The San Francisco 49ers limp into Sunday’s game versus the Indianapolis Colts recovering from a stinging loss to their division rival Seattle Seahawks. Can the 49ers regain their footing with a win over the Colts? Although the 49ers are 11.5-point favorites at home, Andrew Luck’s team, that went 11-5 in 2012 and earned a playoff spot, may be tough to beat especially with the recent addition of running back Trent Richardson. How will the 49ers, and the Colts, adjust to the addition of Richardson to the game lineup? That wild card factor is one of many key elements to this game.
The Colts currently rank fifth overall in rushing in the NFL, thanks to the efforts of Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Donald Brown, and Luck. However, that running game took a hit when Ballard, the team’s 2012 leading rusher, tore his ACL in practice. In response, the Colts quickly acquired Richardson from the Cleveland Browns for a 2014 first round draft pick. Was it a good acquisition for the Colts? Many question marks surround Richardson who has dealt with multiple injuries since joining the league just last year. In two games this season with the Browns, Richardson gained 105 yards on 31 carries. He should get some playing time in tandem with Bradshaw on Sunday, but how much is the question. Bradshaw, who has had 22 carries for 91 yards and one touchdown in 2013, remains listed as the starter on the Colts’ depth chart. Whether Richardson or Bradshaw, or both, will produce is a question both teams have to prepare for in a limited time frame.
The 49ers have running back questions of their own to handle as well. Entering the third game of the season, the 49ers should have already established their running game but have not. Ranked 4th in rushing in the NFL in 2012, the 49ers are currently ranked 17th in the league. In the first two games of the season, Frank Gore has rushed for just 60 yards on 30 attempts. Kendall Hunter, returning from an Achilles injury suffered in November 2012, has rushed for 17 yards on 7 carries. Head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman must get both of their running backs involved in the game early to establish the run game for which the 49ers are known.
While the 49ers’ offense must work on their running game against the Colts, the defense must work on containing Luck who has proven to be a dual threat similar to Kaepernick, capable of using both his arms and legs to make plays. So far in 2013, Luck has completed 43 of 66 passes for 499 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, and 1 fumble. He has a quarterback rating of 96.7. Luck has also rushed for 76 yards on 10 attempts. Luck’s performance against a banged up secondary and defensive line for the 49ers may determine the outcome of this game.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s season is off to a rockier start than Luck’s. Kaepernick, who has a QB rating of 81.6, has completed 40 of 67 passes for 539 yards, 3 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and 1 fumble. He has also rushed for 109 yards on 16 attempts. In the preseason the 49ers purposely kept Kaepernick from running too much. It appears they chose the same policy against Seattle. That cannot continue against the Colts. The 49ers must let Kaepernick use both his arms and legs to keep the Colts’ defense off balance.
Another question for the 49ers to address is their lack of discipline in the first two games, which has resulted in excessive penalties. The 49ers, tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the most penalties in the NFL, have incurred 23 penalties for 206 yards so far in 2013. In comparison, the Colts, the least penalized team in the league, have incurred just 6 penalties for 44 yards. The 49ers must also fix their lack of ball control, which resulted in five turnovers against the Seahawks last week. The 49ers have a turnover differential of -2, compared to the Colts’ differential of +2, largely due to Kaepernick’s three interceptions on the season versus Luck’s one interception.
The Colts’ superior discipline and ball control are just two of many factors for which the 49ers have to prepare. The biggest unknown for both teams is Richardson. Prior to the Richardson acquisition, the leading storyline was the Stanford reunion of Harbaugh, Luck, Roman, and 49ers’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Now the storyline may be Richardson’s impact on both teams, or lack thereof.