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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (1-1) at San Francisco (1-1)



By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - The Indianapolis Colts have nothing but fond memories of current San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Ditto for Indy quarterback Andrew Luck, who enjoyed success under Harbaugh at Stanford that led to him get selected first overall in the 2012 draft.

Luck and the Colts aren't likely to face off against a happy Harbaugh on Sunday at Candlestick Park as the 49ers try to bounce back from a horrid loss last weekend.

San Francisco began defense of its NFC championship with an exciting 34-28 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, but saw its high-powered offense dominated a week later in Seattle. The 49ers turned the ball over five times and were penalized 12 times for 121 yards in a 29-3 hammering.

Colin Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns versus the Packers, but was shut down by the Seahawks through the air. He totaled only 127 yards passing and was picked off three times, posting a passer rating of 20.1. He did rush for 87 yards on nine carries, but lost a fumble and was sacked three times.

"We're not going to win games if I play like that," Kaepernick said. "There were a couple of balls I tried to force in there."

It was equally frustrating for wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught 13 passes for 208 yards and a score against Green Bay but was limited to four targets and one catch for seven yards.

San Francisco will now try to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 16 and 26, 2010. Harbaugh took over the next year after a successful stint at Stanford between 2007-10. Luck was Harbaugh's quarterback for his final two years at the university and the two were 20-6 together.

"It's going to be tough," said Luck of the upcoming matchup. "They obviously got to the Super Bowl last year. I have a lot of respect for Coach Harbaugh in my years at Stanford with him and (current 49ers defensive coordinator Vic) Fangio and the rest of the Stanford guys on their staff. They're a premier defense. It's going to be a great challenge but I think we're up for it. It'll be a fun week of work."

Harbaugh also has the respect of the Colts franchise. Dubbed "Captain Comeback" during his playing career with the Colts from 1994-97, Harbaugh passed for 8,705 yards and 49 touchdowns in 53 games and 46 starts. In 1995 he made the Pro Bowl and earned Comeback Player of the Year and AFC Player of the Year honors.

A decade later he was inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor.

"He's a great coach. I would never put him down," said Colts defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Niners from 2009-12.

"He's one coach I can tell you that's into it, almost feels like he's a player again. You'll see him out there this week throwing passes to the receivers and I believe he's still got it. We used to mess with him about it, 'Coach, just sign a one-game contract, see what you can do.'"

Harbaugh will now get to see what Luck can do on an NFL field. A rookie sensation a year ago, the 24-year-old threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 1 win over Oakland before struggling late the following weekend in a 24-20 loss to Miami.

Luck threw for 321 yards, but had a fourth-quarter interception and also took a late sack on fourth down.

"Disappointing last series," said Luck. "I don't think I handled a lot of those plays well. You got to get the ball out of your hands no matter what, so I'm severely disappointed with myself for not giving our guys a chance because I thought the O-line did a heck of a job all day."

Ahmad Bradshaw, starting because of a Vick Ballard ACL tear, carried 15 times for 65 yards and a score, while T.Y. Hilton caught six balls for 124 yards.

"We made plays. I thought offensively we moved the ball up and down the field," said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. "That's a darn good football team that came in here. We knew that going in. Credit them."

Pagano will now try to lead his club to its first road-opening win since 2009. The Colts are 5-0 under Pagano in games following a loss and have not suffered a losing streak since beginning the 2011 campaign 0-13.

And he will do so with an added piece, former Browns running back Trent Richardson. Indianapolis pulled off a major trade Wednesday, acquiring the former No. 3 overall pick in exchange for their 2014 first-round pick.

It was a rare in-season trade in the NFL, especially one for a young skill player like Richardson.

"Didn't see THIS ONE COMING!!!!!!" Grig's Rollin' Dice!," read the Twitter feed of Colts owner Jim Irsay, referring to general manager Ryan Grigson.

Richardson was selected by the Browns in the 2012 draft and was viewed as the centerpiece of a rebuilding process for a team that has not made the playoffs since 2002.

The Alabama product had injury issues in a rookie campaign that saw him total 1,317 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has struggled out of the gate this year with just 105 rushing yards in the first two games.

"Trent's a great player and we expect him to have success in this league," said Browns CEO Joe Banner. "Right now, based on how we're building this team for sustainable success, we're going to be aggressive and do what it takes to assemble a team that consistently wins."

Indianapolis leads the all-time series 24-18 and has won the past two meetings between the clubs. The Colts snapped a four-game slide in San Francisco with a 28-3 victory in 2005 and took the most recent encounter at home 18-14 on Nov. 1, 2009.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Luck-Harbaugh dynamic could morph into a chess game. Nobody knows Luck's strengths and weaknesses better than his old college coach -- even if Harbaugh claimed on Monday that Luck doesn't have many weaknesses.

Harbaugh noted on Monday that a lot of Luck's attributes shine brighter on the field than they do in scouting.

"Yeah, he's a terrific player and you see it on the tape," said Harbaugh. "The ball comes out quicker than it looks like it comes out. The velocity on the throws is more than what it looks like. As good as he looks and as physical as he looks in the pocket and tough to bring down, he's even harder to bring down than you think.

He looks fast when he's running with the ball and he's out of the pocket and can make a throw on the run or run. But he's faster than he looks."

Few teams can challenge a quarterback like the Niners, who will send stud outside rushers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks his way. Smith logged a pair of sacks versus the Seahawks, giving him 3 1/2 on the season and 37 in his two- plus NFL seasons.

Safety Eric Reid, meanwhile, has grabbed an interception in back-to-back games to begin his career, becoming the first 49er rookie since the 1970 merger to do so.

Reid did suffer a head injury in the first half against Seattle on a big hit, but Harbaugh said he was showing no concussion symptoms on Monday. Reid will still have to pass the NFL's concussion protocol, however.

One area the Colts may test is up the middle, even though linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman may be there. San Francisco lost starting nose tackle Ian Williams for the rest of the season with a broken left ankle, moving Glenn Dorsey into a starting role.

Injuries are also impacting the Colts. Already down Ballard, tight end Dwayne Allen will miss the rest of the season because of a hip injury suffered in Week 1, while left guard Donald Thomas suffered a torn right quadriceps versus the Dolphins that will end his 2013 campaign.

In Allen's place last weekend, Coby Fleener caught four passes for 69 yards with a score, while rookie third-round pick Hugh Thornton stepped in for Thomas.

"He played well. It's never going to be perfect, especially for a rookie getting his first significant amount of playing time," Pagano said of Thornton. "He did a nice job. He'll only get better. He's a smart guy. He's a tough guy. He's a powerful, powerful man."

Indy did get good news on wideout Darius Heyward-Bey, who injured his ribs last weekend. However, an MRI was negative and he should practice this week.

Heyward-Bey was impressed with how Hilton stepped up versus Miami, giving Luck another option alongside Reggie Wayne.

"Man, he's explosive. He does so many great things in the passing game. The way he gets open, the way he makes plays down the field, real special," said Heyward-Bey.

It will be interesting to see how Kaepernick responds from his worst NFL start. When not using his feet, Kaepernick makes his living with the deep ball, something the Seahawks took away. Pressure helped and the Colts got two sacks last weekend from both linebacker Jerrell Freeman and Robert Mathis.

"I think he was seeing the field. I'm not disappointed in the way Colin played at all. I think he did what he could," Harbaugh said of his quarterback.

One other game within the game will be the matchup of brothers as Colts cornerback Vontae Davis squares off against 49ers tight end Vernon Davis for the first time.

Vernon was the sixth overall pick of the 2006 draft by San Francisco and did suffer a hamstring injury last weekend, but took to Twitter to reassure his status for this matchup.

"No need to worry y'all. My leg is feeling great just need a little rest til kickoff according to the docs," Davis tweeted from his personal account.

Vontae, meanwhile, was taken 25th overall by Miami in 2009.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Harbaugh has been praised for how well he has taken to coaching at the NFL level and will get a blast from his past on Sunday. That shouldn't bother the stone-cold sideline general, who will have no problem using his solid defense to make things miserable for Luck.

Kaepernick seems to mimic his coach's confidence and doesn't seem like he'll have any added pressure this weekend to bounce back. He should see plenty of room to make plays as he faces a Colts defense that allowed Oakland quarterback Terrell Pryor to run for 112 yards in Week 1.

Both clubs need a bounce-back effort, but the tide favors the 49ers.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 28, Colts 13

09/19 13:24:27 ET

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