Top three concerns for 49ers heading into week 15

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) runs with the ball against San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (51) during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. San Francisco won 26-23 in overtime. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Coming off a thrilling overtime victory over Cincinnati on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers return to the practice field today to begin preparations for their week 15 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

Here are the top three concerns facing the team this week:

1. Looking past Atlanta

The last time the 49ers faced Atlanta was week 15 of the 2019 regular season. San Francisco was coming off an exciting come from behind road victory in New Orleans and Atlanta was coming in with a sub-.500 record having just defeated Carolina.

Flash forward to the present day. Atlanta is again coming in for a week 15 tilt with San Francisco coming off that thrilling victory mentioned earlier and Atlanta is coming in with a sub.-500 record having just defeated Carolina.
Sounds a bit like Deja vu doesn’t it?

If the 49ers don’t come into this game completely focused, Atlanta could make them pay. The Falcons are part of a log jam of teams with a 6-7 record and in contention for a playoff spot in the NFC. While Atlanta’s overall record may not look impressive, the Falcons are 5-2 on the road this season.

2. Health

San Francisco has dealt with a number of injuries to key personnel throughout the season, and can ill afford to sustain more as they begin the stretch run.

The 49ers will again be without Emmanuel Moseley, and the status of linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is a question mark due to an elbow strain suffered in the second half against Cincinnati.

Moseley, the 49ers’ top cornerback was placed on injured reserve last week and will be out for at least the games this week against Atlanta and Tennessee.

Rookie Ambry Thomas received the call to start in place of Moseley when veteran Dontae Johnson missed the game due to the unexpected passing of his mother.

Thomas suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter and has entered the NFL’s concussion protocol.

The injury to Al-Shaair may not be as bad as initially feared. According to Kyle Shanahan, Al-Shaair will be day to day and could be back in the lineup on Sunday.

Al-Shaair has already played more snaps than his first two seasons in San Francisco combined and has made the most of the opportunity. Al-Shaair has recorded a league-leading nine tackles for loss and may be in the running for the Pro Bowl.

3. Inconsistency in the running game

One unexpected development for the 49ers offense this year has been the struggle they’ve faced in the run game.
San Francisco has averaged 4.3 yards per rushing attempt this season which ranks 17th in the NFL.

Aside from rookie Elijah Mitchell, no active running back on the 49ers roster is averaging over four-yard per carry. This has led to the Deebo Samuel spending more time in the backfield over the second half of the season.

Samuel leads all 49ers with six rushing touchdowns on the season, five of them coming in the four games he’s played since the move into more of a running back role starting with San Francisco’s Week 10 victory over Los Angeles. During this same stretch, Samuel has also led the 49ers in yards per carry at slightly over eight yards per attempt.

> Azeez Al-Shaair (elbow), Elijah Mitchell (knee), George Kittle (knee soreness), D.J. Jones (knee soreness), Dre Greenlaw (core), Maurice Hurst (ankle), and Dontae Johnson (personal) did not practice Wednesday due to injury while Fred Warner, Jaquiski Tartt and Ambry Thomas were limited.

> There had been a report late Tuesday that San Francisco would be releasing Dee Ford. While that report was incorrect Kyle Shanahan confirmed Dee Ford would not be back with the team this season. Ford has been limited to only 152 total snaps since 2020.

Moving on from Ford now would not have made financial sense for the 49ers. A release now provides cap savings in 2022 of only $2.09 million. By releasing Ford after the season with a post-June 1 designation San Francisco could save $7 million in 2022.

This article has 18 Comments

  1. Also, only a miracle line-backer run to a tipped ball saved the 49ers from Atlanta and their onside kick recovery in 2012. Any flat play this year will be a big problem again.

  2. Connect the running game with health.
    The other concern is the O-line and penalties.
    With that said. They could use some improvement more with the O-line in protection. Especially on the right side. Those two over there will get Jimmy killed come playoff time. Teams are playing to stop the run. Without Mosterts burst of speed it’s not like 19 where they can run the ball down the throats of GB or Minn this time.
    In other news Hopkins seems to be done for the year n Arizona. Could the Niners catch Arizona now? Slim but still possible. Gotta win out though.

    1. Great to hear from you again, md!

      We can connect the running game to health and the lack of an explosive runner like Mostert.

      The 49ers won’t catch Arizona in the standings, but that’s a matchup I’d like to see in the playoffs.

  3. Three observations on Jack Hammer’s thoughtful analyses.

    Samuels as running back has major risks for injury. He is su important as a receiver it would not be a good idea to risk him as a runner. Let him star with yards after catch.

    The Niners need to build a running attack in which ball carriers that do not break off big runs are the focus. It should be possible to design an attack around runners who average four yards a crack.

    Dee Ford will not be missed. He has made only marginal contributions and has a large salary. Better to develop other young players as pass rushers.

    1. I was thinking that about Deebo but if he’s only getting 5-6 carries a game I am good with it.

      Aiyuk is a better Wide Receiver than Deebo and the truth is a Deebo is a gadget player.

  4. Agree with the points on Deebo. He’s very effective as a RB but you’re going to shorten his career dramatically and lose his contributions as a WR if you keep lining him up in the backfield so often. My reaction is: if you must line up a WR as a RB because he’s better than the RBs you have on the roster then you don’t have the right RBs on the roster.

    1. “My reaction is: if you must line up a WR as a RB because he’s better than the RBs you have on the roster then you don’t have the right RBs on the roster.”

      I agree. That would be Mostert but he’s not durable, and possibly Mitchell. Correct me if I’m wrong but we usually see Mitchell running north/south even though he’s fast enough to gain the edge, where the splash running plays tend to start.

      If Jimmy weren’t under the usual pressure from the right, I don’t think we’d need Deebo in the backfield. You’d think they could find a better right guard/tackle combination. Maybe they have one of them in Moore.

      1. I think if Moore and Banks were better at this point, they would be starting. Both Brunskill and Compton are very good run blockers which is probably why they are starting. Not so good in pass pro. The team values run blocking over pass pro.

        1. True, Felix, the argument is we’re a run-first team so they value run blocking over pass pro. But these two are probably exceptionally below average in pass pro, and the team needs a better balance for the sake of the passing game, wouldn’t you agree?

          1. I would agree but their options this year are limited and They believe they are starting their best options.

  5. Just curious if anyone has thoughts about CTE and football. I cringe every time I see another former football player off himself or do something crazy and we find out his brain was suffering from CTE.

    I’m honestly starting to withdraw from the sport in general because I don’t see anything material being done by the NFL, the owners or even union membership to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room about it not being a safe sport (or at least in terms of not threatening lives).

    I’m not taking much pleasure watching these guys go nuts hitting each other knowing that enough of them (and their families) are going to suffer great loss away from the game.

    I don’t know what the solution is to be honest. Football is a terrible sport in terms of requiring a massive rule book as it is. It’s not a pure sport in the sense that everything needs parameters and restrictions guiding every play. We keep adding more rules but not sure it’s doing anything to really prevent the loss of life or the athletes’ quality of life after the game.

    Anyway, my 2 cents. I saw a story today about Vincent Jackson and it honestly makes me feel guilty for promoting and watching this game to a certain extent.

    1. I’m in the same boat, GN. I think about it when I watch a game and do feel guilt from time to time. They’re paid well and enjoy a type of glory, but for most their days of glory are short. These days, I watch it primarily for the social benefit of bonding with friends and family.

    2. I felt guilty when it first became a big deal. But they have done something to reduce concussions and the concussion protocols are pretty solid.

      CTE is a disease from my understanding so it sounds like some people maybe more likely to get it than others? I understand what CTE is and why it occurs but it’s not like a majority of players are getting it.

      1. It may be far worse than you think.

        A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2017 looked at 202 brains from deceased football players, some from the NFL and some from the CFL, as well as semiprofessional athletes and athletes who had not gone professional but played football in college or high school.

        The researchers found “clear evidence” of CTE present in 87.6%, or 177, of the brains examined. On average, those 177 athletes had played football for 15 years, the researchers said. Among the different groups of players diagnosed with CTE, 110 of 111 former NFL players had the disease, as did seven of eight former CFL players.

        1. George, I recall that study which I found quite frightening. We’re dealing with human beings and quality of life, even loss of life. Unfortunately football is too embedded in the American culture. I’m quite shocked Congress is busy investigating the Washington Football Team instead of focusing on CTE. Apparently questioning football is Anti-American as it gets and they don’t want any part of that label. It is really unfortunate.

  6. Hammer, nah it doesn’t sound like deja vu to me. With what the team has been through this season, I don’t think a 2019-esque looking past Atlanta will be an issue. Unlike 2019 the team knows the very tenuous hold they currently have on the playoffs. Now they may lay an egg as they have multiple times this year, but it won’t be because they are overlooking an “inferior” opponent.

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