Russell Wilson vs. Jimmy Garoppolo.
Just like old times.
When last season concluded, who ever would’ve thought Wilson would be with the Denver Broncos and Garoppolo would still be the 49ers’ starting quarterback?
But that’s exactly how those players will take the field on Sunday Night Football when the Broncos and 49ers meet in Week 3 in Denver.
Garoppolo reclaims his old starting job after Trey Lance sustained a season-ending ankle injury in the 49ers’ Week 2 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile, Wilson will look to continue his mastery over the 49ers.
Here are five 49ers to watch on Sunday night:
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Of course, Garoppolo should be the No. 1 player to watch, but that’s too easy.
So let’s get him out of the way at No. 5.
Things are back to where they’ve been with the 49ers since the middle of the 2017 season: This is Garoppolo’s team.
Garoppolo officially reclaims his old job as the 49ers’ starter. Lance underwent surgery Monday to repair a fractured and ligament damage in his right ankle.
And the 49ers return to their old formula for winning games: Run the football, get the ball into the hands of their playmakers for yards after the catch, and play lights-out defense.
Garoppolo’s job is to take care of the ball, hit his receivers in stride and convert on third downs. It’s that simple. And if he does those things, the 49ers should continue to win a lot of games when he is on the field.
LB Fred Warner
Defensive end Nick Bosa is off to a hot start with three sacks and asserting himself as a force against the run and pass.
Yet, Bosa was not the first player Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett mentioned when describing the challenges of facing the 49ers’ defense.
Warner is the player the Broncos’ coach highlighted.
“He’s spectacular,” Hackett said. “He’s such a good player. And he’s somebody you have to be aware of, but you also have to be aware of a bunch of other guys, too.”
Warner places a great deal of emphasis on generating takeaways. After being shut out in that regard over the first two games, he will be looking for his opportunities on Sunday night to take the ball away.
RT Mike McGlinchey
The last time the 49ers saw edge rusher Randy Gregory, he was a member of the Dallas Cowboys. He is the one who threw Garoppolo to the ground in the first-round playoff game.
Garoppolo, trying to protect his injured thumb, braced his fall by landing on his right elbow. That set off the chain reaction that resulted in the shoulder injury that plagued Garoppolo the rest of the way in the playoffs and, ultimately, was the reason he underwent offseason surgery and was not traded.
Gregory now lines up at outside linebacker for the Broncos. In the first two games, he spent most of his time on the defense’s left side. He and Bradley Chubb regularly switch sides, so McGlinchey will see both players.
The 49ers feel good about the matchup of Trent Williams vs. Whomever.
McGlinchey will face his biggest challenge in the early portion of the season when he lines up on a down-to-down basis against two very good pass-rushers.
TE George Kittle
We assume Kittle makes it through the week without any setbacks and he will be ready for the bright lights of Sunday Night Football.
There are plenty of reasons why the 49ers’ offense was — shall we say — less-than-dynamic in the first two games of the season. Kittle’s absence is near the top of the list.
The Broncos have a strong defense, but an area of weakness is on the second level, where their linebackers are not known for their coverage skills. Coach Kyle Shanahan should be able to dictate favorable matchups for Kittle, and then it will be Garoppolo’s duty to put the ball between the “8” and the “5.”
The return to Kittle should prove valuable to the 49ers in all facets of their offense with his run-blocking on the edge to his ability to work the middle of the field and turn short-to-intermediate passes into long gains.
S Talanoa Hufanga
Hufanga has been all over the field in the first two games of the season. And he must continue to show range, awareness and open-field tackling ability on Sunday night against Wilson and the new-look Broncos offense.
Wilson devoured the 49ers over the past decade while with the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers managed just four victories in 21 head-to-head games against the Wilson-led Seahawks.
Wilson is out of the NFC West, but the 49ers still cannot avoid him.
Wilson is at his best when he’s using his short-area quickness to evade pass-rushers while keeping his eyes down the field. Wilson generally does not rush for many yards but he keeps plays alive long enough to find receivers open far down the field.
Hufanga and fellow safety Tashaun Gipson must avoid the kind of mixup that plagued the 49ers in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears when Justin Fields ran around and found Dante Pettis uncovered on the opposite side of the field for an easy touchdown.
The Broncos’ offense has not looked good in the first two games. If the 49ers do not allow any freebies, Denver might not be able to sustain scoring drives.