49ers (1-1) at Broncos (1-1)
When: 6:20 p.m. MT, Sunday
Where: Empower Field
Radio/TV: 850 AM, 94.1 FM/KUSA-9
Broncos-49ers series: Broncos are 7-7 in 14 regular-season games dating back to 1970; the Broncos lost 20-14 in the last meeting, on Dec. 9, 2018, at San Francisco. The 49ers also trounced the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, 55-10, on January 28, 1990. That game remains the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history.
49ers receivers vs Broncos secondary
Jimmy Garoppolo has three bona fide weapons at wideout in Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings and Deebo Samuel, the latter of whom can break the game open on vertical routes and in the run game.
That means the Broncos’ secondary will need to be on point, especially with captain Justin Simmons (quad) sidelined.
Caden Sterns, subbing for Simmons, will start at safety alongside Kareem Jackson; K’Waun Williams will be at the nickel as usual, and P.J. Locke will play the dime. Pat Surtain II will start alongside Ronald Darby if Surtain can go following a shoulder tweak that knocked him out of last week’s win over Houston. If Surtain can’t play, rookie Damarri Mathis will get the nod.
Regardless of the personnel, defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero will make it a priority to identify where Samuel is at all times. But that cannot come at the expense of losing track of Aiyuk and Jennings — or tight end George Kittle if he’s able to play.
“When (Samuel) gets the ball in his hands, he’s obviously a handful and they do a great job of moving him around to receiver, running back and motioning him,” Evero said. “They try to make it tough to get a bead on him.”
Darby believes Sunday presents a chance for more growth for a unit that, going back to last year, has been one of the strengths of the team.
“We need to create some turnovers in the secondary, clean up the little mistakes, and continue to play fast,” Darby said. “Yeah, they’ve got good receivers, but we’re pretty good too. If we go out there and compete, we can keep anybody in check.”
Who has the edge?
Russell Wilson hasn’t exactly been a world-beater in his first two games with Denver, but he did heat up in the fourth quarter against Houston. Veteran Jimmy Garoppolo starts for the 49ers in the wake of Trey Lance’s season-ending ankle injury last week. Edge: Broncos
Javonte Williams (118 rushing yards) and Melvin Gordon (105) have been a potent one-two punch so far, even if neither has yet to take over a game. The 49ers feature tailback Jeff Wilson Jr., while receiver Deebo Samuel also gets a few touches out of the backfield. Edge: Even
Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy have been playing at a high level, as each already has a 100-yard game, although Jeudy is doubtful (ribs). The 49ers have the potent duo of Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, while tight end George Kittle (groin) is questionable. Edge: 49ers
Billy Turner will likely make his Broncos debut at right tackle after missing the first two games recovering from offseason knee surgery. Graham Glasgow subs in at right guard for Quinn Meinerz (hamstring). S.F.’s Trent Williams is one of the NFL’s best tackles. Edge: Even
Dre’Mont Jones was a difference-maker last week with two sacks; former 49er D.J. Jones is questionable (ankle). Nose tackle Mike Purcell needs to make his presence felt more by stuffing the run. 49ers’ end Arik Armstead is questionable (foot); Joey Bosa is a game-changer. Edge: 49ers
The combo of Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory is just starting to find a rhythm on the edges. Josey Jewell (calf) is questionable to make his season debut. Dre Greenlaw has been San Francisco’s top tackling linebacker so far, with assistance from Fred Warner. Edge: Even
With Justin Simmons (quad) on IR and Pat Surtain II (shoulder) questionable, Denver’s depth will be tested with Caden Sterns, P.J. Locke and Damarri Mathis all potentially playing big roles. Ronald Darby needs a big game. Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley are S.F.’s top cover corners. Edge: Even
Montrell Washington hasn’t done much in the return game yet, but blocking for him has been suspect. Corliss Waitman needs to step up his punt game. Brandon McManus is automatic from 40-yards and in; San Francisco features veteran kicker Robbie Gould. Edge: Even
Tale of the tape
Points per game
* Through Week 2
By the numbers
26-24 — The Broncos’ record on Sunday Night Football.
1,499 — The number of career rushing attempts for Melvin Gordon; he needs one more rush to become the third active NFL running back to reach the 1,500-carry mark.
30 — How many “big plays” (rushes of 10 yards or more) second-year back Javonte Williams has accumulated since coming into the NFL.
84 — The number of games Russell Wilson has posted at least a passer rating of 100 or higher, the most such games in the NFL since 2012.
8th — That’s where Javonte Williams ranks in team history in terms of tailbacks getting to 1,000 yards the quickest. Williams passed the 1K mark last week against Houston, achieving the feat in 19 games and putting him behind Knowshon Moreno (17 games) on the list. Olandis Gary was the quickest, reaching the 1,000-yard plateau in 11 games.
Line: Broncos +1.5
Denver is an underdog for the first time this season as Vegas, like Broncos fans, is suspicious of what it’s seen from the Denver offense so far. Meanwhile, Jimmy G stepping in for Lance has boosted the 49ers’ stock in many eyes. If you believe the Broncos are what they say they are, bet on the underdog to cover.
Prop bet: More receiving yards, Samuel or Sutton?
This one’s tough. Deebo Samuel only has 58 receiving yards on the season, while Sutton is coming off a monster game against the Texans (seven catches for 122 yards). With Jeudy doubtful to play, Sutton could put up another big game, while Samuel’s production is likely to be split between the air and ground. There’s a decent chance he benefits from Jimmy G taking the snaps.
Mark Kiszla, columnist: Broncos 24, 49ers 23
Anybody else in Broncos Country believe if all other things were equal and we did nothing except trade Nathaniel Hackett for Kyle Shanahan that Denver would win this game by a touchdown? Either Hackett demonstrates he can make solid football decisions under pressure or the home crowd can start counting down the time until players begin to lose faith in their coach.
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Kyle Newman, beat writer: Broncos 21, 49ers 17
A battle between two impressive defenses in the first half gives way to play-making and gamesmanship in the second half. Yes, Jimmy G will have a moment or two. But it’s Russell Wilson, aided by another potent run-game performance, who throws his first multi-TD game with Denver. The deciding scoring pass goes to Courtland Sutton late in the fourth quarter.
Matt Schubert, sports editor: 49ers 20, Broncos 17
After an underwhelming home debut against an equally underwhelming opponent (Houston), the Broncos step up two or three classes to take on one of the NFL’s top defenses. As much as we recommend staying away on Jimmy G when making wagers, we’d sooner light our money on fire than place a bet on a Nathaniel Hackett-led operation right now.
Sean Keeler, columnist: Broncos 19, 49ers 17
If the sight of old friend Little Shanny doesn’t get Russell Wilson going, nothing will. DangeRuss went 8-2 in 10 regular-season meetings against the Niners in the NFC West, and even more impressively, 4-1 away from the 12th Man in Seattle. What the heck. Let’s ride.