Sunday’s game went about as well as you could ask considering who the 49ers play on Thursday. They left little doubt, outside of a five or six-minute stretch in the second half, and have few questions to answer.
But the Niners lost a key contributor, were a bit sloppy, and have a superstar to pay at wideout. Here are this week’s overreactions.
The 49ers are in trouble without Talanoa Hufanga
There aren’t many teams who can replace an All-Pro safety. Talanoa Hufanga had a knack for being around the ball. He has three interceptions on the season and was among the Niners leading tacklers, especially during these last three games. He was the “glue guy,” in a way.
After the game, the players were hopeful that Hufanga would be OK moving forward, but Kyle Shanahan feared that the Niners lost their starting safety to a torn ACL, effectively ending Hufanga’s season.
But this year’s role for Hufanga was a little different from last year. He’s been more of a safety valve this year as opposed to “in the action.” That’s helped limit some missed tackles that were an issue a season ago.
Steve Wilks’ defense is predicated on having a single-high safety with instincts who can take away any deep pass. Ji’Ayir Brown didn’t time fast in the 40-yard dash, but it’s a role he’s cut out to play.
You couldn’t help but notice the way the players celebrated with “Tig” after his interception. Nick Bosa said, “I love his energy as a player, just getting to know him.”
Fred Warner said, “it’s always next man up mentality. There wasn’t much that needed to be said. I knew he needed to be ready. The dude is just ready. He has the right mindset.”
That’s Brandon Aiyuk’s locker mate. Aiyuk said he’s excited for Brown’s opportunity.
Brown has an incredible opportunity in front of him. The 49ers are replacing a 5th round pick with a 3rd round pick. In no way is that taking away from what Hufanga means to the defense or what he’s brought to the table, but the Niners drafted Brown for a reason. And that’s because they know he has the skill set to make plays in this defense.
It took Brown a couple of series to make multiple plays. He broke up a pass against Mike Evans in 1-on-1 coverage on fourth down. That’s an impossible task, and Brown didn’t flinch. He also had a big hit that jarred the ball loose on a would-be touchdown. Then, of course, an interception.
It sucks that Hufanga is injured. There’s no way around that. But, based on the roles and what they’re being asked to do, the 49ers defense will be in good hands with Tig at safety.
Brandon Aiyuk will break the bank
Brandon Aiyuk is 10th in the NFL in receiving yards. He’s done that on just 43 receptions. The next player closest to him reception-wise in the top 10 of receiving has 59.
When Aiyuk was speaking to the media postgame on Sunday, one player walked by saying that BA was worth $20 million. Trent Williams didn’t feel like that was enough. He said Aiyuk should make $25 million.
Aiyuk had the best game of is career on Sunday, and did so on just five receptions. According to Sports Info Solutions, Aiyuk’s season this year is as or more valuable than he was in 2020 and 2021, and he’s about two games off from last year’s production.
Aiyuk’s a special player who is among the league leaders in yards per reception. And we finally saw him used as a deep threat yesterday, where he topped 20 miles per hour. That’s notable as Next Gen Stats has only tracked one other skill player on the 49ers this season to top that number. That was Christian McCaffrey back in Week 2.
Aiyuk is a clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL. He finally has a quarterback willing to throw him the ball. Some fans fear that Aiyuk may have played himself out of the 49ers price range, but there’s plenty of cap space, and I don’t believe Aiyuk is going anywhere.
He won’t be cheap, but players of his caliber usually aren’t.
Verdict: Not an overreaction
Penalties and mental miscues will eventually catch up to the 49ers
Yesterday’s game was oddly closer than the score would have led you to believe. And that’s thanks to penalties and a special teams blunder. Dropping three interceptions doesn’t help, either.
San Francisco had seven penalties for 66 yards. On the Bucs’ initial touchdown drive, Nick Bosa jumped offsides to make a 2nd & 9 play 2nd & 4. A defensive pass interference gifted Tampa Bay the ball on the 1-yard line to begin the fourth quarter.
The Niners are the 9th-most penalized team in the NFL, but have the fourth-most penalty yardage. As talented and well-coached as they are, giving away free first downs and yards is an easy way to neutralize the advantages this team has on both sides of the ball.
Too often, they’ve been sloppy this season. Aiyuk’s penalty was negated after Bucs’ cornerback Jamel Dean held him on the next play. With the upcoming schedule, the teams the 49ers play won’t let them get away with those types of penalties.
Verdict: Not an overreaction
Red zone woes will be the reason this team doesn’t win the Super Bowl
The Niners offense went 2-for-3 in the red area against Tampa Bay. They’ve been on a bit of a skid during the last three games, converting only 41.6 percent, which is the eighth-lowest percentage during that stretch.
But if we dig a little deeper, one of those red zone trips in Week 11 came during a two-minute drill. Kyle Shanahan said that teams who cannot run the ball struggle in the red zone. Well, when you only have 30 seconds to play in the half, your options are limited.
Running the ball is not an issue for the 49ers. They just didn’t have the opportunity to do so. Plus, it’s Tampa Bay and Vita Vea on the other side.
During the other red zone drive, Purdy was sacked on second down to make it 3rd & 15. Purdy has been sacked the fifth-fewest times this season.
The 49ers are converting 60 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns on the season, which is tied for sixth in the NFL. Scoring isn’t an issue. They went through a stretch where they had issues taking care of the ball, but fumble luck, and sack luck to a degree, isn’t something to be concerned about.
We’re also talking about an offense that can score and produce points with the best of them. Only the Dolphins average more touchdowns per game and their numbers are inflated thanks to scoring ten touchdowns in a single game.
The 49ers move the ball and score at a rate that’s top three in the NFL in numerous categories. Them scoring points should be the least of anyone’s worries — even in the red area.