Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

49ers mailbag: How will McCaffrey and Mitchell split touches? Is Danny Gray in the doghouse? Did SF draft the right QB?

Marc Adams
Nov 9, 2022 at 8:13 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers are coming off of a bye week, so they should be healthier and more rested. I sure am. But then again, I'm always ready to go. I barely remember the NFC Championship Game because I had Covid. But I still wrote my stories and tweeted as I always do. You just don't find that level of ability, determination and fortitude. Not to mention that I do it with such great humility.

But enough about me. There are plenty of questions as the 49ers gear up for the second half of the season. We opened up the 49ers Webzone mailbag to answer your bye-week questions. Let's take a look.

If Jimmy G plays the rest of the season at his average stat level, can the 49ers win the Super Bowl? - Doctor W.

If the defense is healthy and playing like we've grown accustomed to them playing, then absolutely. Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing better, and he's pushing the ball downfield more than he has in the past.

For the past few years, 49ers fans have declared Garoppolo (or the quarterback position, in general) the weakness of the team. And it's been understandable, at times. Since 2019, the defense has carried the team. Until recent weeks.

Right now, I'm more concerned about the 49ers' defense than I am about Garoppolo and the offense. If the defense is the dominant force we've come to love, then this team should be a favorite to win the Super Bowl. If the defense is the one we saw against the Falcons, Chiefs, and the first half of the Rams game, then I'm not sure they even make the playoffs.

That's what this season comes down to for me—how well DeMeco Ryans' defense performs.

If you were voting today, who is the mid-term team MVP? - Niner Jim

Nick Bosa. I'm not sure it's close either. Sure there are players like Fred Warner, Talanoa Hufanga and Garoppolo who deserve some votes, but Bosa is the best player on the team, and he plays like it every game.

In all honesty, I would be tempted to vote for Christian McCaffrey because of the life he's breathed into this team. If the most recent Rams game turns out to be the game that turned the season around, then McCaffrey may be my MVP at the end of the season. But for now, it's that Bosa guy. He's pretty good.

How will McCaffrey and Mitchell split touches?

I fully expect McCaffrey to get the bigger share of touches, similar to what we saw against the Rams.

For one thing, Mitchell is returning from injury, and hasn't played since week one. He should be fresh, but they will likely ease him in. But also because McCaffrey is a much more talented player. Mitchell was great last season, but he's just not on the same level as the former first-round pick.

Maybe the 49ers will use McCaffrey when they need to score, and Mitchell when they need to run the clock and protect the football. Remember, Mitchell doesn't fumble the ball. McCaffrey fumbled twice against the Rams.

With players coming back from injuries and a favorable second-half schedule, can you see the 49ers running the table and hoisting the Lombardi in February? - Johnny Y.

I don't see the 49ers running through the rest of their schedule without losing another game. But yes, I can see them winning the Super Bowl in February.

This defense, when healthy, is the best in the NFL. And the offense has the potential to be very dangerous the rest of the way.

Consider this: I wrote a story earlier this year about Roger Craig's case for the Hall of Fame. When I was preparing for the story, I spoke with 49ers reporter, Matt Maiocco, who said, "Bill Walsh told me that he was not able to do all the things he wanted with his offense until Roger Craig arrived."

Let that sink in. The great Bill Walsh said he couldn't fully use his offense until he had Craig. I see McCaffrey as Kyle Shanahan's version of Roger Craig. And if he is, it will open up this offense in ways we haven't seen before.

Joe Montana explained Walsh's statement, saying, "We could not only throw him the ball out of the backfield, but we could also line him wide. And we could do it without making any substitutions. The defense wouldn't have the chance to substitute, so we'd have a mismatch."

That makes me excited. Walsh was all about mismatches. So is Shanahan. We may see some special things throughout the rest of this season.

I expected Deebo to take the next step this season and become a top-three offensive weapon...He looks fat and slow on my TV screen. Is this just injuries and limited camp time, or was last year as good as he will get? - Doctor W.

I'll let you be the one to tell Deebo Samuel that he looks fat and slow. After all, I'm sure he's reading this. (Hi, Deebo. You look lean and fast to me.)

I think the biggest issue is that defenses are game-planning for him more than they did last season. The short passing game and the runs out of the backfield are things defenses have seen and are better prepared for. With McCaffrey on board, I would expect things to open up for Samuel more and I hope that includes more downfield opportunities for him.

Is there a reason Ward isn't starting at FS? Is Gipson playing that well? - Phani T.

Tashaun Gipson has been playing well enough that the coaching staff doesn't want to take him out. That means Jimmie Ward, who is actually better at that position than Gipson, is needed elsewhere. This is because Ward has the ability to play nickel corner. Gipson does not.

With this lineup, the 49ers are getting their best players on the field at the same time. I would expect this to continue as long as Gipson is healthy and keeps playing well.

Is Danny Gray in the doghouse (similar to Brandon Aiyuk)? - Justin

I don't know that Danny Gray is necessarily in the doghouse. Shanahan expects his rookies to earn their playing time. And that starts with how they practice during the week. My guess is that the coaches just haven't been satisfied that Gray is going to do his job during games yet. And in this offense, his job isn't simply to run fast and catch the ball. It includes blocking. It includes giving the same effort on run plays as you do pass plays. I'm not saying Gray is doing anything wrong, only that there's something he still isn't showing his coaches.

What record do you see the 49ers finishing the season at? Personally, I see the team finishing with an 11-6 record with losses coming first in the trap game versus the Chargers and then in the match-up against Mike McDaniel and the Dolphins. - ShoqMax

If they are to get to 11-6, they would need to go 7-2 the rest of the way. That is possible, but I think they'll end up 10-7. That affords them three more losses, probably still gets them in the postseason, and depending on what Seattle does down the stretch, could also still win the division (though I doubt it).

I am still not sold on the Seahawks, but they continue to pile up wins, and their running game, which features rookie Kenneth Walker, is really good. If the 49ers win the rest of their division games, they would be undefeated in the division. That very well could win them the division.

Also, I don't think the Chargers will be a trap game. The 49ers are coming off of a bye, and will be rested and healthier than they've been since week one. They should beat the Chargers.

The Miami game will be intriguing!

Which rookies can we expect to step up in the second half?

I hope Gray steps up in the second half, but we'll see.

Spencer Burford has been solid this season. He's had his share of bad moments, but any rookie offensive lineman would. I expect him to get better as the season rolls along.

Drake Jackson is getting better the more he plays. You can bank on him having a bigger impact in the second half of the season.

And what about Samuel Womack? The rookie corner looked great early on, but lost his starting role. And I'm not sure why. So we'll see what he does the rest of the season.

As far as the two rookie running backs, Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason, as long as McCaffrey and Mitchell stay healthy, I wouldn't expect either rookie to make much of an impact over the next nine games.

DeMeco will be the head coach of the Colts next year. - Victor A.

I actually think the Chiefs' offensive coordinator, Eric Bienemy, would be a better fit for the Colts. And do you really want Ryans going to Indianapolis to work for a nutjob like Jim Irsay?

Ryans has a bright future. If the 49ers' defense, from here on out, looks like it did early in the season, he will likely get a head coach job in the offseason. But if it looks like it did against Atlanta and Kansas City, he may not.

Do we expect to see any changes in the depth chart? Specifically FS, NCB, TE3, or if Brunskill cracks the starting lineup? - Zach M.

If everyone is healthy, I wouldn't expect any changes. I think Ward stays at nickel, which keeps Gipson at free safety.

Daniel Brunskill will probably continue to be a backup who can play all over the line. If any change is made, I wonder if it would be Brunskill moving into the starting lineup. But who would he replace? Would it be Jake Brendel at center? Burford at right guard? Or Mike McGlinchey at right tackle?

I'm sure a lot of fans would like to see Brunskill replace McGlinchey. And that might be the better position for Brunskill.

With everyone back (minus Moseley), what is your ideal secondary? - Justin

If everyone is healthy, I'd like to see:

Now, if neither of the two young guys is ready to lock down opposing slot receivers, then I'd play Jimmie Ward at nickel and have Gipson at free safety, as they are currently playing.

Considering how Justin Fields has looked, especially running the ball, did the 49ers draft the right QB?

Justin Fields was who I was hoping the 49ers would draft in 2021, but I was happy with Trey Lance, as well.

I'm still going to keep believing that Lance was the right pick. Had he played as much as Fields has played so far, I think we would all feel much better about him. Fields is the more dynamic runner, no question. But Lance has the chance to be the more dynamic passer. He just needs to learn to slide or get out of bounds and stay healthy so that he can remain on the field long enough to get that experience.

My hope is that Lance (and his play-calling head coach) have learned their lesson.

If the 49ers bring in Vic Fangio as DC, would Bosa move to the old Charles Haley position (elephant)? How would the current personnel work in a 3-4 front? - Doctor W.

I can't recall where I heard this, but someone who knows Vic Fangio said that the former 49ers DC isn't married to the 3-4 defense and that he will set his defense according to the talent he has. That makes me think he would keep things as they are, and play Bosa where he's currently being played.

Either way, Fangio is a great defensive coordinator. I'm sure he can figure it out.

Thanks so much for all your questions, especially on this bye week. Let's get ready for Sunday night and beat the Chargers.
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