The San Francisco 49ers are coming off a week six win that saw them struggle for three quarters against their divisional rivals, the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers pulled away from the Cards in the fourth quarter, and ended up with a 32-20 win, but it was by no means an impressive performance.
The 49ers are now set to travel to Tennessee in what should prove to be a big test on the road. The Titans are coming off a very impressive road performance against the Seattle Seahawks. They were able to keep the game very close until the end, but ultimately could not pull out a fourth quarter comeback, losing 20-13.
The week seven matchup between the 49ers and Titans is a crucial game for both teams who are both within one game of the division lead. The 49ers will need to accomplish three things if they expect to come out of Tennessee with a win:
1. Keep the ground attack rolling
The 49ers ground attack has greatly improved since week three against the Indianapolis Colts. Even though the 49ers struggled mightily the first two games of the season, they still rank 4th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. This is in large part because of Frank Gore being more effective in the run game. It is a very encouraging sign to see how well Gore has run the ball the past four games considering all the wear and tear he has taken during his nine year career.
The Titans come into week seven ranked 19th against the run, which should allow for the 49ers running backs to take advantage of some sizable running lanes. It will be key to involve Kendall Hunter in the running game to keep Frank Gore fresh. Gore was visibly out of gas in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals after a long drive that ended in an Anthony Dixon touchdown.
The 49ers can not win without Frank Gore in the playoffs, which means Kendall Hunter and whatever other back is healthy, either LaMichael James or Anthony Dixon, need to be able to carry some of the load during the regular season.
2. Force the Titans to throw the ball
The Tennessee Titans are a team that relies heavily on positive production in the running game, especially from Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson has shown the ability to be the most explosive running back in the NFL during his career including over 2000 rushing yards in 2009.
The 49ers run defense has proven through the past few seasons that they are one of the best, if not the best, at stopping the run. Stopping the run and forcing Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw the ball will be a crucial component if the 49ers hope to defeat the Titans on Sunday. The Titans rank 29th in the league in passing yards per game and Fitzpatrick has been known to take many risks in the passing game.
The best way for the 49ers to force Fitzpatrick to throw the ball is to take an early lead. The more the Titans have to throw the ball, the better chance the 49ers will have of winning.
3. Win the turnover margin
Winning the turnover battle is probably one of the most important factors to win an NFL game. Usually, the team that wins the turnover margin in a game will come out with a win.
The Titans are amongst the leagues best when it comes to turnovers, ranking 4th in takeaways and 1st in giveaways. Although the Titans rank 1st in giveaways, all five of their total giveaways have occurred in the past two games, which shows their vulnerability.
The 49ers come into this game ranked 4th in takeaways but just 23rd in giveaways. The offense needs to take better care of the ball if they hope to win this game. Eric Reid, who leads the 49ers in interceptions with three, has been a big part of the 49ers success in taking the ball away. The ability of the 49ers to takeaway the ball could bode very well for them and could eventually be the difference in the game.
49ers win, 24-14
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