A few hours after the Washington Football Team goes up against former assistant coach Matt LaFleur and the Green Bay Packers, another former WFT assistant in Kyle Shanahan will lead the San Francisco 49ers into their Sunday Night Football matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.
Though neither the 49ers nor the Colts play Washington this season, there will still be plenty of storylines for fans of the Burgundy and Gold to keep an eye on when the game kicks off at 8:20 p.m. on NBC. Here are three things for Washington fans to follow throughout the contest.
Can Carson Wentz stay on his feet?
Carson Wentz is off to a nice start with the Colts after being traded by the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason. He enters Week 7 with nine touchdowns and one interception, averaging 257.5 passing yards per game. The low interception total is a good sign for Wentz, who finished the 2020 season with an NFL-high 15 picks on the year.
Perhaps most important to Washington, however, is whether or not Wentz is on the field in general. The Eagles’ trade with Indianapolis included a conditional second-round pick in 2022. That pick turns into a first-rounder for Philadelphia if Wentz either plays at least 75% of the Colts’ offense snaps or he plays at least 70% of snaps and the Colts make the playoffs.
Wentz underwent surgery to remove a loose bone from his foot during training camp but managed to return in time for Week 1. He’s played 98.7% of the team’s offensive snaps so far and his strong play has left little doubt his starting job is secure even as the Colts have stumbled out to a 2-4 start.
If Wentz continues to play well and stays healthy the rest of the season, the Eagles will gain an extra first-round pick to help them keep pace in the NFC East moving forward.
Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling
Like the Colts, the 49ers are off to a less-than-ideal start plagued by injuries. San Francisco will be without star tight end George Kittle, running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., as well as kicker Robbie Gould — and that’s just on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to return from a thumb injury just in time after backup Trey Lance hurt his knee.
Shanahan is no stranger to injuries, rotating through a carousel of offensive weapons throughout his five years with the 49ers. As their play-caller, Shanahan will have to rely on Garoppolo’s connection with emerging wideout Deebo Samuel and a rookie running back tandem of Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon to move the ball Sunday night.
The zone-blocking run scheme Shanahan orchestrates was originally devised by his father, former Washington and Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. The elder Shanahan was unveiled as the newest member of the Broncos’ Ring of Fame last week, a testament to the two-time Super Bowl winner’s run of success with the team from 1995 to 2008.
However, Mike Shanahan’s lasting impact is felt through his coaching tree, with Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur and Sean McVay all operating with similar zone-blocking run games to that of their former mentor. As those coaches continue to find success with Mike Shanahan’s blueprint, his chances of reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio only grow.
Trent Williams’s status
Did we mention the 49ers are dealing with injuries? Star left tackle Trent Williams is in danger of missing Sunday night’s game after separate elbow and ankle injuries forced him to miss several days of practice this week. Williams, acquired from Washington following a lengthy holdout in 2019, hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 5 of the 2020 season.
If Williams is unable to suit up Sunday, the 49ers will turn to rookie lineman Jaylon Moore at left tackle. Moore is a 6-foot-4, 311-pound fifth-round pick out of Western Michigan. He’s lined up for just eight snaps thus far this season, so San Francisco is still figuring out what it has in him. The 49ers will also figure out just how hard life can be without Williams on the line just as Washington has the last few seasons.
Williams has missed two games since being traded, so it wouldn’t be a completely new experience having to replace him up front. However, the 49ers lost both games he missed and averaged just 20 points scored between them. Those losses came against good opponents in the Packers and Seattle Seahawks, but the Colts won’t be an easy matchup even with their subpar record.