We had to push back our weekly mailbag a day because there was some breaking news Tuesday with the 49ers’ addition of receiver Emmanuel Sanders in a trade from the Broncos.
But that wasn’t going to stop the mailbag altogether. Let’s get to your questions.
Eric Abeyta asks: With the E. Sanders move are there still holes to fill for a deep playoff run & do you believe they make another move?
I would be surprised if the team made another significant trade. There are very few holes on the roster and the team is expecting to get a number of starters back from injury over the next few weeks.
The 49ers don’t have picks in rounds 2 through 4 in the upcoming draft, which means they likely can’t outbid other teams for players who might be in demand. I’m guessing the steep price of the third- and fourth-round picks for Sanders, while getting a fifth back, was because there were a number of teams in the market for a wideout. After all, Mohamed Sanu was worth a second-round pick to the Patriots, and many would argue Sanders is the better player.
Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have done a good job in the draft since they took over. They have 22 players still around from their previous three drafts that are factoring into the future. My opinion: Getting their injured players back healthy and up to speed is more important than making another trade.
Matt Sallaberry asks: What is the biggest surprise thus far to the Niners 6-0 start?
The defense couldn’t have been much worse than the past two seasons. But very few people outside 49ers headquarters could have projected it would become one of the best in the NFL, and perhaps the best in recent memory.
The improvement in the secondary is most surprising. The team was panned during the offseason for not making significant changes in personnel. Instead, they hired former Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods to become passing game coordinator. The results have been outstanding.
Additionally, the secondary is also far healthier, even without Ahkello Witherspoon for the past three games. The 49ers started eight different combinations of safeties last year and were constantly shuffling at cornerback. Jimmie Ward has played well since coming back from injury to replace Tarvarius Moore, who played well, although not flawless, in his stead. Emmanuel Moseley has been solid while Witherspoon has been out.
The 49ers over the last two games have allowed 98 net yards, which were the fewest over a two-week span since 1977. Go back a week further, and San Francisco has allowed 176 net passing yards over the last three games. Sure, the competition hasn’t been great and Sunday’s game was played in a mud pit at FedEx Field. But the defense couldn’t be playing any better.
Louis Charles asks: They haven’t really needed the offense so far but likely will as the schedule gets more difficult. Can the 49ers win a shootout?
Good question. We haven’t seen it yet, so it’s hard to say. But I do think they’re far more likely to win one now that they have Emmanuel Sanders.
I wonder how good Jimmy Garoppolo would be if the 49ers incorporated more passing in their week-to-week game plans. Shanahan said Monday this season has been unique because he’s never called played opposite a top-10 defense, let alone one playing at this high a level.
That means more running the ball, which could also be a product of him not having much faith in his young receiving corps. Sanders could change that.
Brian asks: Thoughts on how to contain CMC (Christian McCaffrey) this Sunday?
Don’t blitz, continue to play mostly zone coverage, and always know where he is.
The 49ers have great team speed on defense, particularly in the middle of the field. If they play zone without blitzing, they don’t create pockets of space for McCaffrey to get going.
If they blitz or get caught in man-to-man coverage too often, the Panthers could create space to get McCaffrey the ball, which could have devastating effects. I’m curious to see how well McCaffrey does against the 49ers linebackers. Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander have been one of the fastest duos at the position in the league thus far.
Red Scott asks: What players do you expect the 49ers to activate from IR?
As long as there are no other setbacks, the player that’s most likely to come back is receiver Trent Taylor. He indicated when he was placed on injured reserve the mandatory eight weeks was expected to be more than enough time to get his foot right.
He had surgery in August to repair a Jones fracture in his foot. And then he sustained a soft-tissue injury surrounding the healed bone during his rehab. He should be good to go any time after the Week 11 game against Arizona. Getting him back for the Nov. 24 game against the Packers could be big for the offense.
Taylor, of course, had a great training camp before the injury. Shanahan said he was the team’s best offensive player..
Michael asks: Your best guess on the starting RT once Staley reclaims his job at LT?
I’d imagine it’s going to be Daniel Brusnkill. I’ve talked to offensive tackles about switching sides and some say it’s easier than others. Some can do it on the fly, others need an entire offseason. It’s like learning to write with the opposite hand.
I don’t know if Justin Skule can switch it up to play on the other side. I’d imagine the coaching staff would rather change just one position rather than two when Staley returns.
Knight of St. Christopher asks: How long can you wait for Dante Pettis to develop and improve his play?
Shanahan made it pretty clear the team’s 6-0 start means there’s no more waiting around for Pettis’ development. The Sanders trade indicates he doesn’t believe Pettis (or Deebo Samuel and Marquise Goodwin) are trustworthy enough to make big plays with the season on the line, like in a playoff game against an elite defense on the road.
Sanders has played in two Super Bowls and eight playoff games overall. He adds a much-needed reliable, veteran presence at receiver the team hasn’t had since Pierre Garçon’s offseason departure.
Perhaps taking the spotlight off Pettis is a way that could help his development. George Kittle will continue to demand the attention of defenses, and Sanders will be No. 2 on the priority list. That means Pettis should be in better positions to win one-on-one matchups. We’ll have to see if he can take advantage.