The 49ers’ defensive line stands out...
Elvis Dumervil was a stud rusher, showcasing his veteran wiles primarily off the left edge to record four pressures (one sack and three hurries) on 11 snaps. DeForest Buckner had a bounce back game and Earl Mitchell had arguably his best game as a 49er on his return to the Texans. Buckner was a weapon along the interior as a pass rusher, whilst the exclamation point on an extremely solid effort from Mitchell was his early fourth-and-one stop.
Former #Texans defensive lineman Earl Mitchell blows up their fourth-and-inches attempt. #49ers ball. #SFvsHOU pic.twitter.com/5AbuuySNxN— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) December 10, 2017
...With Tank Carradine playing himself into a new contract
Carradine has been extremely impressive against the run when healthy this year, and has grown increasingly impressive as a pass rusher, too. He’s not an edge bender, but his power has been too much for opposition players all season in both the running and passing games. The 49ers should be seriously considering re-signing Carradine in the offseason, which leaves them set on the defensive line at each position except a LEO type. What they do in the offseason to address that position will say a lot about their faith in Dumervil’s longevity, their feelings about Cassius Marsh, and Pita Taumoepenu’s development. Taumoepenu has real explosiveness, but needed to get stronger and develop his repertoire of pass rushing moves. He has essentially been granted a redshirt year this season, so he’s a man worth keeping an eye on.
Dontae Johnson struggles against the Texans and finds himself under threat
Dontae Johnson is a man who looks like he’s on his way out the Bay. Johnson was abused by DeAndre Hopkins all game, which isn’t necessarily something that should end his time in San Francisco. But he’s been inconsistent all year in coverage, and he had an awful play on a 2nd and 10 where he gave Will Fuller the easiest 12 yard gain he has ever had. He looked off all game and now finds himself in a fight with Greg Mabin - who’s already been on three teams in just his first year in the NFL - to start against the Titans. Johnson has looked good in run support and has on occasion demonstrated impressive use of his length in coverage. If I was John Lynch I would consider bringing Johnson back as a fourth or fifth corner if the price was right this offseason.
Brock Coyle could be cementing Eric Reid’s spot as a Niner moving forward
Eric Reid certainly hasn’t played badly this year - his coverage has been good but he has lacked impact in the running game and has looked worse than Jaquiski Tartt. Nevertheless, Reid could have a shot at returning to the 49ers next season as a linebacker. Brock Coyle has generally struggled this season and whilst he had a decent game against the Texans, he continues to be at best suspect in coverage and inconsistent against the run. His lack of movement skills in space can be pretty alarming at times. Reid and a healthy Malcolm Smith would be a great competition to play alongside Reuben Foster (who was once again superb) at the linebacker spot, whilst Elijah Lee and Mark Nzeocha compete for a spot on the roster. Once again, the 49ers would save themselves having to bring in someone from outside the organization and could focus on real areas of need - corner, a LEO type and multiple positions on offense.
The Trent Brown situation could be giving the 49ers another need on the offensive line
On the subject of offense, the Trent Brown situation is interesting. Per Matts Barrows and Maiocco, the 49ers were reportedly unhappy that Brown didn’t play on Sunday. On the one hand, avoiding playing hurt against Jadeveon Clowney was probably a smart move by Brown in terms of his current contract situation. Equally, if the 49ers are unhappy with the player then that doesn’t help him easier. He has now gone on IR but the situation could still be developing. What is clear, is that Zane Beadles should not be playing tackle (or arguably anywhere else) in the NFL and that if Brown is not the answer, they might need to go and get a tackle. Beadles was manhandled on Sunday. Though both Daniel Kilgore and Laken Tomlinson were better in the passing game, neither of them looks like they should have a long term future in the Bay either. The interior of the offensive line is certainly a need, but could right tackle be becoming a need as well? If so, the 49ers would be doing the pragmatic thing by re-signing Carradine and Reid as suggested above to allow themselves to focus on bolstering the offensive line in particular in free agency and the draft.
Is Carlos Hyde going to be back?
Carlos Hyde is a player I personally really like - he runs hard, breaks tackles and has legitimate breakaway potential. Unfortunately, he too could be on his way out of the Bay. His running has been hit and miss, though this won’t have been helped by the generally poor run blocking from his line. His play in the passing game has deteriorated notably in the past few weeks as well; he has had a few drops and missed an opportunity for a long touchdown on Sunday. Shanahan said that Hyde was beating himself up about the play — something you would expect from a guy like Hyde for whom effort and intensity has never been a problem. The back is arguably an unfortunate victim of circumstance — contract year, poor run blocking, and a new scheme have served to ensure that his full capabilities as a runner have not been realized, and his inconsistencies as a pass catcher lessen his value to a Head Coach who demands versatility from his backs. Pencil in running back as another area for reinforcement in the offseason.
Gucci Garoppolo continues to impress...
At least quarterback isn’t going to be a need. In Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, the 49ers have a quarterback room which should be the envy of multiple teams. Garoppolo was by no means perfect on Sunday — his interception was an airmailed throw to a misidentified, double-covered, hot-receiver. But we know that his grasp of the offense won’t be perfect, so such mistakes are both correctable and acceptable. His arm talent continues to stand out and his willingness to stand in the pocket in the face of immense pressure was on show on Sunday. Let’s hope he’s not under that heat all the time (though based on our schedule he likely will be) and can avoid injury for the rest of the year. If we can get a few more Gucci performances from him this season the 49ers should open the cheque book for the long term.
DISCLAIMER: I’m currently in the process of contacting the dictionary people and applying for “Gucci” to be added as an adjective as a synonym for excellent, outstanding, superb, etc. as homage to Jimmy G
... and Marquise Goodwin edges closer to 1000 yards
Marquise Goodwin continues his hot streak. He was excellent against the Texans and is going from strength to strength. ‘Quise, as he’s known to his teammates, is well on course for his first thousand yard season, a product of the blossoming of his route tree and obvious improvements in the consistency of his pass catching. Corners are unable to live with his speed and now that he’s more polished as a receiver he’s realizing the potential that he came into the league with. As his chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo grows and more pieces are added around him, Goodwin will continue to improve.
Garrett Celek has risen to be top dog of the tight end room, perhaps helped by George Kittle’s injuries but undoubtedly largely in part to his own versatility. Celek does his job as a blocker and a pass catcher and much like the now-healthy Kyle Juszczyk, forces defenses into a real dilemma with which package to line up in when they’re on the field. Both players can rip off chunk plays when defenses focus elsewhere and that’s exactly the sort of threat Kyle Shanahan wants from those players. Neither will ever be a focal point of the offense, but both can carry a real threat for big plays when in a favorable matchup or when taking advantage of minor defensive lapses. Both chunk plays from the weekend were beautifully schemed up plays, with Shanahan forcing the Texans’ defense to repeatedly adjust to Celek and Juszczyk on the fly.
Looking forward to the Titans
PFF had a cool stat on the Titans today:
This season, the Titans defense has allowed just 14 completions from deep passes and just four breakaway runs (runs of 15 or more yards), for a total of just 18 explosive plays, the fewest among the league’s 32 defenses.
This is undoubtedly a result of the combination of free safety Kevin Byard’s elite play, the pace the Titans have at corner as well as the pass rushing threat primarily of Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. Morgan’s injury weakens the Titans rush but Casey could have a field day against the interior of the 49ers’ offensive line, whilst it will be interesting if the Titans try to isolate Orakpo against whoever the 49ers play at right tackle. It is probably unlikely, as Orakpo has rushed from the Titans’ right side (against the opposition’s left tackle) on 97.7% of his snaps per PFF.
What does this mean for the 49ers? Well, they’ll have to grind their way down the field. They need to keep faith in the running game. A good thing should be that we’ll hopefully get to see a further game of development from Marquise Goodwin; the Titans will have to respect his speed (even if Adoree Jackson is covering him) and we will once again get the chance to see the development of Goodwin’s route running ability, exploiting his cushion to earn the 49ers consistent yardage in the intermediate areas of the field. If he doesn't get a cushion from Jackson, we will get an even better look at just how far Goodwin’s route running has come.
Carlos Hyde also has a chance to show what he can do, as he will be leaned on to keep the 49ers’ offense moving and ensuring his quarterback stays ahead of the chains.
On defense the matchup between Delanie Walker and Reuben Foster has already developed some teeth, with Walker saying earlier in the week he felt he had an advantage. Foster has so far risen to each challenge facing him - will this be a step too far? He should get support from Eric Reid, who like Hyde, will be looking to demonstrate his qualities and give the 49ers a reason to pay him in the off season.
The 49ers’ rushers will have a tough day getting to Marcus Mariota behind the solid Titans offensive line, but it may not matter enormously. Mariota is one of the best in the league under pressure, and the 49ers would be better served rushing four or maybe even three, using a spy and dropping into coverage to force errant throws, rather than throwing the sink at Mariota.