Winning cures all. The 49ers dominated the Jaguars on the scoreboard and in the stat sheet in a 31-point rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars. For the first time since the Cowboys game, the 49ers won in all three phases.
Jake Moody made all six of his kicks. Mitch Wishnowsky had a 56-yard punt that pinned the Jags on their 1-yard line. Ray-Ray McClould took care of the ball, while him and Ronnie Bell both had positive punt returns.
Four different players scored on offense. Each of the stars up front had a sack, and the defense forced four turnovers. I’d argue that Sunday’s victory was more impressive than the home win against Dallas considering the circumstances.
Let’s get into the overreactions from Week 10.
The 49ers are the best team in the NFL
Was it more of an overreaction to give up on the 49ers after three losses, or to crown them after beating the Jaguars thoroughly off the bye? The highs for San Francisco are higher than any other team in the league.
A healthy, focused, energetic 49ers team is the best team in football. Their A-game trumps everyone else, including the Eagles, Cowboys, Lions, Ravens, and Chiefs.
I told some fellow media members before the game that Sunday would tell us more about Jacksonville than it would about San Francisco. That proved to be wrong. The Jaguars aren’t 31 points worse than the 49ers. But they ran into a team hitting on all cylinders, while the home team looked like they had the yips.
Is it as simple as having a healthy Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel on the field? I asked Christian McCaffrey what Deebo brings to the offense that we can’t quantify on the outside. Here’s what he said:
“I really don’t think you can quantify what Deebo brings. It’s a different energy. Different burst. Just having him on the field, I’m not a defensive coordinator, I don’t play defense, but he’s somebody you have to focus on. What he can do when the ball is in his hands, whether it’s in the run game or in the receiving game, it’s special.”
You can’t guard everybody on offense with Samuel in the lineup. And you can’t block everybody on defense with the addition of Chase Young. Add Trent Williams into the mix, and you have defensive backs literally running away from him. Good luck quantifying that type of presence.
Verdict: Not an overreaction
The defensive issues are resolved
The narrative heading into Week 10 was that the 49ers defense is overrated, can’t get stops, and would likely need to be carried by the offense down the stretch.
Steve Wilks swapped out a cornerback, added a pass rusher, and muddied the picture pre-snap for Trevor Lawrence for 60 minutes. Jacksonville’s offense scored three points on ten drives, was limited to 12 first downs, and only converted 33 percent of its third downs.
Monday morning, the narrative has shifted to, “why hasn’t Trevor Lawrence taken the next step?” “What’s wrong with Calvin Ridley?” “Are the Jags pretenders?”
Lawrence was under pressure on 30 percent of his dropbacks, despite Wilks only blitzing three times. The 49ers defense only allowed one pass to be completed over 20 yards, and two to be completed beyond 10 yards.
This was also as healthy as Jacksonville’s offensive line had been all year. But you would have no idea after the 49ers sacked Lawrence five times, hit him another four times, and pressured him on 16 combined dropbacks.
The 49ers run defense was outstanding. They won on early downs. That has not been the case all season. Jacksonville’s offense had a 30 percent success rate on 1st & 2nd down, with an EPA of -0.26. Compare that to the 49ers 49 percent success rate offensively with a 0.39 EPA per play, and you see a stark contrast in offenses.
Four turnovers won’t be easy to replicate. And Christian Kirk had 104 of Lawrence’s 185 yards. When I asked Kyle Shanahan if this was what he envisioned his defense to look like, he was a bit hesitant to crown them:
“They had a bunch of big plays. They got it going with their screens a number of times. We had some big penalties that hurt us. They had some explosives that got down there.”
Shanahan added that you don’t get points until you cross the goal line or kick it through the uprights, and praised his defense for going for the ball.
But the Jags scored a field goal when they started from the 1-yard line, fumbled on San Francisco’s 46-yard line, threw an interception on the Niners 34-yard line, and fumbled on the 49ers 9-ard line.
That’s three scoring opportunities that resulted in zero points. The defense took a promising step in the right direction, but to say all of their defensive woes are solved is inaccurate.
Ambry Thomas deserves to start
Ambry Thomas had three tackles, a run stop, forced a fumble, recovered that fumble, and should’ve had a touchdown. He was also targeted three times and allowed 14 yards, with 11 of those coming on one play.
Thomas played 34 coverage snaps, so only acknowledging how he looked when the ball was thrown his way is selling Ambry’s performance short. He was on an island against Ridley and Christian Kirk numerous times and not only held his own, but completely took them out of the picture.
Thomas has the requisite athleticism needed to succeed at cornerback, but he also has the arm length to be disruptive (78th percentile). Recovery speed is a must at cornerback. Thomas’s 40 time was also in the 78th percentile in the NFL draft and his vertical jump was in the 75th percentile. Those measurables tell us that Thomas is an explosive athlete.
It showed against Jacksonville.
Imagine reading this after Week 2:— KP (@KP_Show) November 13, 2023
"Ambry Thomas put on a clinic in coverage during yesterday's game and earned the right to never come off the field."
Watch the top of the screen. Technique & reactive athleticism are there. It's 1 game, but 49ers may have their answer at CB. pic.twitter.com/zrGE7IWcQi
Kyle Shanahan said he wanted to see Deommodore Lenoir play in the slot, which led to Thomas playing on the outside:
“Ambry’s made a lot of strides, going back to training camp. It was nothing against anybody in particular, but we wanted to see D-Mo in the nickel a little bit. D-Mo’s got a knack for that. For us to make that choice, Ambry was the next man up outside.”
Isaiah Oliver played three snaps compared to Lenoir’s 53 and Thomas’s 46 in total. It’s only one game, and Mike Evans is on deck, but Thomas looked confident playing press-man coverage and his length allows him to contest throws and give bigger wideouts fits that Lenoir couldn’t when he was on the outside.
Thomas should start. And by start, that means playing in nickel, which is essentially a starter. His athleticism and confidence made a difference.
Verdict: Not an overreaction
The Colton McKivitz experiment is nearing its end
The 49ers offense continues to get away with McKivitz at right tackle. Technically, he surrendered as many pressures as Trent Williams. Watching the game live, the offense was fortunate that Brock Purdy wasn’t sacked. I think that says more about Purdy’s escape-ability than anything.
There are plays — several — where McKivitz isn’t competitive. It’s alarming. But I’m not sure that there’s another answer, at this point, on the field. Jaylon Moore could move to the right side in theory. Jon Feliciano is an interior player. Matt Pryor is the only other option, and if the change wasn’t made during the bye, then it’s unlikely to happen for the rest of the season.
It’s nearly impossible to field an offense with this much talent at the skill positions, and expect to have five Trent Williams protecting Purdy. McKivitz is essentially Mike McGlinchey on a two-year contract worth $4.56 million. To be fair to him, he’s playing to the level of his contract. Still, it’s troubling how often defenders end up in the backfield when going up against McKivitz.
It’s difficult to make changes when your offense is producing at the level the 49ers are, when healthy. The worry is, when it matters and the competition is at its peak, the opposing defense will get the best of the Niners right tackle.
But that’s the bed they’ve made, and it’s on Shanahan to scheme around McKivitz. He’s the starter for the remainder of the season.
Verdict: Overreaction (for this season, at least)