As we prepare to have football through February, it’s time to address the outlook of the 49ers season with three burning questions.
The reserves, George Kittle’s return to All-Pro form, and the state of the division can all be interrogated. Eagerness to watch San Francisco play Sunday is warranted, but these questions could linger through the 17-game regular season.
We take a look at my three burning questions below.
How will the reserves respond when their number is called?
San Francisco's wealth in the defensive line has been well noted the last few months. The defensive tackle group is superior to the edge players. With that being said, worry for the edge group is health, not talent.
Jake Hutchinson of KNBR reported that Dee Ford would be on a pitch count and that he and Nick Bosa are “in the same situation,” which stipulates that they both would be eased in. They both look to clear the mental hurdle of overcoming an injury. With Ford and Bosa on a pitch count, expect to see a lot of Samson Ebukam and Arden Key on passing downs.
These rotations are not new, but it shines the light on how Ebukam and Key can showcase what they can do in a game that matters. Ebukam finished strong in the final two preseason games, whereas Key did not jump off the screen.
Key expressed that “he wanted to get out of there” when it came to leaving the Raiders. However, key needs to put his money where his mouth is, or Jordan Willis will replace his reserve-like role when he returns from suspension.
The signing of Josh Norman shows that the nagging injuries bothering Emmanuel Moseley could be a major factor throughout the season. Moseley worked on the side Monday, and San Francisco may not be ready to play Deommodre Lenoir immediately.
Cornerback depth is highly threatened by age and preexisting injuries. Jason Verrett and K’waun Wiliams have battled injuries as of late, which indicates that the Niners depend on Ambry Thomas’ development. Moseley being out turns the Norman signing from insurance claim to possible immediate starter. Let’s hope he holds up in coverage.
Where do the Niners stand in the division?
A year ago, San Francisco swept the Los Angeles Rams and beat the Arizona Cardinals with a C.J. Beathered led performance. Winning three of the six division games is acceptable when the roster is depleted.
Every team in the division made notable additions in the offseason, making a case for the hardest division in the NFL for the second season in a row.
Arizona added Rodney Hudson, J.J. Watt, and A.J. Green, who are all household names, but they all look to be exiting their prime. In addition, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has not proved he can keep a consistent offense and is potentially on the hot seat. San Francisco had the opportunity to sweep the Cardinals last season and should do so this year.
The Niners have beat the Seattle Seahawks just once out of the last four meetings. DeMeco Ryans has to let Jason Verrett follow D.K Metcalf, who had a monster game against San Francisco in Week 8 last year. It’s easy to say let Verrett follow Metcalf, but the Seahawks have another weapon in Tyler Lockett. Ryans will have his hands full trying to contain the two. San Francisco can make a statement early in the season by knocking off Seattle in Week 4.
Matthew Stafford joining the Rams was one of the biggest moves in the offseason. Stafford brings the threat of throwing the ball vertically on defenses. DeSean Jackson’s health is significant as he is one of the puzzle pieces to make this offense explosive. Head coach Sean McVay looks to take his offense to new offense just like San Francisco.
The NFC West is wide open. San Francsico’s running game give them the edge in divisional games. Except the run game to see similar if not more rushing production than 2019. All in all, the 49ers have a solid chance at taking the division.
What does Does George Kittle have to do to reclaim the title of best TE in the league?
Being named the best player of a position in the league is subjective. However, Kittle has fought through a slew of injuries, and he still checks all the boxes of a premier tight end.
Availability has been the motto for the team as a whole, but it's crucial for Kittle. He is the best pass-catcher on the team and anchors the run game with his blocking. Kittle’s toughness was first displayed when he revealed that he played with a torn labrum for two seasons.
A Jimmy Garoppolo overthrow on a screen pass in Week 1 contributed to Kittle injuring his knee. He would sit out two games and look like his All-Pro self in his return against the Eagles in Week 4. Unfortunately, Kittle would fracture a bone in his foot four weeks later, causing him to miss six games.
Garoppolo has to establish a better connection with Kittle. In addition, Trey Lance getting reps in the red zone increases the defense to account for his run ability, opening more red-zone targets for Kittle.
San Francisco’s 2021 season will be determined by many factors. Reserve players stepping up, How they fare out in the division, and Kittle’s impact are just a few.
Good depth players are essential. This 2021 roster may have bigger names than 2019, but the depth is concerning. The cornerback situation seemed to be settled, with Lenoir playing well in preseason. However, Moseley’s injuries are concerning and could turn into a real problem when it is time for division play.
The NFC West is a gauntlet again. Ryans and the defense can only do so much. Good quarterback play for San Francisco can take the stress off the defense. This 49er offense will have to score a fair share of points to compete in this division.
Kittle is the most important player on offense outside of the QB. Consistent play from other pass-catchers can make his life easier. San Francisco has the opportunity to have one of the most explosive offenses under Kyle Shanahan, and the Niners need Kittle on the field for that to happen.