49ers vs Colts: The top 10 players to watch come Sunday
Another close one?
The 49ers head into Week 5 as one of four winless teams in the NFL. But the 49ers (0-4) have a chance to break through against the Indianapolis Colts (1-3) at Lucas Oil Stadium.
This shapes up as another close game for the 49ers, who have lost their last three games to Seattle, the L.A. Rams and Arizona by a combined eight points.
And if the 49ers are not able to break into the win column this week, it does not get any easier with upcoming games at Washington, vs. Dallas, at Philadelphia and vs. Arizona.
Here are 10 players to watch in Sunday’s game:
Colts FS Malik Hooker
The 49ers entered the draft with the No. 2 overall pick but they were looking to trade back. The organization did plenty of homework on Hooker, who ended up going to Indianapolis with the No. 15 overall pick.
Hooker has already shown the unique play-making ability for which he was known at Ohio State. He has recorded three interceptions in three games. He takes some chances, which could also make him susceptible to giving up big plays, too.
49ers RT Trent Brown
There is little doubt Brown has the talent to be one of the better right tackles in the league. And, thus far, he has played like it.
But the question for Brown is whether he can play at a consistent level – and not get too full of himself when people are telling him how great he is playing.
Brown is eligible for a contract extension at the end of this season. And if he keeps up his strong play, his second contract could be a big one – either with the 49ers or some other team
49ers DL Solomon Thomas
Thomas is getting a greater opportunity with Tank Carradine going on injured reserve last week. He started the season playing the “big end” position. Last week, he swapped spots with Arik Armstead and is now lining up primarily at the “leo.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to have struggles,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “But, I’ll never waiver off of this, if he works the way he does, that consistency will come.”
DeForest Buckner is turning into a Pro Bowl-level player. The 49ers need Thomas to continue his consistency and improvement to prevent opposing offenses from being able to devote all their resources to slowing down Buckner.
Colts QB Jacoby Brissett
With Andrew Luck out of action as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, the Colts acquired Brissett in a trade from the New England Patriots for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.
It did not take long for the Colts to get Brissett into the action after former 49ers quarterback Scott Tolzien struggled in the season opener. Brissett, is still learnig the Colts’ offense, but he has managed to play at a functional level, including a 259-yard showing the Colts’ 31-28 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
49ers FS Jimmie Ward
Ward will make his third start of the season after missing all of training camp and the first game of the regular season with a hamstring injury. Ward has generally played well and shown that he can be the future at the “eraser” position.
However, Ward was a step or two out of place on Sunday on the Cardinals’ game-winning touchdown. It appeared NaVorro Bowman was late in relaying the play call to the 49ers’ secondary after throwing a shoe off the field and hustling back to his position.
Ward has recorded only two interceptions in 38 career games, but he could have a chance to get his hands on the ball against Brissett, making his sixth career NFL start.
49ers LB NaVorro Bowman
Bowman will get his first chance to go head-to-head with former teammate Frank Gore in a live situation. Both men were among the best in the league at their positions as teammates with the 49ers.
But age has caught up to them. Bowman was closer to his form of two years ago on Sunday against the Cardinals. He looked a lot more fresh than he did during the Thursday game in Week 3 against the L.A. Rams when he struggled immensely.
With Malcolm Smith out for the season and Reuben Foster expected back as early as next week, the 49ers need Bowman to hold his own on Sunday in order for the 49ers to pick up their first win of the season.
49ers SS Jaquiski Tartt
Tartt has stepped in and played well while starting all four games. He began the season at free safety in place of Ward. Now, he has taken over at strong safety with Eric Reid sidelined with a knee injury.
Saleh said there is “no question” that Tartt has earned a role in the 49ers’ defense when Reid is cleared to return. “It’s a great problem, one we’ll cross when we get there, for sure,” Saleh said.
Reid is in the final year of his contract. Tartt is making a convincing case for a starting role for the foreseeable future. All he is lacking at this stage is experience and knowledge of the system.
49ers QB Brian Hoyer
Hoyer did not play at a consistent level through four games. He must be better. And he must end his streak of throwing an interception in every game this season.
The 49ers are not ready to summon rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard from the sideline, and they hope Hoyer’s play does not prompt them to consider that option. Hoyer has experienced success in the NFL, but he must get off to a good start and play with more confidence and better rhythm.
“I don't look at it just as it's Brian versus C.J. right now,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I look at it as what's the best for our team right now. And if I did feel that was the best thing for our team at this time, I wouldn't hesitate at all.”
49ers RB Carlos Hyde
Hyde said one of the first pieces of advice that Frank Gore gave him was to never let a rookie take your job. Hyde, of course, was a rookie at the time. Hyde did not take Gore’s job until a year later, when the Colts signed Gore to a three-year contract as a free agent.
Hyde toughed his way through a hip condition against the Cardinals last week. He was limited in practice this week but looks to be in better physical condition heading into this game.
Hyde, who has rushed for 321 yards in four games, is always the key to the 49ers’ offense. His ability to get yards on the early downs can set up play-action for Hoyer and the deep-passing game.
Colts RB Frank Gore
The 49ers’ all-time leading rusher enters Sunday’s game – his first against his former team – just 3 yards behind Eric Dickerson for No. 7 on the NFL’s all-time rushing yardage list.
Gore, 34, has averaged 3.1 yards per carry this season, his third year with the Colts. He has yet to average better than 3.9 yards per rushing attempt with Indianapolis.
His lowest average in 10 seasons with the 49ers was 4.1-yards per attempt. The 49ers’ defense, which allowed 4.8 yards per rushing attempt last season, is allowing just 3.3 yards per attempt this year.
“They really play tough, man,” Gore said. “That defense, they play very hard, and they’re playing good ball.”