The San Francisco 49ers are in London to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. This week eight match up will pit them against a struggling team that is in search of their first win. The game will take place at Wembley Stadium which is known for it’s slippery turf. There will be 85,000 people on hand to welcome NFL football back to the London.
The Jaguars are a team that is looking for things to build upon from week to week. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio feels that they are not the same team as they were a few weeks ago especially since they have gotten their best offensive player, Justin Blackmon back. Fangio said; “They’ve made a lot of improvements since the first few games. Part of that has coincided with the return of Blackmon. They’re a much improved offense as compared to earlier in the season.”
Blackmon poses a threat to the 49ers secondary because of his size and strength throughout his routes. He is a big play receiver that has 25 receptions in his last three games. The bulk of them came two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos. Blackmon had 14 catches for 190 yards. He also averaged 27.2 yards per catch against the St. Louis Rams. That was in large part because of a 67 yard touchdown he had.
The 49ers know they have a big task in front of them when it comes to stopping Blackmon. Tarrell Brown highlighted this when he said; “He’s a really talented receiver. You can see they are featuring him. Does a good job of using his body, his strength and his size. All of us DBs will have to be on top of our game to cover that guy.”
Chad Henne has been named the starter once again this week. Blaine Gabbert is cleared for this game but will not get the start. Interestingly enough, he was selected ahead of Colin Kaepernick in the draft. Henne has thrown for 300 yards or more in his last two games. He will be looking to challenge the 49ers pass defense which is ranked sixth in the NFL.
The Jaguars have not ran the ball well. Maurice Jones-Drew only has 316 yards rushing on the season. His average per carry in 3.1 yards. The possible slippery field conditions may cause the Jaguars to call Drew’ number. Fangio touched on that in his press conference. “The game may take on a different personality then it would if the field were normal. They may run a different type offense so we may have to adjust our defense and call it a bit different.”
The 49ers should run the ball with success against the Jaguars 32nd ranked rushing defense. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter will both get an opportunity to have big games. Gore is one of the top rushers in the NFL and the 49ers have won all of the games in which he was able to get going. Hunter is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and offers a really solid option when Gore needs a breather.
All of the Jaguars starters at defensive back are rookies except for cornerback Allen Ball. Gus Bradley is able to help his rookies by generating a pass rush with his defensive front. Their ability to rush the quarterback has helped.
Greg Roman describes their defensive linemen as “… a very aggressive defensive front. Always hitting the quarterback. They’re not getting the sack numbers but they’re getting some real live shots on the quarterback. Have one of the best four man rushes that we’ve seen. Babin stands out. His edge rushing ability. Linebackers are very aggressive. They’re a high energy defense. Very similar to Seattle last year.”
Justin Blackmon vs Tarrell Brown Brown has been the one that sees the most of the opponent’s top receiver. He hasn’t done a bad job this season. His assignment won’t be any easier when he faces one of the hottest receivers in the game. Blackmon is their best weapon and is a primary target for his quarterback.
Jason Babin vs Joe Staley It has been noted that Babin is a ferocious edge rusher. Staley will need to use his athletic ability to get himself set and ready to get a punch on Babin to slow him down. He has gotten some pretty solid hits on the quarterback and Staley will want to keep Kaepernick upright.
Jaguars LBs vs 49ers OL and FB This key match up is by group because of the way the 49ers use the wham blocking scheme. The Jaguars have some pretty athletic linebackers in Geno Hayes and Paul Paul Posluszny. Jonathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati and Alex Boone will need to be sure that they get their feet set and not miss on their blocks on the second level against the linebackers. Bruce Miller or Vance McDonald will have to bring it when they get the wham block on Roy Miller. Executing the wham block properly is key to the 49ers running game being effective.
Josh Evans and Jonathan Cyprien vs Vernon Davis The Jaguars safeties are both rookies and the 49ers will scheme to get Davis in one on one situations against them. They’ll use motion and pre-snap shifts to get the match up that they want. Davis is both stronger and faster than Evans and Cyprien. Cyprien plays in the box often and is very aggressive against the run. This aggressiveness may cause him to bite on play action and really open things up for an easy throw from Kaepernick to Davis for a big gain.
Justin Smith vs Cameron Bradfield and Will Rackley These small college standouts will have their hands full with Justin Smith. Smith is getting back to the way he was before Aldon Smith came around. This means he will not be expected to occupy blockers while Aldon Smith loops inside on their vaunted defensive line stunt. Smith is coming off of a two sack performance against the Tennessee Titans. He will be looking to get pressure on the quarterback and force a bad throw that results in an interception.
Head Coach Gus Bradley is no stranger to the 49ers offense. He faced them many times as the defensive coordinator of Seattle Seahawks. Bradley is mourning the loss of his father as he prepares for this game.
Jerry Sullivan, the current Jaguars wide receivers coach served with the 49ers in the same capacity from 2005 – 2010.
Jaguars assistant offensive line coach Luke Butkus is the nephew of NFL legend Dick Butkus. He actually looks just like him. Butkus was brought in by head coach Gus Bradley from the Seattle Seahawks.
Blaine Gabbert was ranked ahead of Colin Kaepernick and second only to Cam Newton by many experts going into the 2011 NFL Draft. Barring injury, he will not see the field in this game after being a healthy scratch.
Lawrence Okoye returns home to the UK. He has been a point of reference for the 49ers as they spend their time in London.
Defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula has ties to the area as he has coached the defensive line for the England Monarchs in 1998 and the Scottish Claymores 1999-2003.
Here is your injury report:
LB Russell Allen (Limited) Ribs
WR Justin Blackmon (DNP) Hamstring
DE Andre Branch (Full) Knee
WR Stephen Burton (Full) Concussion
S Jonathan Cyprien (Limited) Calf
QB Blaine Gabbert (Full) Hamstring
CB Dwayne Gratz (Limited) Ankle
SS Winston Guy (Limited) Back
DT Sen’Derrick Marks (Limited) Knee/Ankle
DT Roy Miller (Limited) Shoulder
DL Jeremy Mincey (Full) Concussion
WR/PR Ace Sanddrs (Full) Concusssion
WR Cecil Shorts (Limited) Probable
WR Stephen Williams (DNP) Achilles
WR Quinton Patton (DNP) Foot
OT Anthony Davis (Limited) Shoulder
DT Ray McDonald (Limited) Biceps
CB Carlos Rogers (Limited) Knee
DT Justin Smith (Limited) Shoulder
TE Vernon Davis (Full) Hamstring
RB Frank Gore (Full) Knee
QB Colin Kaepernick (Full) Foot
WR Kyle Williams (Full) Knee
LB Patrick Willis (Limited) Groin
The NFL will continue to grow on an international level with this game in London. Wembley Stadium has a capacity of 85,000 people and the game will be sold out. A team like the 49ers that has a long history of legendary players is the perfect venue for the international series. The 49ers will be looking to go into the bye week with a convincing win over the Jaguars.