49ers vs. Colts: Niners defense hinges on stopping Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

The 49ers need to game plan around stopping Colts running back Jonathan Taylor in Week 7.

The San Francisco 49ers should have a whiteboard in their locker room with Jonathan Taylor‘s name circled in red on it ahead of their matchup against the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday.

Why such an emphasis on Taylor? The second-year running back out of Wisconsin is playing out of his mind for the Colts. He earned FedEx Ground Player of the Week honors for his two-touchdown performance against the Houston Texans last week. One of those scores was set up by his explosive 83-yard rush on first down.

And last week was no outlier. Taylor has been burning down defenses for the three weeks straight.

Let’s just say that Indy going 2-1 through the last three games and Taylor picking up his performance is no coincidence. The entire Colts offense is feeding off of his energy and relying on him to boost them into possible playoff contention.

Let’s dive a little deeper into Taylor’s last three defensive matchups. The run-defense rankings for his opponents based on total yards allowed in 2021 are as follows: Texans (31), Baltimore Ravens (3), Miami Dolphins (22). All over the board. Yet, Taylor’s five touchdowns and 441 total yards rank first in the league through the last three games. He’s been consistently effective no matter what opponents have thrown at him.

San Francisco ranks No. 18 in yards allowed by an opponent and should give Taylor more trouble than last week’s Texans did. It turns out there may be some history in this matchup, too, with 49ers linebacker Fred Warner dishing out high praise to Taylor dating back to their college days.

In that same breath, Warner told NBC Sports reporters that Taylor has “breakaway speed.”

“He runs the ball hard. He’s a really good back,” Warner added, “so, obviously, we’re going to have to bring all 11.”

History from former college foes always adds a little spice to these matchups, and in this case, it’s the perfect recipe for a breakout game by Warner. So far this season, the linebacker’s play has regressed. He has just nine tackles through five weeks and looks nothing like his former self that landed a massive payout on a five-year extension in the offseason.

The talent is there for Warner, and this game needs to be a turning point for him.

The one upside for the 49ers defense is that Taylor isn’t getting a typical feature-back number of carries. In his highly productive performance last week, he only had two carries through the first half. The Colts have taken a more generous approach to their run game, meaning Taylor’s had to split a high number of carries with Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack.

The good thing about lower-volume carries is that Taylor won’t have as many opportunities to wear down the Niners. The bad thing is he’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has the second most scrimmage yards in the league despite having 76 fewer touches than the Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry, who ranks first. Taylor knows how to cash in on his opportunities.

Whatever it takes, San Francisco needs to stifle Taylor. Preventing explosive plays for the running back will force the ball into less productive hands for the Colts offense and make coming out with a much-needed dominant victory over Indy a more realistic outcome.

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