Top 5 storylines to watch in 49ers-Bills Week 6 matchup
49ers won't face an old friend
The 49ers (1-4) and Buffalo Bills (3-2) are going in opposite directions as they prepare to meet Sunday in Orchard Park, New York. The 49ers cruised to an opening-week shutout victory over the L.A. Rams before dropping four consecutive games by an average of more than two touchdowns.
The Bills dropped their first two games of the season to Baltimore and the N.Y. Jets, prompting coach Rex Ryan to fire offensive coordinator Greg Roman – though the main culprit appeared to be the other side of the ball under Ryan’s brother, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Bills have responded with impressive wins over Arizona, New England and the Rams.
5) Garnett gets chance
The 49ers invested a first-round draft pick on former Stanford guard Joshua Garnett, trading into the back end of the first round to do so. And, now, it’s time to get the Outland Trophy winner on the field to see what he can do. Garnett entered into the 49ers’ last game against the Cardinals and played 18 snaps. He is expected to get the start Sunday over Andrew Tiller, who started the first five games at right guard.
While there’s little doubt Garnett can be an effective run-blocker, his biggest challenges will be in the passing game. He was responsible for surrendering a sack that ended up as a safety against the Cardinals. He said he has invested a lot of time working on his pass protection. Buffalo defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is doubtful, but Garnett should see plenty of veteran interior linemen Kyle Williams.
4) Spotlight on O’Neil
The 49ers’ 28-0 victory over the Rams on opening night looks like a mirage. The 49ers’ defense has been bad – especially against the run. The 49ers’ coaching staff spent four days evaluating what has gone wrong during the four-game losing streak. Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil suggested he does not plan any major changes.
But O’Neil must make some tweaks to the defense to tighten things up. And it comes at a time when one of his mentors, Rex Ryan, is next on the schedule. Ryan hired O’Neil to his staff with the New York Jets, and O’Neil rose from an entry-level position to the point where he followed Mike Pettine to the Cleveland Browns as his defensive coordinator. If O’Neil does not press the right buttons on Sunday, it could get ugly.
3) Hyde’s zone read
The 49ers made the move at quarterback because of the team’s deficiencies in the passing game. But it’s also possible that running back Carlos Hyde could benefit from Colin Kaepernick at quarterback.
The 49ers ran the zone read a lot with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. And while Gabbert is a sufficient runner, he did not present the same conflicts for opposing defenses that can be expected with Kaepernick at the controls. Kaepernick broke into the league as a dynamic dual-threat quarterback. Perhaps defenses will have to key more on his running, which could create some openings for Hyde, who has rushed for 377 yards this season but must improve on his 4.0-yard average.
2) Slowing down Shady
Chip Kelly knows all about what LeSean McCoy can do. In 2013 and ’14, McCoy rushed for more than 2,900 yards with the Philadelphia Eagles before Kelly made the move to trade him to the Bills. Now, a 49ers defense that has surrendered 100-yard games to rushers in each of the past four games, will have its toughest challenge of the season. McCoy gained 150 yards last week against the Rams and averages 5.3 yards per attempt.
“To play against someone like LeSean, it’s going to take all 11 guys on defense contributing,” Kelly said. “The biggest thing for us is try to stay out of the one-on-one tackle situations and let’s get into gang-tackle situations where we’re getting three, four and five guys to the football.”
1) Kap is back
The 49ers are in search of answers for an offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in every statistical category. Gabbert simply did not do enough in his five starts to hold onto the job. He was far too inconsistent in delivering catchable passes to receivers who broke open down the field.
Kelly determined the 49ers needed to do something, and the most logical answer was to make the switch to Kaepernick. He has been outperformed during practices, Kelly said, but Gabbert simply was not translating his play from the practice field to game days. Kaepernick, at least, has experienced NFL success as a starter. The 49ers are 27-20, as well as 4-2 in the playoffs, in games Kaepernick has started in his career.