We’re opening up our Tuesday mailbag to take your 49ers questions before Sunday’s NFC West game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Gabriel Mota asks: With Dante Pettis out and Marquise Goodwin questionable, do you see Richie James getting involved on offense?
Kyle Shanahan said Monday he expects Pettis to miss Sunday’s game against Arizona and will be questionable thereafter. So, yes, it’s very likely James will be active again as he was Week 2 against Detroit when Goodwin was out with his thigh bruise.
The problem, however, is James has been used primarily as an “F” receiver, like Trent Taylor, which plays in the slot. Goodwin and Pettis are the team’s top two options at the “X” position. Kendrick Bourne played there for the first time in his career on Sunday when Goodwin and Pettis were both sidelined.
There’s a strong possibility James gets his reps as an “X” this week. There’s also the possibility Victor Bolden Jr., whose four-game PED suspension has concluded, gets back in the fold. He’s played both “X” and “F” positions and offers value as a return man.
But the 49ers have so many injuries they’re dealing with this week (Joe Staley, Mike McGlinchey, Weston Richburg, Pettis, Goodwin, Richard Sherman, Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Colbert, et al) that they might not have room to add Bolden back to the roster.
It’s a unique situation, and we might not know how things play out until Saturday afternoon when San Francisco finalizes the 53 before Sunday’s game.
Daniel Gomes asks: According to Pro Football Focus the 3 worst defensive starters are Foster, Witherspoon, and Colbert (2017 draft). Are you worried about Lynch and company when it comes to evaluating talent?
I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button, but I do think it’s fair to point out the shine is wearing off last year’s draft class.
Solomon Thomas hasn’t been the factor the team envisioned. Ahkello Witherspoon has gotten off to a rough start this season, though it’s hard to say how much of that has to do with his nagging ankle injury.
Colbert didn’t play well during the first three games, even before he suffered his hip injury against Kansas City. There’s a very real possibility he ends up losing his starting job to D.J. Reed, who looks like he belongs. Most seventh-round picks don’t offer much, so the fact Colbert has already turned into a contributor is a win, even if he doesn’t maintain that starting job. He proved to be an excellent special-teams player last season, which is what he was ultimately drafted for before taking over the starting job because of injuries.
I’m expecting Foster to assert himself as one of the league’s premier linebackers again once he fully gets back in the swing of things. Going from training camp and the preseason, to a two-week suspension, to back in the starting lineup predictably didn’t go smoothly, particularly in his debut against the Chiefs. He was better against the Chargers and looked like the best player on the field in the first quarter.
Remember, George Kittle was a fifth-round pick and has been the team’s best offensive player. C.J. Beathard is looking like a worthwhile investment, as is Trent Taylor, D.J. Jones, Fred Warner, Reed and James.
It’s still early in the season and young players are going to have peaks and valleys before their trajectories even out. A lot can change over the next 13 weeks, which will help us gain perspective on the new regime’s ability to evaluate talent.
49ers Armchair GM asks: Why wont they give the ball to Matt Breida 20 plus times a game? I see the Saints force feed Alvin Kamara...
I think Kamara is a unique talent. It wouldn’t be fair to Breida to make that comparison, though they have a few similar traits.
Shanahan has argued that Breida’s split role with Alfred Morris is one of the reasons he’s been so effective. After all, Breida is just 200 pounds (so he says) and has dealt with a shoulder injury dating to the preseason, along with his recent knee injury.
Asking him to increase his workload might ultimately wear him down and make him less effective — or risk further injury, which would put the 49ers in a really bad spot at running back. Breida still leads the league averaging 7.6 yards per carry. It was unrealistic to assume he would top the league in rushing over the entire season.
Additionally, teams are going to pack the box to force Shanahan to dial up passing plays for Beathard. The 49ers threw the ball 37 times Sunday compared to just 21 runs. Yet they’re still ranked No. 6 in rushing. I don’t think the running game has been a problem — it’s been a bright spot.
The Notorious Taquito King asks: Did you notice that Reuben Foster was struggling with coverages in the passing game against the Chargers? Is that a cause of concern going forward? It seems to me he plays better in the run game than the pass game.
There weren’t any plays that stood out to me regarding Foster’s pass coverage either way, aside from the coverage mix-up on Antonio Gates’ touchdown, which appeared to be Ahkello Witherspoon’s fault. The 49ers think Foster can be an elite coverage linebacker and one game isn’t going to sway their opinion.
According to Pro Football Focus, Foster was in coverage on six passes, four of which were completed. The Chargers used running back Melvin Gordon III heavily in the passing game (10 targets) because San Francisco typically plays three players deep, forcing teams to throw short passes. That’s part of the defensive identity.
Mike Sullivan asks: Will the 49ers look to promote Pita T to help the pass rush?
The team would have to think Taumoepenu offers an upgrade over Cassius Marsh or Ronald Blair to promote him from the practice squad. And there’s been little evidence that’s the case.
The coaching staff would need to see it on the practice field for them to consider it. And I’d imagine they’re eager to upgrade the pass rush. San Francisco’s eight sacks are tied for the fourth fewest in the NFL.
Oddly enough, Eli Harold has three sacks in four games with the Lions after getting traded there in August. DeForest Buckner (3 1/2) is the only 49er with multiple sacks this season.
Matt Wolfe asks: What are the odds that Kendrick Bourne leads the team in receiving TDs this year?
I’d say pretty good. He’s currently leading the team with two. Though he’s only been targeted twice in the red zone, which is tied for third on the team, while both resulted in touchdowns.
Kittle has been targeted seven times, including the touchdown that was negated by a penalty in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs. There’s a good chance he ends up leading the team in touchdown grabs. After all, he’s far-and-away the team’s most productive pass catcher. He has 18 receptions for 316 yards, while Pierre Garçon is second in both categories with 11 for 141.