NFL

Niners defense to provide stiff test of Wentz's misleading resurgence

By Sports Desk October 22, 2021

The Indianapolis Colts appeared destined for a lost season back in Week 3.

Indianapolis started the year with three successive defeats and the Colts' gamble on their ability to revive Carson Wentz's career looking misjudged.

Since then, the Colts have enjoyed wins over the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans, sandwiched by a heartbreaking defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in which they let slip a 19-point lead and lost in overtime.

The performances in those last three games have led to renewed optimism around a team that has reached the playoffs in two of the last three seasons.

Should Indianapolis knock off the San Francisco 49ers on the road in primetime, then the hype around the Colts will only grow.

Yet the 49ers figure to prove a difficult matchup for a quarterback whose performances in recent weeks have perhaps been slightly overrated.

Sub-par accuracy

Ninth in the league in yards per attempt (8.01) and with nine touchdowns to one interception, the numbers through six games for Wentz are impressive.

Yet his completion percentage is 64.2, 21st among 32 qualifying quarterbacks and that is reflected by his accuracy numbers.

Wentz, per Stats Perform data, has produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 77.7 per cent of his passes, below the league average of 78.8 for quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts.

And he is set to face a Niners defense that has once again been among the league's best this season.

An intimidating defensive line

While the 49ers are themselves an underwhelming 2-3 and riding a three-game losing streak, their defense is excelling under new coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

The 49ers rank sixth in the NFL by yards per game allowed (329.8) and eighth in yards per play (5.29) and, while they are 30th in the NFL with only 76 pressures, they boast defensive linemen who can get Wentz out of rhythm.

Defensive tackle Arik Armstead and edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have each dominated in 2021 when it comes to winning their individual matchups.

Armstead has a stunt-adjusted win percentage of 52.63 from his 49 pass rush matchups this year. Ford is next on 45 per cent while Bosa has an adjusted win percentage of 41.54 from 60 matchups. The league average for defensive linemen is 22 per cent.

They will each look to prosper against a Colts offense that has allowed the ninth-most pressures in the NFL (105) while the numbers suggest the Niners should excel at limiting the explosive plays on which Wentz has found joy in recent weeks.

Big plays not a guarantee

On passing attempts of 21 or more air yards, Wentz has the highest passer rating in the NFL (144.7).

He has completed 11 of 18 such attempts for 377 yards and three touchdowns and showed off his deep-ball prowess during last week's rout of the Texans.

Wentz hooked up with Parris Campbell for a 51-yard touchdown and connected with T.Y. Hilton for a 52-yard reception; however, such plays are partially a reflection of the struggles of a Texans defense allowing 7.6 yards per pass play.

The 49ers, despite a spate of injuries to their cornerbacks, have allowed 43 pass plays of 10 yards or more, the fewest in the NFL. San Francisco's defense has conceded 16 pass plays of 20 yards or more, the seventh-fewest in the league.

Wentz, therefore, may be forced into a more conservative approach in a game expected to take place in inclement weather. Helpfully, he may be able to lean more on the running game, with San Francisco 16th in yards per rush allowed (4.26) and running back Jonathan Taylor fifth in the NFL in yards per carry (5.43) for players at his position as he enjoys a superb start to his second season.

Indianapolis' signal-caller can also afford to at least have confidence in his ability to avoid turnovers. His pickable pass percentage of 1.68 is the fourth best among quarterbacks with a minimum of 10 attempts and the 49ers have a league-low two takeaways to their name.

A closer look at the evidence from his reunion with Colts coach Frank Reich indicates Wentz might find success difficult on Sunday should the Colts need to win the game on his arm. If he contradicts the statistics and thrives against a tough defense on the road, then the optimism around Indianapolis will be more justified.

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