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49ers Keys to Victory over the Bengals

Chris Beno
Dec 9, 2021 at 8:45 AM--

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The 49ers are coming off another embarrassing loss after falling to their nemesis, the Seattle Seahawks, 30-23. For what feels like the hundredth time this year, the 49ers reverted back to shooting themselves in the foot. From the beginning of the game, the 49ers struggled with basic fundamentals such as carrying the ball in the wrong hand as a ball-carrier, resulting in a fumble, and taking a sack in the endzone. The lack of fundamental discipline has been the trend of the 49ers all season. Many fans are just now coming to the realization that this 2021 team might be average at best.

Thanks to a struggling NFC that keeps the playoff hopes alive for the 49ers, it's also keeping young players on the sidelines since head coach Kyle Shanahan has shown a reluctance to play rookies over the years. The remaining games this season will be interesting. How will this coaching staff blend in the young talent to provide something to build on going into next season when the team has over 30 players entering free agency? How do you even build a team around a bunch of unknowns who lack game experience? At what point does the front office show urgency or concern for the future beyond this season?

These are things to be thinking about going forward as the NFL enters the final stretch of the season. With that said, the remaining games for the 49ers are all winnable, as long as they can get out of their own way and limit mistakes.

Here are my top keys to victory as the 49ers take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.

Pass Rush

This week, the 49ers secondary has taken another hit with veteran cornerback Emmanuel Moseley out with a high-ankle sprain. Moseley has quietly been good all season for the 49ers, only allowing a 56 percent completion percentage while having 10 passes defended. The 49ers will likely go with veteran cornerbacks Josh Norman and Dontae Johnson on the outside to start this week.

Norman has been a borderline liability since coming to the team this year, often getting beat on deep passes and not setting the edge on running plays. The pass rush has to be there if the 49ers look to protect their secondary this week against a young, dynamic wide receiving group in the Bengals.

Nick Bosa has done Nick Bosa-type things all year since returning from his ACL injury. Bosa has 12 sacks in 12 games and is consistently around opposing quarterbacks. Someone else on the defensive line has to step up this week and help out in the pass rush. As of late, D.J Jones and Arik Armstead have quietly put together good seasons, especially against the run.

The secondary has actually held their own quite well this year considering they lost their starting corner Jason Verrett week one. However, the pass rush has to improve across the board this week to prevent the Bengals star receivers the opportunity to run free. The longer guys have to cover, the tougher it is to stay in a position to make a play on the ball.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow leads the NFL in interceptions at 14. While he does have talented receivers to throw to, the opportunity to create turnovers is there.

49ers Backfield

The run game is the heartbeat of this 49ers' offense. Everything is based on its success. So, it becomes a concern when rookie running-back Elijah Mitchell's status is questionable due to a head injury. Jeff Wilson is also dealing with knee issues, leaving JaMycal Hasty as the lone healthy back. Trenton Cannon (concussion) and Trey Sermon (ankle) are still out with their injuries.

The running game goes much further than just controlling the game and physically beating down opponents. It keeps the ball out of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's hands. Limiting his touches equals limiting his mistakes. Whoever the 49ers put in the backfield on Sunday has to be successful on early downs to give Garoppolo a 3rd-and-manageable.

If the backfield becomes stagnant and Mitchell is ruled out, expect a lot of screens and jet sweeps to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk could also be featured in the run game this week.

Jimmy Garoppolo

If fans are waiting for Jimmy Garoppolo to put the team on his back and carry it to glory, keep dreaming. He's just not that guy. The offense has already been simplified to play to Garoppolo's strengths. It's one read. If it's not there, hit the checkdown. Fans witness 49ers players wide-open downfield every game, and Garoppolo doesn't see them. That's just who Garoppolo is. It's too late to expect more from him at this point.

However, the 49ers have proven they can win with Garoppolo at the helm. Unfortunately, I don't see this as a game where they can take the ball out of his hands and hand it off 40 times like in previous weeks. He is going to have to air it out. The team could be without its star receiver, Deebo Samuel, again, so expect Kittle to be heavily targeted

The key with Garoppolo is to get him into a rhythm early. Short passes, screens, and everything between the hashes. The 49ers have to avoid 3rd-and-long situations this week. This season, when Garoppolo strung together a few good games in a row, the 49ers went with Garoppolo in the shotgun, which gave him that extra time to scan the field. It worked. Last week against Seattle, the team strayed from that, and Garoppolo struggled.

Kyle Shanahan likes to run play-action and bootlegs in his passing game. Over the years, it has become a huge part of the Shanahan offense. Garoppolo just doesn't see the field fast enough to process what's going on when he has his back to the defense on those plays. Stick with what works and keep him in the shotgun.

Hopefully, they will put Garoppolo in a position to play to his strengths and not ask him to do too much. He isn't the guy who can bail the team out if they fall behind. He can, however, do just enough to move the offense and put the team in a position to score if the 49ers can play complementary football.

Kyle Shanahan

This week will be a true test for the 49ers head coach, who thrives on the run game. But with a beat-up backfield, Shanahan is now forced to lean on the quarterback he has tried to replace since 2019. Shanahan has to find a way to get Garoppolo in a rhythm early. If the run game isn't there, and Garoppolo is missing passes high or turning the ball over, pull the plug on him. It's not ideal to thrust rookie Trey Lance into a game where the game plan isn't built around him, but it can't be worse than leaving a struggling Garoppolo in there. Plus, every snap is crucial for Lance's development going forward which, should be a primary concern for Shanahan.

Shanahan needs to be creative with his play calling. If the team comes out and plays conservative football, where the focus is just to limit mistakes, then that directly reflects his trust in his quarterback and the overall offense to go out and make plays. Be the offensive genius everyone says you are. Be creative in your play-calling. Trust your guys.

A couple of weeks ago, Shanahan said that inserting Trey Lance packages throws off his play-calling rhythm because the defensive looks change based on which quarterback is in the game. This is the same head coach who can find ways to make Deebo Samuel a running-back, George Kittle a fullback, and Jeff Wilson a tight end. No more excuses. If anything throws off Shanahan's offensive rhythm, it's missed opportunities for wide-open players downfield. It's three-and-outs. It's penalties that push the offense into 3rd-and-long situations.

I would like to see Shanahan target certain players on the defense. How often do fans see opposing quarterbacks attack the 49ers rookies when they're forced into a game because of injuries? Last week, rookie cornerback Deommodore Lenoir came in for Moseley, and Russell Wilson went right at him. I can't remember seeing the 49ers do that at all to opposing defenses. Shanahan attacks defensive weaknesses through his scheme, but he doesn't air it out and force their backup players to make the play. That's more than likely a lack of trust in Garoppolo, but I would still like to see that amped-up level of aggressiveness on offense every now and then.

The 49ers come into this game as one-point underdogs on the road in Cincinnati. Those odds are fluctuating due to possible injuries and game time decisions. Due to injuries, the 49ers may need to play a different brand of football than fans are used to seeing. Either way, there's still no reason why this team should lose this game if they limit their mistakes. The opportunity to hit their stride late in the season is there, however unlikely that may be, since no one has seen it consistently through 13 weeks of football. I predict the 49ers will win this game 28-20.
  • Chris Beno
  • Written by:
    Coming from Elk Grove, California I grew up a Bay Area sports fan. I've been cheering for the 49ers for as long as I can remember. In 2005 I joined the Army when I was 18 and got stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I just kind of hung around here. I've always enjoyed writing and have typically focus on writing music. I am truly blessed to get to cover the 49ers, and have my articles published on the 49ers Webzone. I appreciate all of the Faithful that take the time to read the articles that myself and other contributors put out there. The 49ers have without a doubt the best fanbase, and best content creators around.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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