After getting a chance last week to pick the brains of the best and brightest minds when it comes to Niners football, who also happen to write for Niners Nation, I decided why not do it again? A lot has happened in San Francisco since they last suited up and let’s break it down. Here’s everything you need to know from this side of things as Kyle Shanahan and his team prepare to take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football.
1.) The Niners are getting a big boost in terms of injured players returning for this week’s game. It appears eight players are slated to suit back up, including four activated from the IR. Whose return do you feel will have the most impact against the Chargers?
Andrew Pasquini (@pasquiniandrew): From the depth aspect the returns of Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair will be huge. Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles were solid in replacement but the 49ers have one of the best if not the best linebacking corps in league thanks to Greenlaw and Al-Shaair. Paired with Fred Warner, either Greenlaw or Al-Shaair create a more than formidable duo but DeMeco Ryans being able to have a rotation of the two with Warner takes the group to that elite level.
But with that being said, Deebo Samuel’s return to the offense will have the biggest impact. Seeing what Kyle Shanahan has been able to do with Samuel both last season and this season and then seeing what one week with Chrsitian McCaffrey can look like has added a layer (if not layers) to the 49ers offense. Now teams will have to deal with both of the 49ers elite offensive weapons not just on the same offense but potentially in the same back field or lined up on the same side out wide and do things that opposing defenses will struggle to gameplan for.
And that’s not even mentioning Brandon Aiyuk or George Kittle or Elijah Mitchell or Jauan Jennings. It feels like there’s been this idea of unlocking the Shanahan offense but now there’s so many options and weapons that the lock might not even exist at this point.
2.) This will be the first time the 49ers will suit up their newly formed cadre of super-weapons. What would you consider a successful outing for the group of Deebo Samuel, CMC, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle?
Jason Aponte (@JasonAponte2103): For me, there isn’t a number of touches that would dictate a successful outing. Gameflow and situation would be the determining factor of what is successful. If the pass catchers fall behind the running backs in touches, that might point to a 49er win. McCaffrey and Mitchell having more touches than Kittle, Samuel, and Aiyuk certainly can be a recipe for success.
Conversely, the pass catchers having more touches could mean the team is in catch-up mode or the defense isn’t playing to its standard. The best possible answer I can come up with is, whatever the situation dictates and requires. The 49ers have that luxury and that is exciting.
The Chargers’ run defense has been on a downward trajectory that’s best described as a plane with no engines, pilots, or wings. They’ve allowed 170 yards per game in their last three games and 200 last week against the Falcons. With that in mind, what kind of performance should we expect from Christian McCaffrey and the returning Elijah Mitchell?
Marc Delucchi (@maddelucchi): I’m honestly not sure. The 49ers offense performed better against the Rams than it had all season, but the bulk of their damage came through the air, where Christian McCaffrey made them even more of a matchup nightmare. The Chargeres run defense has been atrocious this year, but the 49ers rushing attack has been inconsistent as well. Plus, the Chargers last three opponents (Falcons, Seahawks, and Broncos) all had quarterbacks who are viable rushing threats. They won’t have to worry about that with Jimmy G.
Hopefully, the bye has given McCaffrey enough time to get more comfortable attacking the open lanes and the Niners can run all over the Chargers. However, this game could easily be dictated by the Chargers defense. With the 49ers depleted at corner, Justin Herbert could put the Niners behind and force them to keep up. If that’s the case, will McCaffrey or Elijah Mitchell get to establish themselves in the run game? I’m skeptical.
I want to be clear, the 49ers offense has several clear advantages over the Chargers defense, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Brandon Staley does everything he can to limit the run game, and forces Garoppolo to throw 30 times.