After they signed a former Texas wide receiver and ex-Stanford safety to contract extensions this offseason, the 49ers might be close to asking this question: Can those guys, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, still play?
Of course, the head coach and general manager will remain in their roles, but at this rate there’s no telling who’ll be suiting up for the 49ers in December.
The injury-ravaged defending NFC champions are 4-5, and a turnaround appears unlikely because the endless attrition now features most of their best players. Tight end George Kittle, cornerback Richard Sherman, pass rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo may not play again in 2020.
That means most fans aren’t eager to look ahead to the 49ers’ final seven games.
And they probably won’t enjoy looking back at the first nine games.
But it hasn’t all been awful. Here’s the best and worst of the 49ers’ season just past the midway point:
Trent Williams: The seven-time Pro Bowl tackle hasn’t been perfect, but it’s a testament to his excellence that there was much perplexed hand-wringing when he had a few pass-blocking whiffs in losses to the Eagles and Dolphins.
A side note: It’s also a reflection of the 49ers’ injury situation that other candidates for this distinction — Kittle and running back Raheem Mostert — have been too banged up to qualify.
Williams’ season has been sandwiched by moments that strongly suggest he will be a priority for the cash-strapped 49ers to re-sign in the offseason.
In Week 1, the 320-pounder resembled a sprinter before unloading on poor Jordan Hicks — sending the unsuspecting Cardinals linebacker into Livermore — on a devastating run block that went viral. Williams is on a streak in which he hasn’t allowed a quarterback pressure, let alone a sack, in his past 115 pass-blocking snaps dating to Week 5, according to Pro Football Focus.
Williams’ value was highlighted Thursday night, which was the only game he’s missed. His replacement, Justin Skule, allowed a sack and pressure that led to two turnovers that Green Bay turned into 10 points.
Most Disappointing, Offense
Garoppolo: In fairness, Garoppolo made five of his six mostly uninspiring starts on a bum ankle before he made an overdue trip to injured reserve Thursday. Still, in his only healthy start, the season-opening loss to Arizona, he missed must-make throws on the final drive to cap a shaky performance.
And his injury history is a relevant issue: Dating to 2016 with the Patriots, Garoppolo has suffered three significant injuries (shoulder, knee, ankle), which is a massive medical file for a player who has made the equivalent of two full seasons of starts (32) in his career.
There were already questions about the 49ers’ long-term commitment to Garoppolo before the season: Teams that know they have their franchise quarterback — and consistently talk about building a sustainable winner — don’t consider replacing him with a 43-year-old QB, even if the old guy is the cyborg known as Tom Brady.
The 49ers stuck with Garoppolo because they believed he would take a big step in a second full season with Shanahan. His ankle injury guarantees that won’t happen. That means what happens in the upcoming offseason between the 49ers and their QB will be the question hanging over the franchise.
Fred Warner: A notable retired QB said it: “That’s the best linebacker in ball right there,” commented CBS’ Tony Romo during the 49ers’ Week 7 win at New England.
And a notable current QB has voiced the same sentiment: “You’re the best. And everybody knows it. The field don’t lie,” Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers told the miked-up Warner after the 49ers’ loss on Thursday night.
Yes, what would have sounded wildly premature two months ago now appears obvious: Warner, 23, in the middle of his third season, is ready to assume a spot with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman as one of the franchise’s great modern-day inside linebackers.
The 49ers have been without most of their best defensive players for most of the season, but they’re still ranked seventh in total defense because Warner has been a middle-of-the-field anchoring force.
He already has a career high in interceptions (two) and he’s on pace for a career-best 122 tackles in a season that could finish with his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition.
Most Disappointing, Defense
Arik Armstead: The best thing about signing a five-year, $85 million contract is sort of obvious.
The downside: The big bank account allows for few excuses when, as a defensive lineman, you have 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks in nine games.
One reason for Armstead’s puny totals is that the absence of Bosa and Ford have forced him to line up more outside a season after he did most of damage along the interior in last year’s 10-sack season. In addition, the lack of those Pro Bowl pass rushers has meant more attention on Armstead from opponents.
Still, Armstead’s payday suggested the former first-round pick had reached a level where he could overcome such obstacles. Instead, he has become invisible for long stretches: On Thursday, he did not have a tackle — and did not appear on the stat sheet — in the loss to Green Bay.
Best Offseason Move
Re-signing Jason Verrett: This decision seemed curious — to the few who noticed — when the 49ers brought back the former first-round pick with a list of injuries longer than a CVS receipt.
But the damaged-goods cornerback has brought the goods since injuries forced him into the starting lineup in Week 3.
Verrett has allowed just 24.9 passing yards a game in his seven starts, and QBs have a 75.6 passer rating when targeting him. In other words, he’s performed like a Pro Bowl player while earning a $910,000 base salary.
If he can remain healthy, he’s due for a massive raise in 2021. And it could come from the 49ers, who could decide he’s a better option to retain than Sherman, who will turn 33 in March and hasn’t played since Week 1 because of ongoing lower leg issues.
Worst Offseason Move
Trading DeForest Buckner: The 49ers used the money required to sign Buckner, a standout defensive tackle, to keep Armstead and free safety Jimmie Ward on long-term deals. Then they traded Buckner to the Colts for a first-round pick they used to select his far cheaper replacement, Javon Kinlaw.
However, Armstead (see above) hasn’t built on his breakout season, and Kinlaw has work to do to become DeForest Part Deux: The No. 14 pick has 19 tackles, one quarterback hit and no sacks in nine games. (For those curious: Buckner has 29 tackles, 13 QB hits and 2.5 sacks in seven games.)
Yes, it’s not fair to compare the just-getting-started Kinlaw to Buckner, and besides, it’s folly to judge an interior defensive lineman solely on stats. Still, the 49ers bet on Armstead and Kinlaw and parted with Buckner, a sure thing as an All-Pro and two-time captain who had missed one game in his first four seasons.
What choice did they have? What if they paid Buckner, traded Armstead in exchange for a lesser (third-round?) pick, let Ward walk in free agency and replaced him with promising 2018 third-round pick Tarvarius Moore?
This GM stuff is easy after the fact.
Brandon Aiyuk’s 38-yard touchdown run: The rookie first-round pick is known for gas-hose arms that belie his height (6-foot) and give him the catch radius of Hakeem Olajuwon.
But this was about his freakish legs.
In Week 4, against the Eagles, Aiyuk caught a lateral 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage, broke two tackles about 15 yards downfield and then came the what-just-happened finish: With Marcus Epps closing in at a perfect tackling angle, Aiyuk leaped to hurdle the safety at the 8-yard line, stopped levitating when he landed at the 3 and barreled into the end zone.
Frank Gore’s 4-yard run: It was an innocuous up-the-middle run by the 49ers’ all-time rushing leader, now playing for the Jets, in the first quarter of the 49ers’ win in Week 2.
And it included a crippling blow to the 49ers’ vaunted defense: Lined up at right defensive end, Bosa’s left knee buckled when he was engaged with tight end Trevon Wesco.
Bosa initially stood up, went down on all fours, beckoned the sideline for assistance and was soon carted off the field. There are other reasons the 49ers rank 23rd in sacks per game and no longer scare QBs, but Bosa’s absence due to his torn ACL is, by far, the biggest.
Doesn’t look good for Nick Bosa…Fear is the ACL. Nick tore his right ACL back in 2015. pic.twitter.com/zPepAmLDk1
— ACL Recovery Club (@ACLrecoveryCLUB) September 20, 2020
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49ers midseason review: Jimmy Garoppolo disappoints; Fred Warner wows have 1588 words, post on www.sfchronicle.com at November 8, 2020. This is cached page on Auto News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.