Who are the 2012 San Francisco 49ers?
Through one quarter of the season, that question still needs answering, and it will start with the matchup against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Candlestick Park. The team that lost a miscue-laden contest to the Minnesota Vikings in a 24-13 defeat in Week 3 in Minneapolis was far different from the one that went into New York and embarrassed the Jets 34-0 in their house a week later.
The 49ers will need to rediscover their identity, which is a hard-nosed football team who excels at stopping the run. Running the ball has been one of the things the 2-2 Bills have done consistently on offense, averaging 158 rushing yards per game. But that will be more of a challenge this week as they will be without two of their starting offensive linemen, Cody Glenn and Kraig Urbik, who are each nursing ankle injuries.
Running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are off the injury report after dealing with injuries of their own early in the season, but they figure to have a difficult time finding any running room against the stingy Niners' defense that's allowing just 79.5 rushing yards per game.
While injuries may prove to be a significant challenge for Buffalo, San Francisco will likely have their entire 53-man roster at full strength for the first time all season according to CSN Bay Area. That bodes well for the team's chances to force Bills' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them through the air. Through four games, he has completed just 57.6 percent of his passes and thrown seven interceptions. If the 49ers can get pressure on him early, they can give the Bills fits all afternoon and force some mistakes.
On offense, the 49ers will face an underachieving Bills' defense that is hungry to prove it can live up to its top billing after giving up an outrageous 406.5 yards per game thus far in 2012. To penetrate the defensive front, San Francisco will need a big effort from running back and inspirational leader Frank Gore. Fortunately, the burden on his shoulders will lighten considerably as Brandon Jacobs figures to return to action after turning in two straight full practices heading into Week 5. His short yardage ability will be key in sustaining drives and controlling the clock, an area the 49ers have struggled in to this point.
No opponent should be taken lightly, but if the 49ers head into this contest focused and don't fall into the complacency trap they succumbed to in Minnesota, they should come away with the win.