Each week, the PFF analysis team will bring you break downs of the most important matchups for each game of the NFL season.
Coverage by: David Neumann
Matchup: San Francisco 49ers offense vs. Indianapolis Colts defense
- QB Brian Hoyer on intermediate passes — Hoyer’s reunion with Kyle Shanahan hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing through the first quarter of the season, with his 68.5 overall grade currently ranking 26th. A significant reason for Hoyer’s struggles has been an inability to connect on intermediate throws (those traveling between 10 and 19 yards in the air). His 55.2 passer rating on such throws ranks 30th, and only rookie DeShone Kizer has seen a higher percentage of his intermediate passes receive a negative grade than Hoyer’s 39.4 percent. Indianapolis has been especially stingy defending intermediate passes this season, allowing a 44.8 passer rating (second) and a 51.6 adjusted completion percentage (third).
- T Trent Brown vs. Edge Jabaal Sheard — Brown has been a revelation so far, earning a place on the PFF All-Pro Team through the first quarter of the season with an 85.7 overall grade that currently ranks fourth among tackles. His work in the run game has been much improved, but it’s really as a pass protector where he’s stood out. The massive right tackle has allowed just five total quarterback pressures (tied for sixth-fewest) on the season, including two games with a clean sheet. Brown will spend much of Sunday matched up with Sheard, whose 85.6 overall grade currently ranks 11th among 103 qualifying edge defenders. Sheard has rushed the passer from the left side of the defense on 60.5 percent of pass-rushes, recording 13 of his 17 total quarterback pressures from a left-side alignment.
- 49ers zone running game vs. Colts front-seven — Kyle Shanahan is balancing his inside zone and outside zone usage more this season than he did with the Falcons (where he was more outside zone heavy) and it’s proven effective so far. San Francisco averaged 5.45 yards per attempt on zone runs (fourth) in the season’s opening month, including an impressive 2.52 yards before contact per attempt (fourth). Indianapolis was solid defending zone runs during the first three weeks, when they allowed 3.03 yards per attempt with just 0.77 coming before contact. Last week, however, was a different story, as the Seahawks ran roughshod over the Colts defense to the tune of 116 yards on 25 zone carries (4.64 per attempt), with 60 of those yards coming before contact.
Coverage by: Mike Alessandrini
Matchup: Indianapolis Colts offense vs. San Francisco 49ers defense
- C Ryan Kelly vs. DI DeForest Buckner – After missing his team’s first four games, the Colts center will make his debut in Week 5. Indianapolis will be hoping for a big second year from their 2016 first-round pick to help solidify a struggling offensive line. Kelly was solid during his rookie year, earning an overall grade of 73.8. He also ranked 22nd among centers in pass-blocking efficiency at 97.6, allowing 20 total pressures (but no sacks) on 623 pass-block snaps. The sophomore will have his hands full this week against DeForest Buckner. Another 2016 first-round pick, Buckner is our highest-graded interior defender through four weeks (93.2). The former Oregon Duck’s 13.4 pass-rush productivity ranks second at his position.
- HB Frank Gore vs. 49ers linebackers – The Colts will need a strong effort from their running game to neutralize a strong 49ers pass-rush this week. Gore’s 2.70 yards after contact per attempt ranks eighth among running backs, but his 28.7 elusive rating is 18th best. The veteran has forced just seven missed tackles on 66 touches. With rookie linebacker Reuben Foster nursing an ankle injury, NaVorro Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong will combat Indianapolis’ rushing attack. After a rough start to the year, Bowman tallied three defensive stops and eight solo tackles (without missing one) in Week 4 against Arizona. Armstrong earned an 83.3 grade last week, and has accumulated 10 stops in 115 run-defense snaps this season.
- T Anthony Castonzo vs. Edge Solomon Thomas – The veteran and rookie will lock horns in both the passing and running game this week. Castonzo’s 89.4 run-block grade is the highest among all offensive tackles in 2017. He has allowed no sacks and only two total pressures in his last two contests. Thomas has enjoyed a fine start to his career in San Francisco. The former Stanford Cardinal has accumulated nine total pressures in four games, six of which game last week against the Cardinals (one sack, four hits and one hurry). He leads all rookie edge defenders with five run stops.