NFC West: Dwayne Allen

Double Coverage: Colts vs 49ers

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
12:00
PM ET

The Tree Bowl is upon us.

In one of the more intriguing matchups of Week 3, coach Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers will host quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts -- and their new running back Trent Richardson.

This is a homecoming for Luck and a reunion for both men. Luck played for Harbaugh at nearby Stanford. They were the toast of college football, and Harbaugh played it into a job with the 49ers after the 2010 season. Luck stayed on The Farm another year and had a brilliant rookie season last year.

However, there is much more than the Harbaugh-Luck angle in this game, as both 2012 playoff teams are coming off a loss in Week 2. Colts' reporter Mike Wells and I discuss the matchup in Double Coverage:

Wells: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked like he was more than a read-option quarterback when he threw for 412 yards in Week 1, but he was back to normal against Seattle, only throwing for 127 yards. Which game is the real Kaepernick -- the Week 1 performance or Week 2 at Seattle?

Williamson: I think he has shown the real Kaepernick is much closer to the one we saw against the Packers. The Seattle game was Kaepernick's worst in his 12 NFL starts. Kaepernick is still inexperienced and still growing. I think he will learn from the Seattle game. Plus, the Colts' defense is beatable in the air and on the ground. Kaepernick will likely bounce back. I expect to see Kaepernick have some success on the ground, similar to the success Oakland's Terrelle Pryor had against the Colts in Week 1.

Wells: Kaepernick will be a problem for the Colts. The only time the Colts had the answer for Pryor was when he decided to try to beat them with his arm instead of his feet. The Colts intercepted him twice, but I don't see them having that same kind of success against Kaepernick. He's a better runner and definitely a better passer than Pryor. You obviously cover Kaepernick on a daily basis, you know about Luck and you were in Seattle this week. Do you think the 49ers' quarterback deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Luck, Russell Wilson and RG III?

Williamson: Oh, I'm a big Luck fan. As far as I'm concerned, the question should be whether the other young quarterbacks deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Luck. Yes, he is a different quarterback than the other young stars. But this is what Luck has that will never go out of style -- he is a great pocket passer. He is a traditional star who would have been dominant in any era he played. I fancy myself as someone who stays grounded and doesn't speak bombastically about analysis. With that said, on the night Luck was drafted, I predicted his career will end with a ceremony in Canton, Ohio. I truly believe that and look forward to seeing him play in person for the first time Sunday.

Wells: Of course, this game became much more than Harbaugh and Luck when the Colts made the blockbuster deal for Richardson with Cleveland on Wednesday. Will the 49ers prepare as if they'll be facing Richardson on Sunday, or will they go in with the mindset that it'll be Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown, since Richardson will only have two practices and a walk-through to learn Indianapolis' system?

Williamson: It definitely changed the 49ers' week. They are in a tough spot. They made their plan for the Colts and were actually executing it on the practice field for the first time when the trade went down. I don't think the 49ers totally changed their game plan because of the trade. But it altered it. Coaches suddenly had to watch film of Richardson and make adjustments. Because Richardson is a running back, I expect to see him a lot Sunday. He doesn't need a lot of time in the playbook. The Colts gave up a first-round pick for Richardson so they can win now. They will start using him when they can, and I'd think that will start Sunday. But the 49ers are good against the run. They were fourth in the NFL last season. They will attack this curveball with confidence.

Wells: Anything Richardson can give the Colts will be an upgrade over Brown, a former first-round pick who hasn't lived up to expectations. Bradshaw is still rounding into shape after not playing in the preseason, so having Richardson share some of the snaps with him will help the Colts' running game and hopefully open the passing game for Luck. The Colts are dealing with their fair share of injuries, losing starting tight end Dwayne Allen for the season. How big of a loss is nose tackle Ian Williams on defense for the 49ers?

Williamson: It hurts, but it's not devastating. Injuries happen to every team. Williams is a nice player and he was coming into his own. Free-agent pickup Glenn Dorsey was rotating with Williams. Now Dorsey is the starter. I think the 49ers will survive this injury as long as Dorsey stays healthy. There is not much depth behind him.

Wells: The Colts will test Dorsey, because Bradshaw and Richardson are both straight-ahead backs who run like they're angry at somebody. So much is being made about the Luck-Harbaugh reunion, but the real reunion is between brothers Vontae and Vernon Davis. Do you think Vernon will play with a purpose because his kid brother is on the field?

Williamson: It's really interesting, Mike. Vontae has been in the league since 2009, but this will be the brothers' first meeting. The Dolphins played the 49ers the year before they drafted Vontae, and they played the 49ers last season, shortly after dealing Vontae to the Colts. Vernon has been out of practice with a hamstring tweak. However, he has indicated he will play. I fully expect him out there. Vernon is a prime-time guy, and playing against his little brother will get his juices flowing. And of course, Harbaugh can tell Vernon all about the intensity of going against a sibling.

Eight in the Box: Breakout player

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Who is one potential breakout player for each NFC West team in 2013?

Arizona Cardinals: Tight end Rob Housler comes to mind as a talented young player likely to benefit from an upgraded quarterback situation. Housler had 45 receptions, so it's not as though he was a nonfactor entirely. Based on that figure alone, we might just as easily point to receiver Michael Floyd, who also had 45 catches, as a breakout candidate. Why Housler? The Cardinals were the only team in the NFL without a touchdown reception from a tight end last season. Housler should catch a few of them with Carson Palmer taking over at quarterback. Last season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians coordinated an Indianapolis Colts offense featuring rookie tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Those two combined for 111 targets, 66 receptions and five touchdowns. Other breakout candidates for the Cardinals in 2013 could include Sam Acho and/or O'Brien Schofield. Both figure to get extensive opportunities rushing the passer.

St. Louis Rams: Running back Isaiah Pead is a close choice over receiver Brian Quick. Both came to mind immediately as leading candidates for breakout seasons after neither produced much as a second-round choice in 2012. Quick caught two scoring passes among his 27 receptions as a rookie. Pead was a nonfactor with only 10 carries. That gives him more room for growth. Pead should see a significant increase in opportunities now that Steven Jackson is with the Atlanta Falcons. When I asked quarterback Sam Bradford about breakout candidates last summer, Pead was one of the first players he mentioned based on physical abilities alone. Bradford wasn't sure whether Pead could contribute right away after missing organized team activities, because of the graduation schedule at the University of Cincinnati. In the end, Pead never gained much traction. Bradford did think Pead had the talent to be "special" in a change-of-pace role, at least. The thinking here is that Pead should be just as talented now as he was then, and that he'll benefit from a year in the offensive system and additional opportunities.

San Francisco 49ers: Running back LaMichael James stands out as the obvious choice after carrying 27 times for 125 yards as a rookie. James and fellow 2012 draft choice A.J. Jenkins would be the leading candidates for breakout seasons based on players already on the roster. Of the two, only James has shown enough at this point to warrant a clearly defined role in the offense for 2013. There are some obstacles in James' path. Frank Gore remains the projected starter at running back for the upcoming season. Kendall Hunter is returning from injury and could take away carries from James. Still, there should be room for James to contribute over the course of the season. Having the shifty James in the backfield with quarterback Colin Kaepernick gave the 49ers a welcome dimension in the playoffs. James carried 11 times for 65 yards (5.9 average) in the postseason. The 49ers could also have breakout players at free safety and in the No. 2 tight end role behind Vernon Davis; however, it's not yet clear which players will fill those roles. The team could find solutions in the draft later this month.

Seattle Seahawks: Guard J.R. Sweezy is a logical candidate in the truest sense. He projects as the starting right guard after arriving in 2012 as a seventh-round choice from NC State. Sweezy played defensive tackle in college. The Seahawks converted him to guard and loved what they saw, so much so that coaches rushed him into the starting lineup before Sweezy was ready to make the jump. Sweezy played 100 percent of the snaps in Seattle's first, 15th and 16th games last season. He played most of the snaps through two postseason games. Having a full offseason in the starting lineup should send Sweezy on his way. It's possible little-known linebacker Malcolm Smith will break out as a starter after seeing his playing time increase over the final five games last season. Sweezy appears more clearly positioned to start, however. Cornerback Jeremy Lane is another young player to watch. I excluded receiver Golden Tate from consideration because he broke out last season with eight touchdown receptions.

Note: This item was updated to correct the number of receptions for the Colts' rookie tight ends last season.

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