After a disappointing Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears, the 49ers are set for Sunday’s home opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
While it is too early in the season to call it a “must-win” game, the 49ers need to come away from Week 2 with a victory over their NFC West rival not only to keep their playoff expectations intact, but also to calm all of the outside noise.
Coach Kyle Shanahan is adamant that pressure from those outside the building doesn’t reach the inner sanctum of team headquarters, but there’s no doubt that the players and staff alike feel an added sense of urgency after leaving Soldier Field with a loss to start the season.
“Honestly, we don’t hear the outside noise,” Shanahan said on Friday. “Anytime you do lose, there’s a lot more outside noise. Anytime 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 hard to do, but that’s why you don’t look at it that way.”
How the 49ers are able bounce back from their Week 1 performance makes for a captivating matchup on Sunday. The Seahawks had a short week after an emotional win over the Denver Broncos, who are lead by former Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
Can the 49ers take advantage of the situation and catch the Seahawks off guard after a sloppy performance in Chicago? All 46 active gameday players will have to do their part, but there are a few who could tip the scales with a standout performance.
Here are five players to watch in the 49ers’ home opener at Levi’s Stadium:
LB Dre Greenlaw
Greenlaw has been an important part of the 49ers’ defense since his arrival in Santa Clara, but his 2022 debut was not his best performance. The fourth-year linebacker was called for two penalties that kept Bears drives alive and led to scores.
Greenlaw also allowed four receptions on four targets in coverage, one for a touchdown. The Arkansas product will need to play a cleaner game, again facing a mobile quarterback in Seattle’s Geno Smith.
RB Jeff Wilson Jr.
The fifth-year running back likely will be tapped as the starter in the 49ers’ first game after Elijah Mitchell was placed on injured reserve. Wilson had a standout training camp one year removed from a meniscus injury that sidelined him for much of the 2021 season.
Wilson was not able to gain much ground in the club’s loss to the Bears but served as a reliable target for Trey Lance by catching both passes sent his way. The Texas native is known for being called upon for “choice routes” in goal-line situations and also could 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 yards of it came from their two running backs. If Wilson can help get the run game going on Sunday, it will help take some pressure off of Lance — especially considering the weather could again include rain.
WR Brandon Aiyuk
After spending much of the offseason working with Lance, Aiyuk was set to have a breakout start to the 2022 NFL season. But mother nature was an influence on his production in Week 1 as the third-year wideout caught two of his three targets for 40 yards and carried the ball once for a seven-yard gain.
The chemistry Aiyuk developed with Lance has yet to be highlighted in a regular-season game, but there is no doubt that 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, though the wideout’s ability to gain yards after 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 at all. Facing the Seattle defense will still be a challenge with safety Quandre Diggs on the field.
DE Nick Bosa
Bosa started strong out of the gates in Week 1, but monsoon conditions kept the Bears’ offensive game predominantly on the ground. Without many pass rushing opportunities in the second half, he seemed to finish the game quietly.
Bosa closed out the season opener with five tackles: one solo, one sack and two quarterback hits. The Ohio State product’s job doesn’t get any easier this week with another mobile quarterback on deck.
It will be imperative for Bosa and the defensive line to stay disciplined and not lose containment on Smith as he scrambles. With the weather being a factor again on Sunday, Bosa’s ability to affect the run 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 starting quarterback of the club. How the sophomore play-caller bounces back from his Week 1 loss will be analyzed through a microscope.
Lance closed out his 2022 debut as the team’s lead rusher with 13 carries for 54 yards along with 13-of-28 passing for 164 yards and one interception. The young quarterback will need to develop his short game as more rain looms on Sunday.
RELATED: Lance has to keep his running advantage, Shanahan says
Being able to checkdown to 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 after contact, and Lance simply needs to give them the opportunity to do so.
The 22-year old’s big-play capability is not in question, but Lance’s development in getting rid of the ball quickly is something the Seahawks defense will be keeping their eyes on.
Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast