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49ers mailbag: Are the Niners a playoff team?

Answering all of your questions ahead of Sunday night’s game against the Eagles

San Francisco 49ers v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

One more day until the San Francisco 49ers return to the field. Until then, let’s answer your questions ahead of their Week 4 matchup against the Giants.

Will we even make the playoffs with the NFC West looking this strong? -Landon

It’s tough to predict who the playoff teams would be after three games. At this time last year, the Browns were tied for the lead in the AFC North, and the NFC North looked like they were the best division in football. Most teams don’t hit their stride until the middle to end of November, and even then, as the 49ers found out last season, injuries can change everything.

The 49ers will be as healthy as they possibly could be as they get into the “meat” of their schedule, so we’ll know more about this team and how competitive they are after playing a stretch of the Rams-Patriots-Seahawks-Packers-Saints-Rams-Bills. That seven-game stretch is worse than last year’s “gauntlet.” If the 49ers enter this stretch with one loss and come away from those games 8-4, Kyle Shanahan should be the Coach of the Year.

We’ll revisit this question quite a bit as the season goes along, but I think we can rule out the Cardinals being contenders. You can’t lose to Detroit. Also, let’s see if the Rams are the real deal. I still believe the 49ers are a playoff team.

Is our starting squad going to have enough time to build into a rhythm for the playoffs? -HardNuklife

The 49ers should have ample time to get used to playing with each other. George Kittle will be on the field this Sunday, and we could expect Deebo Samuel next week against the Dolphins. It won’t be too much longer before Raheem Mostert is back. The big question is when/if Dee Ford returns, and can the team even count on him? I’d say it’d be wise to act as if a player who has back and neck issues will not return.

At the very worst, the 49ers will have 10 games to play with the roster as it’s currently constructed. That gives Kyle Shanahan time to figure out how he wants to use the tandem of Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and it also allows the offense to work in Jordan Reed into the offense if he doesn’t have any additional setbacks. On defense, Robert Saleh can continue to play with different lineups on the defensive line—Javon Kinlaw has played 28 snaps as an edge rusher so far this season—as well as the secondary. Let’s say everyone is healthy, who starts at cornerback? Saleh could work his way through situations.

Should the 49ers be active in the market to improve future drafts or the current team? -Ad

I’d be surprised if John Lynch wasn’t aggressive leading up to the deadline, especially if the 49ers continue to win. It won’t be easy to pry an edge rusher from another team, but you never know if you don’t ask. Let’s say the Vikings continue to struggle, and they don’t have any leverage with Yannick Ngakoue; that’d be worth a phone call. That’s one idea, but every move doesn’t have to be a “splash move” or involve a first-round pick. If there is a player at a position on a losing team that could be had for a late draft pick, the 49ers should be all over that as well.

Is Verett the best corner on the team other than Sherman? -Richard

It was one game, and it was against Darius Slayton, plus a couple of receivers who won’t scare you, but man, Verrett looked fantastic. I’m not sure there has been a performance as confident as Verrett’s from a coverage standpoint on defense in the past couple of seasons. I’m not talking stats or PFF grades. I’m talking about covering a receiver on every snap and staying in phase.

Verrett has to prove that he is capable of staying healthy and performing like this for multiple weeks. Because when Emmanuel Moseley was challenged in 2019, he rose to the occasion. It’s unlikely Verrett will be challenged by a depleted Eagles receiving corps, but the competition after Philly will be telling. Saleh has a good problem on his hands.

Where is Trent Taylor? -Fernando

49ers fans spent a lot of this offseason expecting Taylor to make a difference in this offense. Through three games, Taylor has caught five of his nine targets for 37 yards, and 20 of those came on a busted coverage against the Giants last week. When you watch Taylor run routes, he lacks a gear to separate. Because of his frame, if the throw is slightly off, it’s unlikely Taylor will make the catch. To put it bluntly, he has underachieved so far. That may come off as harsh as Taylor is fresh off five foot surgeries, but he’s not getting open as much as you’d like.

Once all of the pass-catchers are healthy, I’d imagine we see Taylor phased out of the offense in favor of Kendrick Bourne, who isn’t going anywhere, and Mohamed Sanu, who gives the quarterbacks a bigger target over the middle of the field.

What does Coleman offer that Wilson can’t -Jason

Pass protection. We’ve seen both running backs run routes from the slot this season, which is something that didn’t happen in 2019 and shows Shanahan has more trust in his backs this season. Coleman knows where to go, which is half of the battle when you are in the backfield trying to protect your quarterback. In my opinion, Coleman is the best pass protecting blocker on the team, though Jerick McKinnon has been outstanding early on this season.

Do u think that all of Armstead’s success last year was a product of Buckner and Bosa’s dominance? I truly believe that this is the case. -Evan

That’s selling Armstead’s 2019 short. He was dominant, especially during the first half of the season. Last year, I wrote how Armstead deserves a ton of credit for his play at the midway point. Armstead was winning more than anyone along the defensive line, and then, as the season wore on, you could tell playing as many snaps as he was asked took a toll. “All” of his success wasn’t due to his surrounding factors last year, but it’s fair to say some of it was. I mean, who wouldn’t benefit from those two players?

I always had a hunch Armstead would take a step back this season, which is why having a healthy Dee Ford would be imperative for the Niners this season. It’s not as if Arik has played poorly this season; he hasn’t. Through three games, you’d want to see more from a player that received $48.5 million guaranteed this past offseason. It’s early, but teams are going to throw extra attention Armstead’s way with Bosa and Ford out. The question is, will he step up?