Usually, as the Niners prepare to face their latest opponent on the gridiron, I try to prepare by speaking with a writer from the opposing blog. We each go back and forth posting and answering five questions to help better inform each fan base about what to expect from what could be an unfamiliar, or in last week’s case, an overly familiar opponent.
However, this Sunday, while the team gets a well-timed week of rest, which should allow several players to return from the injured reserve for a national primetime game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I had no one to talk to about what to expect from the Niners.
Then it hit me; I know a whole bunch of guys who are the best when it comes to what to expect from the Niners. So, I put the SF logo into the night sky, and they did not disappoint.
Without further introduction, here’s what to expect from the Niners from the writers at Niners Nation.
After a much much much-needed get-right game against the Los Angeles Rams, the Niners appear well positioned heading into their bye week: A gaggle of injured players are poised to return, the offense gelled with new addition Christian McCaffrey, and the defense looked as fierce last Sunday as its earlier dominance. Considering all that, what’s going to be the most important factor to sustain this success over the second half of their season?
Marc Delucchi (@maddelucchi): I have two instincts responding to this question. The first, and more reasonable one, says the most important factor is the defense. DeMeco Ryans is trending towards becoming an NFL head coach this offseason as he leads a talented group. Injuries have probably already prevented the Niners from having a truly historic defense this season, but if they can remain a top-five unit in the NFL, they should be returning to the playoffs.
With that said, I find myself returning to Jimmy Garoppolo. This is the best Jimmy G has looked in his career. He’s making big-time throws at an elite rate. He’s avoiding turnovers at the best rate of his career. This is the best Garoppolo we’ve seen.
Still, this just feels like Lucy and the football. Garoppolo had an excellent stretch late last regular season too, and it’s not like he hasn’t made some boneheaded plays. The odds are this season will end like last season, with Garoppolo’s limitations showing up at the worst possible time in the postseason. But if he could actually sustain his recent play, the Niners might be the best team in the NFC.
The Niners' offense has had a bumpy ride so far this year. Trey Lance disastrously suffered a season-ending injury early in Week 2, the run game confusingly looked well below Kyle Shanahan’s usual high standards, and Jimmy Garoppolo seemingly vacillated between career-best and terrible performances. Where do you see the Niners' offense heading post-bye? Will they be able to win a shootout at some point? Can the rushing attack regain its footing?
Jason Aponte (@JasonAponte2103): Christian McCaffrey’s addition certainly gave this offense the shot in the arm it needed last Sunday. The 49ers have made do with other running backs since the departure of Raheem Mostert.
McCaffrey is the most dynamic running back since Mostert, and his combination of burst and vision certainly will straighten out this rushing attack. The 49ers' rushing attack will absolutely regain its footing.
This offense now has elite playmakers at each skill position spot. Jimmy Garoppolo has his best supporting cast. The offensive line provided enough protection for Garoppolo to go through all his progressions and find McCaffrey as a check down on Sunday. The new shiny addition of McCaffrey now simultaneously gives the 49ers the ability to keep their offense on schedule and compete in a shootout. Things are looking up during the bye week for the 49ers.
The Niners' defense gave the impression they might be utterly untouchable, far and away the class of the league before they hit an ugly two-game stretch against the Falcons and Chiefs. As noted above, they certainly recaptured some magic against the Rams, and the ship looks to be righted. What do you blame the downturn on, and what do you expect them to look like for the rest of the season?
Yinon Rajiv (@YR195): Emmanuel Moseley went down against the Panthers, and our starting defensive tackles haven’t been fully healthy all season. While Moseley, Arik, and Javon Kinlaw aren’t the first players you think of when you think of the most important players on the Niners' defense… their absences have had huge ripple effects, both upward and downward, across their respective units.
The centerpieces on those units of the defense - Charvarius Ward and Nick Bosa - are put in spots where their talent can’t be maximized. On the other end of the spectrum, this has put the role players out of position, messing up the natural order and putting depth guys out of their depth.
It’s a boring answer, but it comes down to health. Arik coming back will go a long way for the entire defensive line, and Jason Verrett coming back will boost the entire secondary. Without those two, this defense will have enough talent to disrupt weaker offenses, but the better offenses will attack the holes. With those two, our best players can focus on doing what they do best… a key ingredient to those early season flashes of dominance.
There’s been a lot of discussion about Kyle Shanahan’s coaching style, player relations/acquisition model, and performance/lack thereof in situational football. However, after all the questions and criticism, the Niners are .500, 3-0 in the division, and might just be the most dangerous team in a wide open NFC. How would you grade Shanahan’s performance so far, and how would the team have to finish for this season to be a success?
Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin): I’d give it a solid B.
I think, ultimately the lion's share of the blame gets placed on the shoulder of the head coach due to not only the responsibility that comes with their position but because they are truly the one common denominator across all three phases of a football team.
Having said that, there haven’t been many instances this season where I felt like Shanahan was the primary reason for any lack of success in their four losses. The most concerning thing I would say are the penalties and self-inflicted mistakes, and I would say that a good chunk falls on Shanahan for his team regularly being disproportionate and undisciplined given the talent level and experience the majority of the roster has.
Playoffs. We’re talking playoffs! If the 49ers win the division and host a home playoff game, the season is objectively a success in my eyes. Due to the familiarity with Garoppolo and where this talented roster has gone with him as the quarterback, the championship expectations have remained.
But the reality is the 49ers lost their starting quarterback for the season in Week 2 and any team that is able to play meaningful games in January with a backup quarterback under center for the majority of the season is objectively a success.
When you consider all the wild factors that have already made these last six months particularly chaotic for the Niners — the Jimmy G trade saga, the Trey Lance injury, the historic early pace of DeMeco Ryans’ D, the rushing attack slump, Kyle-Shanahan-no-comeback-gate, the D falling off a cliff, the CMC trade shocker, the D’s triumphant return over the Rams, and McCaffrey’s Triple Crown — what do you see as the best and worst case scenarios for the rest of the season? And what’s your prediction?
Kyle Posey (@KP_Show): The best-case scenario is everyone stays and gets healthy. Arik Armstead returns to his All-Pro health on the interior. Javon Kinlaw plays 25% of the snaps. Jason Verrett replaces Emmanuel Moseley, and the defense returns to the version that looked unflappable to begin the season.
Offensively, you find the perfect balance between Deebo and McCaffrey, all while developing Brandon Aiyuk for when you’ll need him in the postseason and leaning on George Kittle in the red area.
The worst case scenario would be the arrangement of the musical chairs at right guard blows up in your face as neither player gets on track while your skill players are in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season.
All of this leads to inconsistent Jimmy, which is what Kyle Shanahan wanted to get away from.
The schedule and remaining matchups set up favorably for the 49ers. However, a worst-case scenario would involve missing your top three cornerbacks headed into December. The last thing you want is facing the Dolphins, Bucs, and Seahawks in a row without any competent cornerbacks.
Those teams put enough stress on you as it is. Plus, those are all playoff-caliber teams and will serve as a litmus test for the 49ers and their playoff aspirations.