After a disappointing Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears, the 49ers face the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at home.
While it’s too early in the season to call it a must-win game, the 49ers need to walk away from Week 2 with a win over their NFC West rival not only to maintain their playoff expectations, but also to calm all of the outside noise.
Coach Kyle Shanahan insists the pressure from outside the building isn’t reaching the holy of holies of team headquarters, but there’s no doubt that players and staff alike feel an extra sense of urgency after leaving Soldier Field with a loss to start the season.
“Honestly, we don’t hear the outside noise,” Shanahan said Friday. “Every time you lose, there’s a lot more outside noise. Every time you win there’s a lot of outside noise telling you how good you are. You can’t react to the noise and that’s difficult, but that’s why you don’t see it that way.”
How the 49ers are able to bounce back from their Week 1 performance makes for an engaging matchup on Sunday. The Seahawks had a short week after an emotional win over the Denver Broncos, led by former Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
Can the 49ers take advantage of the situation and surprise the Seahawks after a sloppy performance in Chicago? All 46 active players on matchday have their part to play, but there are a few who could tip the scales with an outstanding performance.
Here are five players to watch at the 49ers home game at Levi’s Stadium:
LB Dre Greenlaw
Greenlaw has been a key part of the 49ers’ defense since arriving in Santa Clara, but his debut in 2022 wasn’t his finest performance. The fourth-year linebacker was called for two penalties that kept the Bears’ drives alive and resulted in points.
Greenlaw also allowed four receptions on four targets under cover, one for a touchdown. The Arkansas product needs to play a cleaner game and once again faces a mobile quarterback in Seattle’s Geno Smith.
RB Jeff Wilson Jr.
The fifth-year running back is likely to be used as a starter in the 49ers’ first game after Elijah Mitchell was placed on injured reserve. Wilson had a stellar training camp a year after a meniscus injury that sidelined him for much of the 2021 season.
Wilson couldn’t gain much ground in the club’s loss to the Bears, but served as a reliable target for Trey Lance, intercepting both passes that got in his way. The Texas native is known for being called upon for “choice routes” in goal-line situations and could also help the young quarterback as a checkdown target.
The 49ers gained 176 yards on the ground against the Bears in Week 1, but only 63 of those yards came from their two running backs. If Wilson can help get Sunday’s running game going, taking some pressure off Lance will help – especially considering the weather could include rain again.
WR Brandon Aiyuk
After spending much of the offseason with Lance, Aiyuk should have a breakthrough into the 2022 NFL season. But Mother Nature affected his performance in Week 1, as the third-year wideout caught two of his three goals for 40 yards and carried the ball once for a seven-yard gain.
The chemistry Aiyuk has developed with Lance has yet to be highlighted in a regular-season game, but there’s no doubt the Arizona State product will be a top producer this season. Aiyuk will have the added challenge of a second straight game in the rain, although the wideout’s ability to gain yards from short passes could be a key for the 49ers.
The Seahawks’ secondary will be without All-Pro Jamal Adams, but Aiyuk told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday that the safety’s absence doesn’t change his mental preparation. Facing the Seattle defense will still be a challenge with Quandre Diggs on the field for sure.
EN Nick Bosa
Bosa started off strong in Week 1 from the gates, but monsoon conditions kept the Bears’ offensive game mostly on the ground. Without many pass-rushing opportunities in the second half, he appeared to finish the game calmly.
Bosa finished the season opener with five tackles: a solo, a sack and two quarterback hits. The Ohio State product’s job doesn’t get any easier with another mobile quarterback on deck this week.
It will be essential for Bosa and the defensive line to remain disciplined and not lose control of Smith as he struggles through. With weather again a factor on Sunday, Bosa’s ability to influence the running game could be a key factor in stopping the Seahawks.
QB Trey Lance
Of course, all eyes will be on Lance in his second game since being named the club’s starting quarterback. How the second-year play-caller is recovering from his Week 1 loss is analyzed through a microscope.
Lance finished his debut in 2022 as the team’s lead rusher with 13 carries for 54 yards and 13 of 28 passes for 164 yards and one interception. The young quarterback needs to develop his short game as more rain threatens on Sunday.
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Being able to go head-to-head with the talented group of skill players that surround him will be a key to Lance’s success on Sunday. Deebo Samuel, Aiyuk and the running back corps all have the ability to gain yards from contact and Lance just has to give them the opportunity.
The 22-year-old’s big-play ability is unquestionable, but Lance’s development in getting rid of the ball quickly will keep the Seahawks defense in mind.
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