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49ers mailbag: How can the defense slow down Seattle without a great pass rush?

Answering all of your questions ahead of Sunday’s rivalry game

San Francisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have won two in a row, and all of a sudden, the team has a chance to come within a game of the lead in the NFC West. We reached out for your questions ahead of Sunday’s matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.

How can the defense slow down Seattle without a great pass rush? - Timo

Robert Saleh has done a fantastic job of mixing up coverages in the back end. Last Sunday, he took away the intermediate part of the field and had both safeties “poach” any crossing route. You can’t do that without competent cornerback play on the outside. With Emmanuel Moseley and Jason Verrett on the field, the 49ers don’t have competent cornerback play; they have superb cornerback play.

Will Saleh implement the same type of coverage against Seattle? Unlikely, as it gives Russell Wilson and his moon balls an entire deep half to work with 1-on-1. What the 49ers have to do that other teams haven’t is to make plays on the ball. How many times have we seen Tyler Lockett come down with a 50/50 ball? The secondary must contest catches and hold Seattle to a couple of field-goal attempts in the red zone.

When is Willis playing? Is he playing this weekend? -Dr. Albarran

John Lynch was on KNBR Friday morning and said Willis would play Sunday. How much? That’s to be determined. Let’s use the Rams game’s snap counts to determine how much we could see Willis since New England was a blowout. Kentavius Street played 12 snaps, Alex Barrett played nine, and Dion Jordan played 27. It’ll depend on how long Seattle can sustain a drive and how winded the starters are. Arik Armstead rarely comes off the field, and Kerry Hyder Jr. isn’t too far behind him. I’d guess we see Willis for roughly 15-20 snaps on Sunday.

Why aren’t we putting Hasty in more? - B

That’s a fair question, especially with Jeff Wilson Jr. out for the next month. It’s looking more and more like Tevin Coleman will play Sunday. You’re kidding yourself if you think Coleman won’t start. The question many ask is whyyyyyy. Coleman has 18 carries for 30 yards. To be fair to him, the offensive line was still beginning to gel during the first two games and has been much improved since.

To be fair to Hasty, we haven’t seen any reason that would suggest Coleman is a better ball-carrier. Coleman is a superior pass-catcher, and the coaching staff was starting to use him as more of a receiver during the Jets game, but on the ground, he hasn’t given the team much compared to the other backs. Other than “trust” and being young, I’m not sure there’s a concrete answer to why Hasty wouldn’t receive more carries than Jerick McKinnon or Coleman.

The next few games. Tough stretch. How will Jimmy do against opponents that will more than likely force him to throw? -Chris

That’s the million-dollar question. On the season, Garoppolo is 18th in QBR, 7th in EPA per play, 14th in success rate, and 25th in completion percentage over expectation. He’s all over the map. The good news for Jimmy and the Niners passing offense is that Seattle, Green Bay, and New Orleans passing defenses are borderline atrocious. The 49ers should have plenty of success through the air in the next three weeks.

I’m not as worried about the turnovers as I am Garoppolo continuing to give Brandon Aiyuk and the Niners downfield passing game a chance. If he’s aggressive, the 49ers will be in good hands. If Jimmy is holding the ball and checking it down—only Drew Brees averages fewer air yards on the season—then the Niners will have their work cut out for them. This team doesn’t necessarily “go as Jimmy goes,” but the offense is at its best when Garoppolo “lets it fly.”

How likely is it the Niners vs. Seahawks game gets flexed to SNF? - KB

The Cowboys, led by Ben DiNucci, will face the Eagles on Sunday night football. It’s tough to find a worse matchup than that. This game wasn’t flexed out for a few reasons, but primarily money. For a game to be flexed, CBS/FOX has to be willing to give up the game’s rights. With it being rivalry week in the NFL, the networks would be foolish to do so. The two other afternoon games are the Chargers/Broncos and Saints/Bears. America will be watching our game.

Money talks.

With the cap situation the way it is this year, what kind of cap-casualties will we probably see with a lower cap next year? The depth this squad has shown this year definitely makes me feel more comfortable moving off of older, higher-price vets. - Chris

Great question, Chris. One of the fascinating parts about this upcoming offseason will be which players the 49ers decide to re-sign and which players the team decides to cut ties with. Over the Cap projects the 49ers to have only $10 million in cap space heading into 2021.

Releasing Kwon Alexander with a post-June 1 designation next offseason saves the 49ers $13.4 million in cap space while eating $2.1 million in dead money. The team could do the same with Dee Ford and save $16 million in cap space while having $4.7 million in dead money. Keeping the recent free agents’ streak going, if the Niners did the same with center Weston Richburg, they save $8.3 million in cap space but eat $3.5 million in dead money. By releasing three players who have missed multiple games in back-to-back seasons, you create over $31 million in cap space, assuming OTC’s numbers are correct.