With the regular season in their purview, the San Francisco 49ers have earned a nice break with the bye week ahead of the divisional round of the playoffs.
Now, the 49ers are still planning to practice with high intensity, as head coach Kyle Shanahan announced that the team will have two hard practices this week before getting the weekend off.
Additionally, the 49ers faced some good news, injury-wise, as tight end George Kittle, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, safety Tashaun Gipson, cornerback Ambry Thomas, and safety Ji’Ayir Brown will return to practice this week, while wideout Jauan Jennings is out of concussion protocol.
However, with much trending up for the 49ers, what are some of the issues they could face heading into the playoffs?
In our latest podcast episode, we discussed the 49ers’ Week 18 loss to the Rams, while looking ahead to the playoffs and what the 49ers may encounter there.
The video for the show is embedded above, while the audio is available below.
At the top of the list has to be the injuries for the 49ers. While San Francisco is returning several key players this week, it has to be noted how many different injuries they faced over the last few weeks of the season.
Even injuries to role players were significant, as the 49ers were left without their top third-down chain-mover in Jauan Jennings, as well as their reliable return man in Ray-Ray McCloud, leading to some inconsistencies in both fields.
Now, the 49ers will likely miss defensive end Clelin Ferrell for some time, while it doesn’t appear that Christian McCaffrey will be 100 percent for the stretch run.
Again, San Francisco does have depth along the defensive line, and McCaffrey, even at 80 percent, is an amazing player, but the run defense on the outside could take a hit without the former player.
Additionally, Jake Moody’s recent struggles have to be a concern, given how important the kicker position is, and that they’re coming at the most inopportune time of the season.
The offensive line, particularly the right side, is also a potential issue heading into the playoffs.
Is this 49ers’ unit top-15? There’s definitely an argument to be made for it, but that doesn’t excuse the play of right tackle Colton McKivitz this season, while that right side as a whole has struggled against top teams.
Now, the 49ers will be facing some top-level pass-rushes in the playoffs, where their offensive line has struggled in the past. Look no further than the NFC Championship Game in 2021 where the 49ers couldn’t sustain protections long enough, which wasn’t a good formula for success with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.
San Francisco is more dominant offensively in the current era, but how their offensive line fares against the tougher pass-rushes is something to monitor heading into the playoffs.