NFL 2014 Preseason Preview: San Diego Chargers vs. San Francisco 49ers

By Timothy Downs
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The San Diego Chargers head north to take on the San Francisco 49ers in the two team’s regular season dress rehearsal in Week 3 of the NFL preseason on Sunday. Both playoff teams in 2013, the two franchises are built very differently, but have the same goal to redeem themselves from their postseason losses and compete for a Super Bowl.

If the 49ers have a weakness on defense, it would be their secondary, which Phillip Rivers must try to expose with WRs Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd, considering TEs Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates have to square off with a tough San Francisco linebacker corps over the middle. Rivers must stretch the field wide and challenge, in particular, rookie S Jimmy Ward when he is in the game.

San Diego heads into the 2014 season with a three-headed backfield of Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. Mathews is undoubtedly their feature back, but there is a prevailing theory that the addition of Brown will cut into his carries rather than Woodhead’s, who excels mainly at catching passes out of the backfield as a quasi scat back. It’s worth keeping an eye on how offensive coordinator Frank Reich assigns their carries throughout this game.

San Diego’s defense is expected to return numerous players from injury in Week 3, including their rookie first-round pick at cornerback, Jason Verrett, and the veteran edge rusher and former Indianapolis Colts‘ legend, Dwight Freeney. Both are making their preseason debuts. LB Manti Te’o is not expected to play, and his inability to stay on the field thus far into his short NFL career is a trend that is already hurting the Chargers in just his second season.

The 49ers have endured their fair share of injuries as well, particularly in their backfield as LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore both suffered injuries earlier this summer. Circumstance has opened up an opportunity for second-round pick Carlos Hyde to cement a larger role in the 49ers’ system behind their veteran, Frank Gore.

San Francisco returns many of the same receivers as 2013, highlighted by Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. They added former Buffalo Bills WR Stevie Johnson as a deep threat down field, and veteran Brandon Lloyd, giving themselves solid players at No. 1 through 4 on their WR depth chart.

QB Colin Kaepernick had an up and down 2013 campaign, but stabilized down the stretch and still brought the team to an NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks. He now has four explosive pass catchers in his system in Johnson, Boldin, Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis and is primed for big things in what is still just his third NFL season as a starter.

The 49ers’ defense will have to identify who will step up in LB Aldon Smith‘s absence during the regular season, as he undoubtedly faces a considerably lengthy suspension for violating numerous league rules over the offseason. Smith is eligible to play in the preseason, but keep an eye on backup Dan Skuta when he enters the game, as it would work wonders if Skuta could step up and give the team 75 percent of what Smith could in his absence.

Timothy Downs is a St. Louis Rams/NFL writer for You can add him on Google or follow on Twitter @Tidow1212.

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