's hard to recover."

You all might recall that the Seattle Seahawks attempted a similar change on defense prior to playing the Colts in Week Four. Seahawks coaches changed the way the players received defensive calls in an effort to confuse Peyton Manning and prevent him from making pre-snap reads of the defense.

The result was a 34-17 route of the Seahawks in Lucas Oil Stadium. Peyton had 353 yards and 2 TDs in that game.

So, while Colts fans like me are very flattered that teams like the 49ers are so scared of Peyton Manning that they will change their defensive playcalling, the changes underscore my personal feeling that the 49ers know this Colts team is a very daunting match-up.

The 49ers scored only 10 points on the Falcons defense and 21 points on the Texans. Both those defenses are inferior to the Colts defense, which surrenders an average of 12.8 ppg and pressures the QB with greater efficiency. The 49ers have once again turned the QB reigns back to Alex Smith, a wise decision because Smith does indeed provide them with the best option. Smith's first start as a pro was actually the last time these two teams faced each other, back in 2005. The Colts absolutely rocked Smith, but the two teams back then are very different than the teams now.

For Indy to beat the 49ers, they must do the following:

  • Stop the run. The 49ers cannot complete with the Colts throwing the ball. Even with the impressive Vernon Davis and the dynamic rookie WR Michael Crabtree, SF needs to run the ball and play "keep away" to have a shot. If the Colts stop the running game early, as they have done is virtually every game they've played this year, it will force SF to throw the ball to keep up.
  • Pressure. Alex Smith has all the physical tools to succeed in this league, and he can use all those wonderful skills somewhere else. On Sunday, Dwight Freeney should routinely tattoo his number to Smith. The 49ers do not have an impressive o-line, nor do they score a lot of points. Pressure on Smith will force him into mistakes, which the Colts can capitalize into turnovers.
  • The Colts offense is a machine, and the 49ers do not seem to have the kind of defense that can stop it. Again, players like Willis are amazing. I like Nate Clements, and I think Singletary has done a very good job getting these guys to play together (something former coach Mike Nolan was unequipped to do). The 49ers are pretty decent stopping the run, but the Colts should still generate a decent ground game to help set-up their passing attack.
  • Pierre Garcon. I'd like to see the kid bounce back after a bad game against the Rams. If Reggie Wayne plays (and I think he will), Garcon will match-up well against the 49ers secondary.

This is one of those games that will test the mettle of our Colts. The 49ers NEED this game, and everyone knows it. However, the Colts treat all their opponents the same, and are starting to get healthier on defense. With Bob Sanders back and likely to see even more action than last week, look for the Colts to pressure the 49ers early.

Regardless, this should be a great game between two very storied franchises. You can check out some Fan Post previews at SB Nation's 49ers blog, Niners Nation. i must admit, Fooch and his crew at NN are some of my favorite football bloggers. They really do a great job over there and I very much like the community they have.

Keep an eye out later today for my interview with Fooch, and be sure to see his Five questions for me over at Niners Nation.