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Washington vs San Francisco Week 14: Five Questions with Niners Nation

The Washington Redskins offense, right, faces the San Francisco 49ers defense at the line of scrimmage during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014.
Tony Avelar/AP

It’s week 14 of the NFL season and the 5-7 Washington Football Team will be facing a 5-7 49ers team on the road at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday. Although the teams have identical season-long records, Washington is 3-1 over the last 4 weeks while the 49ers are 1-3 over the same timeframe. A win this week (and a loss by the Giants to the Cardinals) would propel Washington to the top of the NFC East.

Although the 49ers were in the Super Bowl last year, this year’s 49ers haven’t played up to the same level. One of the biggest reasons for this regression is injury, described in more detail below. The 49ers have been bit by the injury bug hard this year, seemingly from the beginning of the season (losing Nick Bosa in their week 2 matchup against the Browns). The 49ers have also lost starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo to injury and are being lead by undrafted backup Nick Mullens, who reminds me of a young Colt McCoy. Despite these problems, the 49ers have pulled out some unexpected wins due to coaching. They blew out the Giants 36-9 in week 3 and upset the Rams 23-20 two weeks ago. They may not have racked up many wins recently, but they are a well-coached team that has shown an ability to outperform expectations.

To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Kyle Posey of Niners Nation five questions about the state of the 49ers and what to look for in this game.


1) How do 49ers fans feel about their trade for Trent Williams and how has he been playing this year?

Williams has looked like an All-Pro. The one game he missed was due to COVID-19, and that game, the left tackle gave up a couple of sacks and reminded everyone how valuable Williams is to this offense. At its best, the running game thrives when they run behind Trent. He’s one of those tackles in the passing game where you don’t have to give him any help. You have seen Williams play for most of his career. He’s back to his peak, and the hope is the further Williams is removed from injury, the longer he stays healthy.

[Editor’s note: sounds like they intend to extend him in the offseason and have no regrets about the trade.]

San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo scrambles as Trent Williams blocks Arizona Cardinals’ Zach Allen in 4th quarter of Arizona’s 24-20 win in NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, September 13, 2020.
Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

2) The 49ers offense doesn’t seem to be clicking. Why do you think this is? What would getting Jimmy G back allow the 49ers to do differently?

Several injuries have made it tough for there to be any semblance of continuity. It feels like the offense hasn’t had the trio of Raheem Mostert-Deebo Samuel-Brandon Aiyuk on the field for more than five games. That’s before we get to missing Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle. There are various reasons, but the chief reason has to be a backup quarterback has been under center.

Garoppolo wasn’t playing well, and many fans excuse his play, thinking he was injured when the decisions that were made had nothing to do with injury. Still, he’s the starter for a reason. The margin for error isn’t there with Nick Mullens under center. While Mullens is a high-quality backup, he’s not a starter in the NFL. Jimmy missed throws, but the offense moved the ball with him. That hasn’t happened consistently with Mullens.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo passes in the first half against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019.
Butch Dill / AP

3) Can you walk us through the key injuries the 49ers are dealing with right now and how that impacts their play?

Oh, man. Well, we mentioned Garoppolo and Kittle. That’s a big blow. San Francisco is on their fourth center this season, as their starter hasn’t played all year, and the two backups were hurt. The center now started the season as right guard. The starting right guard is a fifth-round rookie who has filled in after the original backup has suffered from a concussion. It’s been musical chairs at center and right guard all season.

We can’t talk about injuries without mentioning Nick Bosa. Dee Ford to a lesser extent, but I don’t think anyone was counting on him to play a full season. Bosa was the engine that made this defense go last year. He’s the best player on the team has a direct effect on the rest of the defense. The 49ers defense doesn’t have a guy that could end a drive upfront anymore, and that’s been the biggest difference this season without Bosa.

Nick Bosa lit up the Washington offensive line last time they played for 1 sack, 4 TFL, and 7 combined tackles, going on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year last year. Bosa tore his ACL in week 2 of this season and will be unable to play for the remainder of the season.
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4) HC Kyle Shanahan and DC Robert Saleh are both widely respected as great offensive and defensive minds respectively, but do they have any weaknesses or areas they need to improve based on what you’ve seen during their tenure?

They both are a bit stubborn. Saleh stayed in zone for a drive or two too long against the Bills this past Monday. To be fair to him, his cornerbacks were getting torched in man coverage. Shanahan hasn’t trusted his quarterbacks all season. He also loves to run the ball up the middle in short-yardage situations when all 30 members of the defense are lined up in-between the A-gap. It seems like Shanahan lets politics get in the way of playing the best players as well. Whether that’s Ahkello Witherspoon not suiting up earlier in the season over backups, or more recent when Richie James wasn’t playing over Trent Taylor at receiver, to name a few.

49ers DC Robert Saleh is widely believed to be a top head coach candidate (and interviewed for the Browns vacancy last offseason), but took a lot of criticism for the performance of the 49ers defense last week against the Bills.
John Hefti / Associated Press

5) How should Washington gameplan to beat the 49ers on both sides of the ball?

Washington’s defense looks like they’re the real deal. Any team that can get pressure is going to disrupt this offense. If I’m Washington, I put Chase Young and Montez Sweat over the right side every passing down and wreak havoc. The right side of the 49ers offensive line is where teams have had the most success on passing downs. I’d also do what the Bills did and do everything in my power to keep the Niners running game inside of the tackles. If you shut that down, and make this team throw the ball outside of the numbers, it hasn’t mattered who is at quarterback, San Francisco hasn’t shown they’re capable of moving the ball consistently.

Defense is tough. You have to have a playmaker, like Terry McLaurin, but you also need to have a quarterback who could hurt you with his arm. That doesn’t appear to be Alex Smith. While he does take shots down the field, only three or four quarterbacks in the NFL can make the plays Josh Allen did on Monday night. Screens have given this defense problems, but the big plays have came at the expense of the top quarterbacks or receivers in the NFL.


Thanks again to Kyle Posey for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the 49ers.


Poll

As of right now, Vegas has San Francisco as 3 point favorites over Washington. How would you bet?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    San Francisco wins by more than 3 points
    (29 votes)
  • 5%
    San Francisco wins by 3 points or less or it’s a tie
    (22 votes)
  • 86%
    Washington wins outright
    (327 votes)
378 votes total Vote Now

Poll

As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 43.5 points. Which would you bet?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    44 or more total points are scored (both sides combined)
    (60 votes)
  • 80%
    Fewer than 44 total points are scored (both sides combined)
    (240 votes)
300 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If you could trade Ron Rivera for Kyle Shanahan right now (and there would be no bad blood between him and Dan Snyder), would you?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Yes
    (39 votes)
  • 88%
    No
    (304 votes)
343 votes total Vote Now