The Herald Bulletin
---- — If you were trying to create an NFL team with the expressed purpose of defeating the Indianapolis Colts, that team would look a lot like the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco has a bruising pass rush led by defensive lineman Justin Smith and outside linebacker Aldon Smith, and the Colts have a rookie making his first start at left guard Sunday on the offensive line.
An Indianapolis defensive secondary that has had communication problems in each of the first two games faces a powerful and crafty veteran receiver in Anquan Boldin, who burned the Colts for five catches for 145 yards and one touchdown in the playoffs last season as a Baltimore Raven.
The quarterback throwing the ball to Boldin — Colin Kaepernick — is at least as good a passer as Miami's Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 319 yards against Indy on Sunday, and at least as a good a rusher as Oakland's Terrelle Pryor, who ran for 112 yards against the Colts in Week 1.
The Niners might even be able to neutralize Indianapolis' greatest strength, quarterback Andrew Luck.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh — a member of the Colts' Ring of Honor after leading the team to the AFC Championship Game following the 1995 regular season — had Luck on his roster for three seasons at Stanford. He understands not only what the second-year quarterback does well but how and why he does it. And, perhaps more importantly, what he doesn't like to see from defenses to keep him from doing it.
Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also was at Stanford with Luck and — briefly — Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. The scheme the Colts are running is very similar to the one Luck ran with the Cardinal, and Fangio knows it inside and out.
The odds-makers have installed San Francisco as a 10.5-point favorite for Sunday's game in California's Bay Area. And that number might rise after bettors push their money toward the reigning NFC champions.
But it's never a good idea to take anything for granted in the NFL.
A year ago at this time, Kaepernick was a backup to Alex Smith and the Colts still were a popular pick to finish with the league's worst record. Nothing was expected of the Niners quarterback or Indianapolis' franchise last season.
Kaepernick's 10th career start ended up coming in Super Bowl XLVII, and the Colts wound up as one of the best stories in the NFL after rallying behind leukemia-stricken head coach Chuck Pagano and earning an unlikely AFC wild card berth.
The odds literally and figuratively are stacked against Indianapolis on Sunday.
Of course, that's when this version of the Colts has done some of its best work.