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Week 14 Game Recap: Denver Broncos 14, San Francisco 49ers 20


What you need to know

Denver Broncos

Denver lost receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an Achilles injury in practice Wednesday of last week. He may miss a portion of next season. Tim Patrick and Daesean Hamilton stepped up with solid receiving efforts as Courtland Sutton did not exactly shine as the #1 receiving option. Denver's run game couldn't get anything going as San Francisco's front seven dominated in the run and passing game. Case Keenum was pressured heavily all day, and turned in a poor outing without Sanders. One bright spot is that Denver did not commit any turnovers. Darian Stewart intercepted Nick Mullens in the 4th quarter.

San Francisco 49ers

The passing game's dominance, which was almost entirely a first-half phenomenon, was more a triumph of play design than anything else, as George Kittle's three big plays were due to him being as wide open as a receiver can get. Once Denver adjusted their coverage and dialed up their pass rush, Nick Mullens and company were far less effective. That said, one player who stood out for his individual -- rather than scheme-related -- success was Dante Pettis. He (surprisingly) started ahead of a healthy Marquise Goodwin and constantly demonstrated why said decision was made. Although he dropped two passes, the All-22 video clearly showed a polished route runner who can beat any type of coverage a defense throws at him. When a San Francisco wide receiver can win easily on a fade route at the goal line, you know something's different this time.

Denver Broncos

QB Case Keenum, 74 offensive snaps, Pass: 24 - 42 - 186 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 4 - 24 - 0
Keenum lost his favorite receiving option when Emmanuel Sanders blew his Achilles out in practice on Wednesday, and it showed in Sunday's contest. Keenum struggled mightily in the 1st half, and entered halftime with less than 50 yards passing. Keenum pieced together some decent drives in the 2nd half as he established a bit of rapport with young receivers Patrick and Hamilton. Keenum converted 4th and 2 with a 20 yard corner route to Tim Patrick in the 3rd quarter, setting Denver up on San Francisco's 2 yard line. Keenum led another scoring drive late in the 4th quarter, converting 4th and 7 with a toe-tapping sideline connection to Tim Patrick. Keenum capped the drive with a short touchdown pass to Daesean Hamilton, who ran an out route from the slot while Sutton crossed his defenders face.

Keenum had a couple of nice scrambles as he totaled 24 yards on the ground. He rolled out to the right and scrambled for a 16 yard gain to convert 3rd and long in the 2nd quarter.

RB Phillip Lindsay, 48 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 30 - 1, Rec: 4 - 21 - 0 (7 targets)
The Denver run game was nowhere to be found in week 14. Lindsay couldn't muster a run longer than 5 yards, but he did punch in a short touchdown in the 3rd quarter. Denver gave Lindsay the ball on three different 4th down conversion attempts. He got the carry on 4th and 3 in the 3rd quarter, but couldn't quite turn the corner to convert the play. He was targeted with a short pass on 4th and 3 again in the 4th, but was tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Lindsay did convert a 4th and short carry later in the 4th quarter.

Lindsay drew 7 targets in the passing game. He made a smooth one handed grab on his first target of the day, a short swing route in the 1st quarter. He lined up in the slot and caught a quick pass in the 2nd quarter for a short gain. Lindsay picked up 11 yards with a swing route out of the backfield in the 4th quarter. Lindsay out-touched Freeman 18-6.

RB Royce Freeman, 9 offensive snaps, Rush: 6 - 36 - 0 (1 targets)
Freeman logged 6 carries behind Lindsay's 14. He picked up most of his yards on a 23 yard carry that he broke off of right tackle in the 4th quarter, finishing the run with a mean stiff arm. Freeman could not secure his only target of the day.

RB Devontae Booker, 17 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 11 - 0 (2 targets)
Booker was featured during the 2 minute offense at the end of the first half. He caught a short checkdown pass out of the backfield for a short gain. Booker picked up a few more yards with one last checkdown pass at the end of the 4th quarter.

RB Andy Janovich, 13 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0
Fullback Janovich held down his usual blocking duties and logged one carry for a few yards.

WR Tim Patrick, 64 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 11 - 0, Rec: 7 - 85 - 0 (10 targets)
It was Patrick, not Sutton, who picked up the slack after the Broncos lost Emmanuel Sanders to an Achilles injury last week. Patrick led the team in targets and yards. He hauled in an out route for a nice gain in the 2nd quarter. Keenum found him again on a deep comeback route down the left sideline for a first down in the 3rd quarter. The highlight of Patrick's day was a 20 yard corner route that converted 4th and 2 in the 3rd quarter. Patrick was pushed out of bounds just shy of the 2 yard line on the play. Patrick made a beautiful toe-tapping reception on the right sideline to convert 4th and long at the end of the 4th quarter.

Patrick carried the ball once on an end-around in the 2nd quarter that picked up a first down and some extra yardage after a defender hit him late on the play.

WR DaeSean Hamilton, 72 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 47 - 1 (9 targets)
Hamilton worked a lot out of the slot behind Sutton and Patrick on the outside, drawing 9 targets. He got his day started with a short curl route late in the 1st quarter. Keenum hit him with a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage in the 2nd quarter, but a savvy defender stopped the play for no gain. Hamilton made a diving catch on a quick slant in the 3rd quarter. A scrambling Keenum found Hamilton on a crossing route at the end of the 3rd quarter. Hamilton made a falling catch on a short slant route in the 4th quarter. Hamilton took a huge shot to the back as he secured an 18 yard gain on a post route late in the 4th, but he bounced back up immediately and finished the drive with a touchdown. Hamilton was wide open on an out route for the short touchdown after losing his defender to a rub route by Sutton.

WR Courtland Sutton, 51 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - -1 - 0, Rec: 2 - 14 - 0 (6 targets)
Sutton turned in a dud in his first outing as Denver's #1 receiver. Keenum loaded up a deep ball for Sutton down the left sideline on Denver's first offensive play of the game, but a defender was in Sutton's hip pocket. Sutton recorded his first catch on a short curl route late in the 2nd quarter. Keenum hit him on a crossing route early in the 3rd quarter for a 10 yard gain. Sutton ran an end-around toss play later in the same drive, and cut upfield too early on the run as a defender took him down for a loss. Sutton got his hands on a pass from Keenum in the end zone late in the 4th, but he couldn't secure the comeback route with a defender hanging off his back. Keenum looked for him again in the end zone on the next play, but overthrew the corner route.

TE Matt LaCosse, 60 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 3 - 0 (1 targets)
LaCosse continues to disappoint as Denver's top tight end option. He caught his only target for a 3 yard gain. Fellow tight end Brian Parker didn't do much better, but did get a target in the end zone in the 4th quarter.

TE Brian Parker, 15 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (2 targets)
Parker worked as the second tight end behind LaCosse. He had one reception on a short out route late in the 3rd quarter. He was targeted in the end zone on a short out route at the end of the game, but Keenum missed him.


San Francisco 49ers

RB Jeff Wilson, 62 offensive snaps, Rush: 23 - 90 - 0, Rec: 1 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)
Only 1 of Wilson's 23 carries gained double-digit yardage, so his 90-yard total required a constant struggle. The problem was two-fold. First, San Francisco's toss sweeps and outside zones couldn't outflank Denver's talent and speed at outside linebacker (i.e., Von Miller and Bradley Chubb). Second, when the 49ers aborted that mission and attempted to attack up the middle, their interior lineman failed over and over again to create a push off the line of scrimmage. This showed up in Wilson's advanced stats, as Pro Football Focus indicates that he encountered contact an average of only 1.78 yards downfield. In short, there simply wasn't much running room for Wilson, and so he did well to end up with as many yards as he did.

WR Dante Pettis, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 49 - 1 (7 targets)
In what may be a harbinger of things to come, Pettis started and played Marquise Goodwin's role in the offense despite Goodwin being available (and actually playing). His first two targets fell incomplete, one dropped and one batted down at the line of scrimmage, but his next two produced San Francisco's second touchdown of the day, extending their lead to 20-0 going into halftime. Working at the goal line against cornerback Isaac Yiadom on both, Pettis drew a pass interference penalty on Yiadom, and then easily beat him on a fade route to score. There was another drop among his next few targets, but he atoned for that by producing a big play to get the 49ers out of bad field position just as they were doing their best to "achieve" another come-from-ahead loss. On the play, he adroitly found a hole in Denver's zone, caught the ball 13 yards downfield, and ran for 18 additional yards.

WR Marquise Goodwin, 24 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 20 - 0 (2 targets)
Goodwin came off the bench and played sparingly in his first game since Week 10. And most of said playing time was actually in Pierre Garcon's old spot, not his own. He didn't play on San Francisco's first drive and didn't see his first target until their third drive. It was a 13-yard square in against off man coverage from cornerback Isaac Yiadom. After that, Goodwin proceeded to fumble on both of his other targets, but lost neither. The first, which Denver recovered, got nullified by a Broncos penalty. The second went out of bounds.

WR Kendrick Bourne, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 22 - 0 (4 targets)
Bourne started in place of Pierre Garcon, but split time at the position with Marquise Goodwin. He was targeted on the second play of the game, stumbling off the line of scrimmage, but recovering to gain 10 yards on a quick out. After dropping his second target, Bourne gained 13 yards on a square in against the off man coverage of cornerback Isaac Yiadom. After his next catch was nullified by a defensive penalty, Bourne's final target came on the first play of the 49ers' first drive of the second half. It was another square in, but this time he slipped and fell making his break inside, so the pass fell incomplete (and almost intercepted). In short, Bourne's cleats played defense against him as well as Denver did.

TE George Kittle, 66 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 210 - 1 (9 targets)
Kittle produced 5 of San Francisco's 10 longest plays, 3 of which gained over 30 yards. So how does a tight end eclipse 200 yards receiving in the first half? In short, Kyle Shanahan's game plan and Kittle's execution completely overwhelmed both the man-to-man and zone coverage of linebacker Todd Davis and safety Darian Stewart. On all three of his 30-plus yard first half receptions (totaling 168 yards), Kittle was wide open against one, the other, or both; and with wide open space to run after the catch. So what happened in the second half to make Kittle disappear? First, the 49ers went into a shell offensively, running the ball far more often. Second, before San Francisco's game-sealing drive, Denver had held the ball for twice as long (17:23 to 8:56). Third, Kittle's routes went towards the left side of the field, i.e., away from the aforementioned duo that he'd torched in the first half. Fourth, Denver started double-covering him. And finally, Denver dialed up their pass rush to the point that Nick Mullens didn't have enough time to find Kittle downfield anymore.