Jaguars offer opportunity for 49ers to test-drive a few options

Here is my Thursday column on the 49ers’ upcoming game against the awful Jaguars.

Beating the Jaguars is way down the list of important things the 49ers must accomplish this weekend. Beating the Jaguars isn’t even top-three. Beating the Jaguars is expected. Everyone beats the Jaguars. The Jaguars are the worst.

The 49ers should treat this game like an exhibition or a scrimmage. There is no way the 49ers lose to the Jaguars. If the 49ers show up, they win. And they’re already in London, so they already have a 10-point lead.

This game is an opportunity for the 49ers to work on a few specific weaknesses and improve for the second-half of the season. The 49ers have issues on offense and defense and special teams.

On offense, the 49ers must refrain from handing the ball off to Frank Gore over and over again, although they could win that way. They’ve been winning that way recently. Gore has carried the ball 86 times the past four games, more carries than he’s had in any four-game stretch since Jim Harbaugh became the 49ers’ head coach in 2011. Gore is taking a ton of contact, especially considering how much he blocks.

That trend needs to end. The 49ers need Gore fresh for the playoffs. It’s important for him to rush 25 times against their first playoff opponent, not the Jaguars. The 49ers shouldn’t wear Gore down like they did two seasons ago – Gore carried the ball 159 times the first eight games of 2011 and then averaged just 3.5 yards per carry after that.

The 49ers should give Gore the week off. Why not? The Jaguars have the worst run-defense in the league. They can’t hold their ground against the 49ers’ elite offensive line.

The 49ers should give the ball to Kendall Hunter. The Niners need Hunter. They have run the ball on 62 percent of their plays the past three games, and Gore has gotten most of those carries. The 49ers need a No.2 running back to share the load with their 30-year-old No.1 running back.

Last season, Hunter averaged more than 5 yards per carry before he tore his Achilles’ tendon. This season, he’s averaging less than 4 yards per carry and just five carries per game. The 49ers should give him 30 carries against the Jaguars. Build the young running back’s confidence.

Build Kyle Williams’ confidence, too. He’s the No. 2 receiver and Colin Kaepernick has thrown him only four passes the past four games.

Two weeks ago against the Cardinals, Kaepernick threw to Williams for the first time in the fourth quarter. It was third-and-7 and the 49ers were backed up in their own territory. If Williams had dropped the pass, the 49ers might have lost. But he caught it and the 49ers won.

Last week against the Titans, Williams again had to wait until the fourth quarter for his first pass, a deep one down the left sideline. It was high and he jumped and dropped it.

To use a basketball metaphor, it’s like the 49ers are freezing out their starting two-guard the whole game and then asking him to hit the game-winning shot at the end.

This Sunday, the 49ers should get the ball in Williams’ hands in the first quarter, get him some layups. He’ll be facing one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL, Alan Ball, who has zero ball sense.

When this game turns into a blowout, Harbaugh should take out Kaepernick and insert Colt McCoy because if Kaepernick gets injured in a blowout against the Jaguars, Harbaugh should fire himself. And McCoy could use game-speed experience, even if it’s against the Jaguars.

Besides all of that, the 49ers can do whatever they want on offense. Go crazy.

On special teams, the 49ers need to find someone who is a threat in the return game. The 49ers haven’t had any long returns this season. Long returns mean the offense has to get fewer first downs to score.

On defense, there is one thing the 49ers need to fix on Sunday, their run defense. It’s been third-worst in the league the past three games, giving up almost five yards per carry. That’s because the 49ers are banged up right down the middle of their front-seven, the strength of their defense: Justin Smith has an injured shoulder, Ray McDonald has an injured bicep, Glenn Dorsey has an injured hamstring, Patrick Willis has an injured groin, NaVorro Bowman has an injured wrist and Aldon Smith, well, you know.

Once it’s a blowout, the 49ers’ should sit the injured defensive players, or just sit them the whole game. Let the backups play. The backups can beat the Jaguars.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

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