The San Francisco 49ers (4-5) strength and identity are running the football, and they finally committed to it against Los Angeles. In what felt like a must win game if the 49ers were going to keep their playoff chances alive, Kyle Shanahan was able to get his groove back.
Elijah Mitchell led a rushing attack that saw the 49ers relentlessly challenge the Rams defense on the way to 156 yards on a whopping 44 attempts.
Sticking with the running game not only helped San Francisco keep the ball away from the Rams offense, it helped the offense by having only a handful of third down situations with more than seven yards to go. This played a large role in the offense converting on eight of 14 attempts.
This leads right into the first question for this week’s mailbag.
A lot of the 49ers success on Monday night was their ability, especially early, to force the Los Angeles defense into playing five defensive backs. This was only possible due to the versatility of Deebo Samuel and Jeff Wilson Jr.
The presence of Samuel and Wilson on the field allowed the 49ers to use 11-personnel, 1 running back and 1 tight end, which is usually a grouping that would signal pass. The difference with San Francisco however is although Samuel is a wide receiver, he can run the ball like a running back and while Wilson is now a halfback, he has experience in the NFL as a FB. And that is exactly how Kyle Shanahan utilized these two on the opening possession of the game.
In addition to the wonderful ingenious game plan of Shanahan, the Rams defense doesn’t have a lot of strength at the second level. Los Angeles linebacker Troy Reeder once again proved to be a weak link in the middle of the Rams defense, and while Jalen Ramsey is a heck of a cover corner, he doesn’t strike fear in opposing offenses physically. Those two players were put in the crosshairs by Shanahan early and often on Monday night.
Brian asks a great question here, and this has been on the top of my mind since the end of the game on Monday night. There was a different energy and vibe leading into this game, it was palpable on the field as the 49ers went through their pregame routine.
We are going to find out very quickly if this was a one-off effort.
When the schedule first came out this upcoming game jumped out as a potential trap for the 49ers. Playing on Monday night with a short week to prepare followed by a cross country flight and 10am start looked like a daunting task. The only reason to shrug that off was the opponent was the Jacksonville Jaguars. That all changed when Jacksonville was able to take down the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago.
The 49ers have shown themselves to be quite mediocre if they don’t play their best, and that’s what it will take for them to defeat the Jaguars. This Sunday will tell us a lot about the character of the 2021 San Francisco 49ers.
The short answer to this question is no.
Kyle Shanahan builds packages into every game plan for Trey Lance, but unless the 49ers offense is failing to move the ball it’s unlikely that we will see him inserted into the game.
The 49er’s coaching staff has continued to develop Lance throughout the season, and when the time comes to take over, I believe the learning curve will be a little shorter than we’ve seen from this season’s rookie class. However, that likely won’t happen until San Francisco is eliminated from playoff contention.
While these are both areas the 49ers should look to improve this offseason, San Francisco rarely uses the post-June 1 designation when releasing players. The reason for this due to how post-June 1 cuts hit the books.
Basically, in this scenario the dead cap hit is cut in half and prorated over two years instead of only hitting the one.
Of the two players, the one that could potentially be replaced is Samson Ebukam. His dead cap is much lower than that of Dee Ford, and San Francisco typically tries to hold on to players to try and get something out of them instead of having them eat cap space and not be in their building.
In addition, the savings of this move wouldn’t be enough to lure a difference maker at either cornerback or along the defensive front. Those players have begun to bring in salaries not too far off that of franchise quarterbacks.
Hold on to the football!
The 49ers offense has shown the ability to go up and down the field on every defense that it has faced this season. The problem has been they’ve shot themselves in the foot with interceptions and fumbles.
Look at the losses and these are prominent.
Against Green Bay you have the backwards pass from Jimmy Garoppolo that resulted in three points for the Packers which ultimately allowed another Mason Crosby field goal as time expired to steal the win.
In the first game against Arizona a Trey Lance interception on the opening drive killed not only killed a promising start to that game, but it also led directly to the first Cardinals touchdown. Then in the rematch it was fumbles by George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk that sunk drives into Arizona territory.
Against the Indianapolis Colts it was a fumble by Deebo Samuel late in the first half while nursing a tight lead that set up a touchdown which the 49ers could not overcome.
If San Francisco can play up to their ability and hold on to the football, there is a very good chance they will reach the postseason. That doesn’t sound quite as crazy as it did just a week ago. Wow, how quickly things change in the NFL.