The San Francisco 49ers are in the final stages of preparation for their Week 14 matchup against the New Orleans Saints. It’s a playoff preview with significant implications within the NFC playoff picture. Kyle Shanahan and crew have spent the week in Florida, electing to remain on the East Coast after their heartbreaking loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
We’ll get into that and more in our weekly mailbag column. You’re welcome to drop questions in here for next week’s mailbag or tweet me @Rob_Lowder.
How do you think the 49ers fare against the Saints? Rod
Shameless plug: Eric Crocker and I spoke about this week’s matchup against the Saints on our latest episode of Striking Gold. We’re both confident that the 49ers can travel to New Orleans and leave with a win. I don’t think it’ll be as one-sided as Week 12’s win over the Green Bay Packers, but it may get close. The 49ers are built to handle drop-back passers like Drew Brees, and as long as they can contain the short passing game that features running back Alvin Kamara, they should be able to win soundly. Oh, and hold on to the ball, Jimmy (Garoppolo).
When asked about the 4th-and-1 call, Kyle Shanahan said he wished he’d called a better pass play. What’s your take on his answer? Steph
Another point Crocker and I hit hard on Striking Gold. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War teaches us that you should always utilize your strengths and take advantage of your opponent’s weakness. In the 49ers’ case, the Ravens were allowing six yards per carry when Shanahan opted to throw on fourth down, the pass batted incomplete and the ball going back to Baltimore and an eventual game-winning field goal. Running back Raheem Mostert was having a career day, as well, and I believe he should’ve gotten the ball on that play. It was his day.
I consider Shanahan the best play-caller in the NFL, and if he feels like passing was the answer, it’s hard for me to question that. On the other hand, some would say he’s built up a very small resume of poor clock management and odd play-calls in big moments. That seems like a bit of an overreaction that willingly ignores the times when it has gone right for the 49ers under Shanahan.
With the season almost over, what do you think is the 49ers’ biggest need in the first round of the 2020 draft? Evan
If you ever need a snapshot of how insatiable Evan’s 49ers fandom is, here it is. His team is in the midst of a 10-2 playoff run, and he’s thinking NFL Draft. God bless you, Sowards. If we’re talking early roster needs, I’m leaning offensive line. Left tackle Joe Staley is in the twilight of his career, and the 49ers should begin grooming his replacement. I have yet to dive into any specific prospects, but finding a player who could fill in at guard until Staley rides off into the sunset would be ideal. Wide receiver and defensive back (cornerback or safety) are other options that could be considered early.
Is LT Joe Staley on a short leash after struggling in his last return against the Seattle Seahawks? Mr. Unpopular
Staley’s return from a fractured fibula in Week 10 wasn’t encouraging, struggling against Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Unbeknownst to us, Staley was suffering from significant back pain brought on by compensating for his broken leg. He also injured his hand and required immediate surgery. It’s hard to imagine Staley being on any leash, but Daniel Brunskill has been impressive in replacement. It would take a string of uncharacteristically poor performances from Staley even to consider placing him on the bench. I’d place my money on the 49ers veteran returning to form sooner than later.
Is it possible that OT Daniel Brunskill can be a long-term replacement to Joe Staley? Collin
It’s definitely possible, Connor. The former Alliance of American Football offensive tackle has been a pleasant surprise for the 49ers in 2019. He joined the roster as a fill-in but fought his way through the offseason to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. He’s been the 49ers’ best tackle outside of Staley and Mike McGlinchey, jumping rookie Justin Skule for primary backup duties. Brunskill’s started five games this season, earning a very respectable 77 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, one that includes an 83.9 pass-blocking grade. It’s still unclear if Brunskill can develop into a bonafide starting option, but everything he’s put on tape so far has been impressive.
Who is the most crucial player for the 49ers when facing off against Drew Brees and the Saints offense? Tony
I’m not sure if he’s the most crucial, but my eyes are going to be on linebacker Fred Warner on Sunday. He’ll have his hands full with an impressive Saints rushing attack featuring Kamara and change-of-pace back Latavius Murray. Warner’s coverage ability and sideline-to-sideline speed will be tested all morning by Kamara and the short-to-intermediate passing attack. Warner was awarded the NFC Defensive Player of the Month award on Thursday, and he’ll be front-and-center on Sunday in defending the Saints.
With Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Raheem Mostert healthy does Kyle Shanahan split carries or go with the hot hand? Ryan
Shanahan’s backfield usage is notoriously difficult to predict. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s an even split between Breida and Mostert, with Coleman filling in. To no real fault of his own, Coleman only managed six yards on five carries against the Ravens. Mostert went for 146 yards on 19. Mostert’s definitely the hot hand, but Shanahan will be eager to get Breida back into the mix, who’s still the team’s leading rusher despite the two-game absence while dealing with an ankle injury.
Do you think the 49ers will re-sign WR Emmanuel Sanders? Chillmatic
I do believe the 49ers will make a concerted attempt to re-sign Sanders. He’s a strong veteran presence for the locker room and receiving group. He’s a reliable target on the field that quickly developed a rapport with Gaaroppolo. In six games with the 49ers, Sanders has accounted for 21 receptions on 30 targets for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He’s an ideal complement to rookie Deebo Samuel, who has blossomed since Sanders entered the fold for the 49ers. After surrendering a third- and a fourth-round pick to the Denver Broncos for Sanders, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t around in 2020, especially considering how quickly he’s meshed both on and off the field.
Should the 49ers make another run for WR Odell Beckham Jr. if the Cleveland Browns make him available? Caleb
General manager John Lynch made a legitimate run at Beckham during the offseason. Still, the New York Giants were reportedly unwilling to deal with the star wideout without the 49ers’ No. 2 overall pick included. Lynch refused to part with such a valuable commodity, and rightfully so. We’re happy to have you, Nick Bosa. The Giants instead struck a deal with the Cleveland Browns that included a first-round pick (No. 17 overall) the second of the Browns’ third-round picks (No. 95) and safety Jabrill Peppers. Beckham’s season in Cleveland hasn’t been bad by any means, but it’s clear that he isn’t satisfied with both the production and success of the team.
I doubt the Browns end up dealing with Beckham, but if they did, I’d expect the 49ers to again be interested, especially at the presumably cheaper cost. On the other hand, Beckham is due roughly $15 million per season until 2023. The 49ers are going to be strapped for cash with contracts for defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and tight George Kittle on the horizon.
Will my father be proud of me? Connor
I was told I had to include this question. It’s going to be an awkward moment, Connor, but I’ll report back with Weston Richburg’s answer. The fact that he’s never spoken of you isn’t a good sign.