The 49ers are coming off their most lopsided defeat of the season against the Los Angeles Rams and share the NFL’s worst record at 1-6 ahead of their trip to play the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Let’s answer some questions in the return of our weekly mailbag about where San Francisco goes from here ...
Markus Brown asks: Will John Lynch be proactive and make a move to improve the team drastically to generate buzz for the rest of the season? The Jimmy Garoppolo trade energized the team last year.
There’s no move the 49ers could make that will have the same impact as adding Garoppolo last Halloween. He plays quarterback, after all, and signed his massive five-year contract last offseason. No other position on the field can change the trajectory like the guy under center.
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I asked coach Kyle Shanahan on Monday about how the 1-6 record impacts the long-term vision he and Lynch have. In short, it doesn’t.
“Just because the record doesn’t show that isn’t going to make you doubt yourself and go rip up your plans to do something totally new,” he said.
Making a big trade for a key player might fall in the category of “something totally new.” After all, the 49ers are in the running for the top overall pick in the draft, which could be the ultimate silver lining to Garoppolo’s injury — particularly if they can land a possible star defensive player like Ohio State’s Nick Bosa.
Former Raiders receiver Amari Cooper was an intriguing option, but he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys for the rich price of a first-round pick. Surely, the 49ers weren’t going to match that offer, given where their first-round pick is expected to fall.
Seattle safety Earl Thomas would have made sense, but his season ended Sept. 30 when he broke his leg against the Cardinals. He might be a free-agent target in the spring, though he turns 30 in May. Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson might be worth inquiring about, but it doesn’t seem sensible to offer a package that includes a first-round pick.
The 49ers might feel inclined to make another trade or two before the deadline. They have the cap space to absorb some hefty contracts, but it’s hard to envision them adding someone that can change the direction of the season – or dealing away valuable draft capital for veterans during a youth movement.
It’s more likely the 49ers trade away some of their assets to continue the rebuilding process. Perhaps Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward or Joshua Garnett would be intriguing to teams needing depth and willing to overlook their recent injury histories.
Michael Hallett asks: Why does it seem like the 49ers play so poorly at home and more competitive on the road?
The 49ers seem to play with more energy on the road in intense atmospheres than they do at Levi’s Stadium, which has to be one of the worst home-field advantages in the NFL.
Contrast Levi’s to Minnesota, Kansas City and Green Bay, and there’s a palpable difference in ambiance. Those places have been packed at kickoff with fans bringing noise and intensity. That hasn’t been true of Levi’s since it opened in 2014 for reasons often discussed (the lack of winning, the fact it’s in Santa Clara and not San Francisco, the sun baking the east side of the stadium, parking, prices, etc).
I can’t imagine it fires up players to look into the stands and see so many empty seats. Even in Carson, when the 49ers played the Chargers in a 27,000-seat MLS stadium, the place was rocking because 49ers fans were battling with Chargers fans to make more noise. It was a wild atmosphere, which San Francisco’s players seemed to feed off.
But players get paid to play hard and with energy regardless of the energy in the stadium. Bottom line: It’s up to them to change the atmosphere in their home stadium by winning games. The 49ers badly need to curate a winning tradition at Levi’s. It will stay lifeless otherwise.
Chedda asks: Is it too early to say Reuben Foster is not a playmaker in the NFL? Guy is yet to have a sack, interception or create a fumble.
It’s too early to make that determination. But the point is valid.
Foster hasn’t played well this season, and his inability to force turnovers falls in line with the rest of the team. The 49ers are last in the league with three takeaways while the offense has committed the most turnovers.
There were similar concerns about Foster coming out of Alabama, where he didn’t force any fumbles or have any interceptions, either. But he alleviated those concerns during his first training camp, when he led the 49ers in picks during August practices open to reporters.
The 49ers still believe Foster can be one of the best linebackers in the NFL — as he showed in his rookie campaign. But Foster is mired in the same sophomore slump that’s bothering many of the club’s second-year players, including defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, receiver Trent Taylor and safety Adrian Colbert, who was lost for the season over the weekend with a high ankle sprain.
Gold Blooded asks: Tarvarius Moore: Keep him at cornerback or try him at free safety?
The free safety spot, for now, is D.J. Reed’s to lose. He’s been practicing there and in the slot since he was drafted. It will take an injury or something unforeseen for Moore to return to his college position. He’s worked exclusively at cornerback since coming to San Francisco in the third round of the recent draft.
The 49ers envision Moore becoming a starter after Richard Sherman’s time is done, possibly as soon as next season.
But it’s a valid question because Moore hasn’t sniffed the field at cornerback despite all the issues at the position. Greg Mabin, Jimmie Ward and Witherspoon have been used in varying capacities opposite, or in place of, Sherman, while Moore has been limited to special teams.
It’s probably best to keep Moore at one spot to avoid sensory overload as a rookie. I’d imagine he’ll get on the field more at cornerback as the year progresses. At some point, the 49ers have to see what they have, given their roller-coaster ride with their other corners. Ward is more likely to get safety reps, but he’s been dealing with a hamstring injury.
RedGoldLion asks: What’s the reason for all those turnovers on offense? Lack of talent or bad coaching/play calling? And on defense: Why can’t the Niners create any turnovers?
C.J. Beathard has a bad habit of holding on to the ball too long. He doesn’t secure it well, either. Drops and bad play from his receivers haven’t helped. I don’t blame the coaching or play calling for those issues – particularly when Kyle Juszczyk and Matt Breida have the ball ripped away from them.
The 49ers would be significantly better in those areas if they had Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon to run the scheme they practiced in training camp and the offseason. The 49ers had to make sizable changes to the offense once those two went down.
On defense, it starts with the pass rush. The young secondary isn’t good enough to hold up on its own, particularly with the way the rules slant toward the offense. A pass rush can force the quarterback to rush throws and make bad decisions that lead to interceptions. Sacks also lead to less favorable situations for offenses, obviously, and the 49ers have 14 sacks, tied for the sixth-fewest in the NFL.