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NN Mailbag: Why doesn’t Mostert get 20 touches a game?

We answer a handful of questions as we wait until Sunday night to find out the 49ers’ opponent 

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

We will find out who the San Francisco 49er’s next opponent by today’s end. The scenarios are pretty simple. If the Vikings beat the Saints, then San Francisco hosts Minnesota next Saturday. If the Saints win, then the Niners play the winner of the Seahawks/Eagles game. We’ll have more on that tonight. Until then, here are some mailbag questions to hold you over.

Which opponent are you rooting for Sunday? PHI/MIN/SEA?

San Francisco is the better team no matter who they’ll face, and I expect them to be heavy favorites. The pass rush would give Kirk Cousins problems, and Minnesota can’t stop anybody on defense. Plus, you avoid having to play Drew Brees in the playoffs. Minnesota is first, and it’s a coin flip after that. Philadelphia is a weird team that can get hot. Carson Wentz is dangerous, and star interior lineman give the 49ers offense problems. I want nothing to do with Fletcher Cox, despite all of the Eagles injuries. Seattle isn’t on the Niners level, but they have the ultimate wild card in Russell Wilson. Beating Seattle back-to-back in essential must-win games could flip the script and give this team the type of confidence when playing the Seahawks for a long time.

My question is: Even though their mind is on finishing the season strong and concentrating on the Super Bowl...Who would be a good fit to replace Saleh?

We’ll probably talk about this at length if Robert Saleh does end up getting a job somewhere else. A dream scenario for me is Wade Phillips. Your instant reaction is that he is a 3-4 guy, and that doesn’t fit the 49ers personnel. It’s 2020. For starters, the defense will be in sub-packages over 70% of the time. Secondly, Dee Ford has experience standing up. The reason I said Phillips is his aggressive schemes, blitzing, and man-to-man coverage. I think Phillips would allow the 49ers to play faster, and his blitzes would put even more pressure on opposing offenses. We may see more big plays given up, but there would be that many more punts and turnovers.

That said, it’s probably going to be someone Shanahan is familiar with. I’d keep it in-house and promote secondary coach Joe Woods, who was the defensive coordinator for the Broncos in 2017-18 and has 14 years of NFL experience. The bigger issue for San Francisco—if Saleh does get hired elsewhere—would be him taking other coaches from the staff.

Why isn’t Mostert getting 20 touches per game? He is electric.

Mostert is a stud; there’s no doubt about that. The snap counts for the running backs have been telling. Mostert has out-snapped Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida significantly over the past five or six games. Breida played eight snaps against Seattle in Week 17 compared to Mostert’s 27. Coleman played 15 snaps.

As for your question, Coleman has had 20 carries once this season, and that came against Washington in a downpour. Mostert had 19, and, again, there were the elements in Baltimore. Shanahan is going to deploy several backs. That’s who he is. There is a place for Coleman and Breida to get their touches, but it’s evident that Mostert is on another level in December. I wonder if Shanahan were more confident in Mostert’s pass blocking or receiving ability, he would leave him out there more, and, in turn, give him more touches.

Does Kwon Alexander take his spot back? Even though Greenlaw has been playing well?

This isn’t quite the Witherspoon/Moseley scenario, though Greenlaw has played well in Alexander’s absence. It’s less about Greenlaw and more about Al-Shaair. Before Alexander was hurt, Kwon would play Sam, and you just weren’t getting outside on this defense. Plus, your short passing game wasn’t working. Alexander’s aggression and awareness are missed at that position. His return would make Greenlaw and Fed Warner’s job easier.

When the 49ers are in their sub-packages, you would still roll with Kwon, who recognizes routes better than Greenlaw. Yes, Dre has made some highlight plays, but don’t forget about Alexander’s range. Factor in that Alexander is the emotional energy and spark plug of the defense, and it’s an easy decision to leave him on the field.

Reasonable snap count for Dee Ford?

We’ll see how much Ford practices as the game gets closer. He didn’t practice during the “bonus” sessions the 49ers had last week. I don’t think it’s noteworthy until Ford starts missing practice this week. Tough to put a number on his snaps considering the amount of time Ford has missed. If he is fully healthy, Ford will probably play between 20-30 snaps, at worst.

I’m excited for him to return as I’d imagine Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and DeForest Buckner are as well. The latter two have been double-teamed a ton on early downs, while offenses are doubling Bosa on third downs. Because those three are so good, they’re able to beat their man still. With Ford on the field, you can’t double them. You just can’t. If you do, he will eat your lunch on the other side. Ford being active makes the defense so dangerous, especially when Saleh chooses to blitz.

Can you break down the Akhello/Moseley situation? What would you do?

I’ve been a big Witherspoon supporter during this “slump” of his, but when you continually make the same mistake, you don’t give the coaching staff much of a decision. Ahkello is around the ball; he’s just not making plays. If you can’t make a play while the ball is in the air, you can’t play. It’s that simple. It’s one thing to give up first downs; it’s another to give up touchdowns. Witherspoon has given up five touchdowns in four games.

The only time Moseley looked out of place was when he went against arguably the best receiver in the NFL, Julio Jones. Even if the Vikings advance, their duo is no Julio. Moseley has that “gamer” feel. His pass breakup against D.K. Metcalf near the end zone in Week 17 was a great example of that. Games in the playoffs are decided by the red zone. Look no further than the Bills/Texans game Saturday night. The Bills squandered opportunities, and allowed Houston to come back. You don’t see a lot of possessions in the playoffs, so holding a team to a field goal makes all the difference.

Moseley should start.