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Barnwell on 49ers’ 2020 playoff chances

Injuries are the biggest reason why San Francisco has taken a step back, but ESPN’s Bill Barnwell points out a couple of other factors that are hurting the Niners’ playoff chances.

Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers are still in the hunt for one of the seven NFC playoff spots. The Niners are 3-3, but most pundits expected them to better heading into Week 7 of the 2020 NFL season.

Injuries have ravaged the 49ers roster. Losing Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas for the season severely hampered the defensive line. Richard Sherman, George Kittle, Jimmy Garoppolo, Dee Ford, K’Waun Williams, Emmanuel Moseley, Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert and Weston Richburg have all missed time this season as well, and those are just of the names that have appeared on the team’s injured list.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell broke down which NFL teams have seen the most significant drop in their playoff chances from Week 1 until now, and the Niners make the list. According to ESPN’s FPI, San Francisco’s playoff chances have decreased by 36.4% during the season.

Barnwell says there are many factors, including the lack of completions on deep passes. Garoppolo had the league’s best QBR and the second-highest passer rating on passes that went at least 16 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Here is how Barnwell broke down this year’s struggles:

“This season, while the 49ers are attempting deep passes at a slightly higher rate, they’re not going well. They are just 10-of-27 on deep throws for 249 yards and two interceptions, both of which came from Garoppolo in the Dolphins game before the former Patriots draftee was benched. The Niners rank 26th in QBR and 31st in passer rating on deep throws this season. You don’t have to bomb passes downfield over and over to win games, but the threat of being able to stretch teams vertically is a key component of Shanahan’s offense. San Francisco haven’t been able to do that.”

The deep ball will open up if the running game can get going. Losing Mostert and Coleman forced Shanahan to go with Jerick McKinnon as the primary back, who has lost a step after missing the last two seasons with serious knee injuries. Shanahan wants to get back to running the ball more than 30 times a game, and if the Niners can improve the rushing attack, it should open up more opportunities for deep passes to players like Kittle, Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.

Barnwell also touched on Robert Saleh’s defense being forced to blitz more than it did in 2019 due to the injuries. The defense is doing well in pressuring the opposing QB, but without a bonafide pass-rushing extraordinaire, the sacks aren’t piling up like they did last season.

If the Niners can go 3-3 over their next six games, they will be in the hunt for one of the wild card spots. San Francisco plays the Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys in back-to-back weeks after the six-game gauntlet wraps up with a home matchup against the Buffalo Bills.

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