As the first weekend of November ended the consensus about the San Francisco 49ers was that their 2021 season was going to be yet another failure. They had just been blown out at home by a Cardinals team missing several starters and there seemed to be little reason to believe they’d find a way to turn it around.
Fast forward three weeks, the 49ers have won three in a row, are in a playoff position, and are the hottest team in the NFC.
Injury bug bites again
The 49ers will be without two of their top players for the next one to two weeks. Fred Warner suffered a strained hamstring and Deebo Samuel strained his groin against Minnesota.
Losing these two will be a blow to both sides of the ball. Warner is an All-Pro level linebacker, and the 49ers are already a bit thin at the position. Dre Greenlaw has missed most of this season with a core injury and reaggravated the injury early in the game against Minnesota. He is currently listed as day-to-day. Marcell Harris is also currently in the NFL concussion protocol because of an injury on Sunday.
The only healthy linebackers on the 49ers roster are currently Azeez Al-Shaair, Demetrius Flanagan-Fowles and Tyrell Adams.
The 49ers’ offense has been helped by the explosiveness of Deebo Samuel in the run game over course of their three-game win streak. It could be easy to point to his use as a running back resulting in the injury, however, his workload has been about the same as the rest of the season.
Samuel has a history of injuries related to muscle strains. This is important to note when looking at how he is being utilized within the 49er’s offense. Samuel has the physical makeup to withstand hits, he’s built like a running back, and all the issues seem to suggest that maybe his body is just wound a little tight. Those types of injuries can occur at any point, whether Samuel is getting the ball as a runner or catching a deep crosser and running after the catch.
Playing keep away
The 49ers’ offense may have been their best defense over the last three weeks. Starting with their victory over the Rams, San Francisco’s offense has held the ball for more than 37 minutes in each game. The last team to manage this was the Baltimore Ravens in 2019.
Thunder and Lightning
San Francisco rushed for 208 yards, the second-most allowed by Minnesota this season and the fifth most for the 49ers in the regular season under Kyle Shanahan.
Elijah Mitchell was the thunder of the rushing attack, pounding his way to 133 yards on 27 carries. The lightning came from Deebo Samuel who added 66 yards and two touchdowns on six carries.
During the 49ers’ current three-game win streak, Samuel has run the ball for 178 yards and four touchdowns on only 19 carries.
Have yourself a game, Azeez
Azeez Al-Shaair led the 49ers in tackles against Minnesota with eight. The third-year linebacker also hauled in an interception and recovered a fumble, becoming the first 49er to accomplish this feat since Perrish Cox against Philadelphia in 2014.
While Josh Norman has struggled in pass coverage, allowing a passer rating of 98.0 when targeted and getting called for a 22-yard pass interference penalty against Minnesota, the veteran cornerback has excelled this season at forcing fumbles.
Using a technique called the Peanut Punch, named after former Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman, Norman was able to force his seventh fumble of the season on Sunday. The seven forced fumbles are second-most by a 49er’s player since 1994, and trails only Ray Barker who recorded eight forced fumbles in 1996.
Little Nicky does it again
Nick Bosa finished with two tackles and a sack. He now leads the team with a career-high 11 sacks on the season, second-most for the 49ers since DeForest Buckner finished with 12 in 2018.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s long goodbye?
The future of Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco has been up in the air since the organization used three first-round picks and a third-round pick to draft Trey Lance.
Prior to yesterday’s slate of games, NFL insider Ian Rapoport appeared on NFL Network and reported the following: “49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan opened the door this week for Jimmy Garoppolo potentially coming back in 2022. Allow me to shut that door. Absent a Super Bowl run, which at this point still is theoretically possible, this is the 49ers’ plan next season: Start Trey Lance, trade Jimmy Garoppolo. Not a surprise there — they’ve been pretty upfront about that. What Garoppolo is doing now is increasing the value of picks the 49ers get in a trade involving him and making it more likely that a place he wants to go would want to take him.”
Did Rapoport get this information from someone inside the 49er’s organization? I don’t know if he did or didn’t. What I do know is this is very similar to what Jed York told Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area in early May following the draft.
“If we’re in a situation where Jimmy goes out and takes us to a Super Bowl again and has an MVP-caliber season, and does it again, there are worse dilemmas to be in. And Jimmy certainly has the ability to do that.”
As Rapoport pointed out, the 49ers have been upfront about their plan at quarterback. Trey Lance became the future in San Francisco, Kyle Shanahan said as much last week.
Moving on from Garoppolo this offseason makes the most sense. San Francisco will find itself looking to fill nearly 20 spots on its roster with roughly $12.8 million in cap space to work with.
While there are some issues with Garoppolo’s play, there’s no denying the 49ers have been a much better team with him at quarterback since Shanahan became the head coach than anyone else.
Trey Lance is full of potential, but that only goes so far in the bottom-line business of professional football.