As many of us gathered around the Christmas tree to exchange gifts with loved ones over the weekend, my mind wandered to what our favorite franchise could use this time of year.
But, unfortunately, a football team with dreams of Super Bowls dancing in their head requires presents a little more complicated than some socks or whiskey stones.
After Thursday night’s game, I think it’s pretty clear what Kyle Shanahan should be hoping to unwrap if his team has any chance of making his team’s fans merry. So let’s break them down.
GOOD JIMMY G
The naughty or nice duality of Jimmy Garoppolo has been on full display this season, and never more so than against the Titans. The Niners are 7-0 when Garoppolo doesn’t throw an interception and 1-6 in games that he gifts one or more to the defense. You can pretty easily split those records up into the team’s early struggles and their more recent resurgence.
However, even when things appear to be trending in the right direction for Jimmy, he can still manage to put up a clunker in a contest that seemed all too winnable after the opening drive. Look no further than his performance in Tennessee when he squandered what could’ve been, at least, a 17-0 lead with a bad interception in the end zone on 2nd down and an off-target throw to a wide-open Kyle Jucszcyk.
There’s a world of difference going into halftime up three scores, especially against a team who can’t get anything going offensively. Jimmy routinely keeps teams in games that they have no business being in by keeping his own team out of the end zone or setting them up in excellent field position, like after his second pick on Thursday, which gave the Titans an easy chance to tie things up. Brutal.
So, if we want a shot at a championship, everyone needs to be begging and pleading for another six-week run of Good Jimmy G. At worst, we’ll need Average Jimmy G and a whole bunch of Pepto for the ulcers that he’s trying to give us.
HEALTHY EMMANUEL MOSELEY
Whether the team wants to admit it or not, when Jason Verrett went down in Week 1, the undrafted free agent corner became one of the most critical players on the entire team. Until his high ankle sprain, he represented the last line of defense between the likes of Dre Kirkpatrick or a rookie starting across from Josh Norman.
In Moseley’s absence, Ambry Thomas ascended to the starting role, a job nobody wanted him anywhere near until next season at the earliest. On top of transitioning to the pro level at a challenging position, he also hadn’t played his final year at Michigan due to health concerns over COVID.
Week over week, he has shown improvement, and we’re a long way from deeming him a bust, but he certainly made his fair share of rookie mistakes. He’s gotten beat deep, struggled to track the ball in the air, and when he did see it, his aggressiveness left something to be desired.
If the Niners hope to have a shot against some of the more accomplished quarterbacks in the NFC, they’ll need to be able to hold up better than allowing 11 receptions, 145 yards, and a touchdown to their opponent’s number one receiver. There’s no question that Emmanuel Moseley, even at 80%, would be best suited to help prevent such performances.
INCREASED PRODUCTION FROM SAMSON EBUKAM
When the 49ers signed Samson Ebukam this offseason, they hoped that they found a diamond in the rough, not a lump of coal. An outside linebacker for the Rams, his durability and athleticism suggested that he could transition to an effective edge rush under the tutelage of D-line guru Kris Kocurek.
Things started slowly for Ebukam, who didn’t make much impact while splitting time with the returning Dee Ford. But, after the injury to Javon Kinlaw sent Arik Armstead inside full time, and Ford got shut down by a hit that re-aggravated his back injury, the Niners had to rely on Ebukam as the edge rusher opposite Nick Bosa more than ever.
In the past three weeks, he’s started to assert himself, logging six quarterback hits, three sacks, and two tackles for loss. Those numbers either match or best his production for the previous 12 games, putting into perspective just how little he offered to the pass rush to start the season.
The Niners need someone on the other end to give teams even the slightest pause about double-teaming Nick Bosa every play. If Ebukam can keep up his current rate, that might be enough to accomplish just that.