The San Francisco 49ers are 1-6 and coming off their most demoralizing loss of the season — a 39-10 shellacking from the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium.
The tough task now for Kyle Shanahan’s squad, coming off their fifth-straight loss, is looking forward to the three consecutive winnable games against opponents with a combined record of 3-17. Next up: the Arizona Cardinals, whose only win was against the 49ers in Week 5.
With the trade deadline approaching and the 49ers struggling, there are plenty of questions to figure out as we near the midway point in the season. I’m back with my weekly mailbag column. You’re welcome to drop questions in here for next week’s mailbag, or tweet me @rob_lowder.
“Better Rivals (Oscar) mentioned Solly played in position more to his strength this week. Should we hope to see more of that? Will it matter? Does anything matter?” Evan Sowards
Anything matters, Evan, including Solomon Thomas. It would also seem that putting him in the best position to succeed matters too. Oscar, myself, and many have long wondered why the 49ers insisted on playing Solomon Thomas on the edge of the defensive line when he made his name at Stanford on the interior. Allowing your No. 3 pick in 2017 the opportunity to play in a familiar position seems like good business, and frankly, common sense.
Coordinator Robert Saleh got creative with the defensive alignment against the Rams, giving Thomas more interior snaps than any other game in 2018. Oscar offered a more in-depth breakdown of Thomas’ performance on Twitter. Give it a look. The results were what you’d expect. Thomas’ usage against the Rams should become the standard if the 49ers want to maximize his talent.
“Do you think we will make another trade splash again like Jimmy G before the deadline?” Paddy
The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, October 30th at 1 p.m. PST. I don’t think the 49ers will make a splash on par with the Jimmy Garoppolo trade last season, but I do believe they’ll be actively seeking to unload and acquire players. We know the 49ers are short on talent, but the team only holds six picks in the 2019 draft, so perhaps they’ll see the deadline as an opportunity to bolster their draft capital by trading away rather than for.
Pass rushers and defensive backs strike me as positions the 49ers may look to acquire prior to Tuesday.
“The team as a whole is giving up in games they’re behind in and losing focus in games they’re ahead. How do the coaches address those mental issues?” Jeremy
I don’t see a 49ers team that’s giving up on games more than I do making an insurmountable number of mistakes. Turnovers have been the theme of the season so far. The 49ers’ defense has forced only three on the season while the offense has given up a whopping 18 - 10 interceptions and 8 fumbles. It’s very difficult to win football games with a -15 turnover ratio, especially when coupled with the number of missed assignments we’ve seen from the 49ers on both sides of the ball.
“How does the position look now that Adrian Colbert is on IR?” Niner Alex
Starting free safety Adrian Colbert suffered a high ankle sprain against the Rams and was placed on injured reserve Monday. He’s unlikely to return this season. On the bright side, Colbert’s injury looked to be much more severe when he was carted off the field after colliding with cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
The 49ers now look to rookie D.J. Reed, who stepped in Sunday to fill the void left by Colbert. Cornerback Jimmie Ward is also capable of playing free safety whenever he recovers from the hamstring injury that kept him out against the Rams. The 49ers also have rookie Tarvarius Moore, a former safety turned cornerback, should they get desperate.
“Why is Foster missing so many tackles?” Spencer
Foster so far this season hasn’t flashed the same elite form we saw last season. Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus wrote Wednesday about the significant drop-off in Foster’s performance. Foster was among PFF’ elite linebackers last season and how now plummeted to bottom-10 in the NFL. Linsey cites both the missed tackles that Spencer noticed, as well as struggles in coverage - both solid aspects of Foster’s 2017 form. Given the second-year linebacker’s stacked resume dating back to his time in Alabama, his slump seems more like an anomaly than the new normal. Foster’s performance is something to watch moving forward.
“Would you rather trade away Armstead or Thomas, seeing as we probably need to get rid of one so the other can finally have a more solidified role on the team? If so, what kind of package could we get back?” Ha Ha Ha
I wouldn’t trade either. Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas are not mutually exclusive. They can both exist on the defensive line together, especially in a day-and-age where an effective rotation of lineman is an essential element of the defense.
Thomas is only in his second season and the 49ers may be finally realizing how to best to utilize their No. 3 pick. Armstead may not be living up to his first-round billing, but he’s a solid defensive lineman that I believe is a candidate for a contract extension at the right price, rather than paying the $9 million he’s due next season under the fifth-year option.
“Who should we “raid” from Gruden’s fire sale?” QuintUK
If the Raiders really are willing to part ways with anyone on their roster, the 49ers’ interest should include but is not limited to:
DE Bruce Irvin
CB Rashaan Melvin
CB Gareon Conley
S Karl Joseph
“Rob, quick question about the draft. I am a big believer in drafting offense but signing FA defense (so hard to draft good defensive players, see: Thomas, S). Do you agree with that?” Anthony Flum
I can’t say that I agree with you, Anthony. At first glance, there’s just as many successful defensive players drafted every year as there are offensive. Take this year for example: Denzel Ward, Bradley Chubb, Roquan Smith, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marcus Davenport and Derwin James are just some of the early names that jump off the board as great picks so far. There’s a lot of offensive talent that seems to be panning out as well. I’m a believer in taking the best player available when you’re on the clock, on either side of the ball.
“Do you think Garçon get traded before the deadline?” Tiny
Pierre Garçon, at 32, coming off a season-ending neck injury, has only caught 21 passes for 230 yards this season. He’s due $9.2 million this year and $8.4 in 2019. I don’t believe any team would be willing to take on that contract given Garçon’s lack of production at this stage of his career.
“If the Niners won the next 3 against teams that are a combined record of 3-17, do you see them building some of the momentum they had at the end of last season? Not necessarily the wins, but at least feeling like they team is headed in the right direction.” Kelly Honeycutt
I decided to save Kelly’s question for the end so we can wrap up this week’s mailbag on a positive note. The 49ers’ next three opponents - Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders and New York Giants - are all very beatable one-win teams. It’s a chance for the roster to gain some much-needed confidence in their ability to win. I do believe that the 49ers will chalk up two wins over the next three weeks. If they don’t, well, at least they’ll have draft position to hang their hat on.