#Channel49 Mailbag (Week 15): Play Calling, Quinton Patton, Playoffs & More

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Every Friday Trevor Woods and I get together at 2pm PST to discuss the state of our 49ers on Twitter. This week, unsurprisingly, people had more to say about future personnel moves than this week's game at Tampa. Are the fans falling into the 'trap game' mentality?

Play Calling & Stratemagizing

That game-changing play by Frank Gore was one they hadn't run all season, despite what Pete Carroll says. The call was perfect and Frank Gore left Earl Thomas in the lurch, when he could have been tackled for a 15-yard gain. That play will be remembered as one of the most important of the regular season (along with Ahmad Brooks sack of Drew Brees).

Does Roman have more tricks up his sleeve? Undoubtably. Play design and inventiveness are not Roman's shortcomings. Play calling and predictability are where he has issues. But, as we witnessed during last year's playoff run, he can dial them up when need be. I'd stay tuned, as we're sure to see more impact play calling from 'the Mad Scientist'

This question appeared in various forms during the chat and has beleaguered fans all year. He's great at making the hard throw, but why doesn't Kap take the easy throw when it's there? He does seem to have trust issues with tight spaces and receivers not named Boldin or Crabtree. He does throw to Vernon Davis frequently but he's uncoverable and often wide open.

As for the running backs. We do tend to keep Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in for blocking assignments more than the average team. They're not always regulars in pass routes like some backs. But the main factor, in my humble opinion, is that Colin Kaepernick is just as likely to get those 6 yards running. And I think he's more likely to turn the 6 yards into 60 yards than Gore is on a swing pass. Kap and Harbaugh know that and he plays accordingly.

Blitzes have worked when we've used them. NaVorro Bowman destroyed the Rams in the first encounter with Patrick Willis out. His delayed blitzes after spying Russell Wilson were effective last weekend, as well. But our team doesn't employ many blitzes, preferring to let the front four create their own pressure. It isn't always effective, but does just enough to get the job done. It also allows what has become the trademark of the 49ers defense to take place, and that's sure-tackling and no yards after catch.

The 49ers excel at stopping pass catchers dead in their tracks. Dink and dunk all you like, but our secondary and the seven guys left in pass coverage are adept at keeping plays in front of them and limiting the big gain. Those extra defenders in coverage, while not sexy or exciting, get the opposing offenses off the field. And with Aldon Smith rounding back into form, we can expect more pressure to come from the front four, further limiting the urge to blitz.

49ers vs Seahawks (Yeah!)

This was a hot topic during the week. The Seahawks have clearly identified a strategy and have gone with it. It's a bit like the Hack-a-Shaq strategy teams used to employ against Shaquille O'Neal in basketball. They're breaking the rules (unintentionally they could claim), dealing with the league prescribed consequences for such actions and it's clearly working. Is it ethical? Probably not. Did the refs miss some calls? Yes. Can the league do anything about it? I don't know. Unless they implement some sort of penalty for excessive defensive holding or allowed holds further down the field to be treated as pass interference, it seems their hands are tied (no pun intended).

Playing the devil's advocate, teams complain that Justin Smith gets away with murder on the line, our O-line gets away with holds every game and some say that Jim Harbaugh's behavior towards the refs is ridiculous, a violation of the rules and goes unpunished due to favoritism for the leagues favorite franchise. Whah!

49ers vs Bucs

One thing the 49ers have done well this year is beat the teams they're expected to handle and the Bucs fall into that category. There's no reason we should lose this game and as long as we execute, we'll be fine. The scenario I can see that puts us at the most risk is a slow start, the hallmark of the '12 campaign. We've avoided that pitfall for most of this year, but this game, in Tampa, is an early 10am PST start following an emotional, game-of-the-year last weekend.

If the 49ers do start slow on offense and Tampa is able to get a quick score (I'm thinking long ball to Vincent Jackson) and we are forced to play from behind we could find ourselves in some trouble. Eric Reid should be on the look out for the 'home run' and our offense may have it's sluggish moments and series, but these aren't the Seahawks or the Colts (when they were playing better) and we should be able to wrap this one up.

Personel

Many of us thought Mario Manningham would provide more of a spark in the passing game since returning from his horrendous knee injury late last season. There's been little to get excited about from Mario. He's had some drops and has looked lost.

Is Quinton Patton the answer? I don't think so…yet. He's going to need as much adjustment as Mario, if not more. He's had very little experience in the NFL and would also need to establish the chemistry with Kap that is a prerequisite for him to throw you the ball. Besides, Manningham's experience in big games could come in handy down the stretch.

That said, Manningham is a free agent following the season, and there's every reason to believe that he won't be back and Patton will be filling his role, if for no other reason than he'll be cheaper.

I've been high on Eric Wright since the aborted trade attempt in July, even catching some grief for expecting him to play at a CB4 level upon his return. He's played well in his time since bumping Nnamdi Asomugha from the roster and filling in for the injured Tarell Brown.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. He's missed a lot of time, has had consistency issues in the past and we still don't know what we have in him or how he'll perform in the clutch. Brown has been consistent all season and so long as he's 100% and playing like his old self, will have the starting spot. As for Carlos, well…. we know what we have in him and, while he has been beat, is frequently locked up with the toughest assignment. Do you really want that task to fall on Wright?

I do think that Wright will have Carlos' job in '14, though.

All three players are signed through 2014. Kaepernick is the obvious choice as a franchise quarterback to be the first one extended. The next most sought after roles in football are left tackle and elite pass rusher. By that logic, you let Michael Crabtree walk. But it's not that simple. The team has been horrible at drafting receivers, great at developing defensive studs and the price difference between what it will take to keep the two (Crabs will command less on the open market) implies that we keep Crabs.

Who we can most afford to let walk may, of course, depend on other factors. If we draft a playmaking receiver (as many fans want us to do) who has a great '14, or if Lemonier looks poised to be a 12 sack guy, their position mates become more expendable. Both players also have question marks, with Crabs' health and Aldon's well-documented off-the-field issues. If either of those problems flare up before contract time, the decision may make itself.

If you only answer one question in the comments this afternoon….let it be this one!

I think it's safe to say that Carlos Rogers will not be kept due to salary cap reasons. Tarell Brown may also be gone. Donte Whitner has a good chance of leaving after having his best season in a contract year. That's three defensive backs from which at least two will leave. Also on defense, there's no telling who will be DT next year and I guess that depends on who you consider the starter this year. Glenn Dorsey has done more than enough to earn the starting nod next season, so may supplant Ian Williams as the Week 1 starter.

On offense, I'd be surprised to see Anquan Boldin back. I think he can make more money somewhere else than what the Niners will offer him, but that's no certainty. Jonathan Goodwin may also become a cap casualty, as has been rumored in previous offseasons. Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney are possible replacements.

But… drum roll please….the big surprise. It's possible that Frank Gore is not back with us next season. If Marcus Lattimore and Kendall Hunter look poised to do carry workload for 1/3 of the salary, make no mistake, the front office would leverage him into taking a pay cut or cut him. He's done so much for this team and I'll be devastated the day he leaves, but 1,100 yard rushers can be had for much cheaper than $6 million. It's heartless, it's hard and it hurts, but it's football. I say there's a 60/40 chance that he stays.

Misc Topics

This topic was discussed in one of the editions of the Nuggets that I did this week. There has been little impact from the '13 draft class outside of Eric Reid. Corey Lemonier did his job filling in for Aldon Smith while at rehab and Vance McDonald has gotten significant playing time as the No. 2 tight end and, while it appears he's learned to block, has produced little in the passing game. Quinton Patton and Nick Moody have spent half the season injured and, when coupled with Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore's redshirt years, mean the 49ers have seen little from this class in year one.

They say give a draft class three years before you properly evaluate it. And that's what we'll have to do. But I think most of us expected to see a bit more production from some of these guys in a season we have championship expectations in.

Our defense has been one of the best units in the league since the Indianapolis game and is definitely of the Super Bowl winning variety. Of that there is no question in my mind. Our offense on the other hand still has some questions to answer. While they've improved since the return of half of our receiving arsenal a few weeks back, they still haven't shown that they'll be able to carry the team if the defense falters. They did enough to beat the Seahawks last week, but had trouble against them in the first game as well as in the Panthers game. Can Colin Kapernick and that offense guide us to four straight road wins? The answer is yes. Will they? We'll soon see.

And the Funny...

OK, so there will be no Ahmad Brooks jokes and Aldon Smith jokes are only OK if he's your designated driver. Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Eric Reid are too subdued. Donte Whitner's name was thrown out there and I initially said NaVorro Bowman, because he seems bad ass. Upon further reflection, I kinda think Carlos Rogers would be the most entertaining one to party with. He never stops running his mouth (in the same way that Anquan Boldin would be a good choice on O).

I would invite the entire defense over but my apartment's not big enough and my Australian wife doesn't know what a forty-niner is.

Thanks, Tre…always enlightening.

But Wait, There's More...

Prediction: 49ers 23, Bucs 13

And don't forget to play along. Join us every Friday afternoon on Twitter. If the 2pm kickoff doesn't suit you, you can send in a question on your lunch break or check out the action later on. Also, answer any and every question featured here in the comments below. It's interactive. And special thanks to Trevor for doing all the mailbag posts while I was away becoming a family man.

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