Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Mailbag: Has the 49ers offense become more conservative? Will SF be able to extend Brandon Aiyuk? Which D-linemen will return soon?

Marc Adams
Nov 16, 2022 at 12:30 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers are in the second-half stretch of the season, and need to win most of their games to put themselves in a position to make a Super Bowl run in the postseason. There is not much room for error, so the 49ers need to play good football over the next month and a half. No more losses to teams they should beat, like what happened in Chicago, Denver and Atlanta.

We opened up the 49ers Webzone mailbag to see what questions were on the minds of 49ers fans. So let's get to them.

The current 49ers offensive staff seems more conservative than in the recent past - is that Lynn's influence? - DoctorWDS

I really can't tell that they're any more conservative than in years past. Perhaps they are, but I haven't noticed. The strength of the 49ers' offense (for many years now) has been the run game. Even when Jim Harbaugh was the coach, they were a run-first team. Are they a run-first team because they are conservative, or are they conservative because they're a run-first team? Or because they lack trust in their quarterback? The great Brian Renick thinks so.

Some of it has to do with coaching philosophy. Harbaugh was a Bo Schembechler disciple. Coach Schembechler liked the run game, and always believed in using a fullback. When the 49ers hired Harbaugh in January 2011, I remember hearing Harbaugh say that when he decided he was going to be a coach, Schembechler wanted to make sure that Harbaugh would still use a fullback. He assured his former coach that he would. And he did.

Kyle Shanahan is a run-first coach, as well. Much like his father, Mike Shanahan, he has a creative run game that has helped him become known as one of the better offensive minds in the NFL. 49ers fans remember the elder Shanahan as an offensive coordinator who threw the ball all over the field in 1994, but he had Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Brent Jones, John Taylor, Rickey Waters, and William Floyd to throw to.

In Denver, though, Shanahan was known more for his run game. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

So this is all to say that we should be accustomed to this type of offense. I'm not sure if it's any more conservative than in the past, though. In fact, Jimmy Garoppolo has been less conservative than he's been since 2017. Maybe he doesn't have as much pressure on him, so he's playing more loosely and willing to take more chances.

With CMC in the mix, do the 49ers have the $ to extend Aiyuk? Would he want to? IMO, he would flourish with a QB that lets him run a full route tree, but then again, who knows for SF QB-wise under center. - John T

This is a great question. I have actually been wondering how they will pay Brandon Aiyuk. They paid Deebo Samuel a lot. Christian McCaffrey will be paid a lot, as well. Can they really pay Samuel, McCaffrey and Aiyuk?

Aiyuk is developing into a really good wide receiver. I think McCaffrey and Samuel are still better weapons, but Aiyuk is the team's best receiver. And he will deserve to get paid as such. Take a look at his last four games:

That's legit production. And if Garoppolo isn't with the team next season, the 49ers should have less money going to the QB position. So it's possible that can extend Aiyuk. Teams finesse the salary cap all the time, so where there's a will...

Why have the special teams not been so special this year? Wasn't the coaching change supposed to fix that weakness? - Niner Jim

It was supposed to get better, and early in the season, it seemed to be improved. But over the last several weeks, it's reverted back to the crappy version of last season.

I wondered if the injuries to key defensive players, which caused some core special teamers to have to play more on defense, might be one reason why the special teams unit isn't better, but Sunday Night I don't think that was the case. They need to focus better, tackle better and block better. And then we have to pray that Ray-Ray McCloud doesn't fumble away a punt return—like he has a history of doing. Especially in close games or postseason games. I'd hate to lose a huge playoff or championship game because a punt-returner fumbled a couple of times.

But I'm sure that would never happen.

Was the reason the Niners went to Elijah Mitchell at RB more because of the 5-6 man defensive fronts they were getting from the Chargers? McCaffrey looked like he wanted to be more involved in the run game. - Big Island Surfah

To me, it looked like the Chargers were focused on stopping McCaffrey. We saw the same thing earlier in the season when Samuel struggled to get free. Defenses were game-planning to stop him. I expect there will be weeks that defenses game-plan to stop McCaffrey. And when that happens, the other players on offense need to step up.

Elijah Mitchell looked great Sunday night. While McCaffrey struggled to find any room to run, Mitchell consistently found holes to get through (except when he slipped at the two-yard line).

In last week's mailbag, I wrote that I expect McCaffrey to get the bigger share of touches in most games. He's the better player of the two. But on Sunday, Mitchell carried the ball four more times than McCaffrey. Part of that was that Mitchell had the hot hand, and was more productive against the Chargers.

But another thing is that they may have shown us how they will use the two players this season. I wonder if 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 has already fumbled the ball a few times since he's been with the 49ers. I'm not saying he has fumbling issues, but there are times you need to make sure you hold on to the ball, like when you're trying to run down the clock and protect a lead.

I wouldn't worry about McCaffrey not getting enough touches. He'll get plenty, and with another good running back to share the load he will hopefully be more fresh (and healthier) in December and January.

I Need More Points, Bro. Especially In The 2nd Half!! Defense Needs Love Too - Waye.Co

Ok, I'll talk to Shanahan and let him know. I'd text Garoppolo and tell him, but he never gets back to me. Quarterbacks! So frustrating...

Is Kinlaw coming back this season? - DoctorWDS

Initially, I did not think Javon Kinlaw would return this season. But now the 49ers are talking like he will return.

But he won't return this week, considering the team flew to Colorado Springs to practice in the altitude, and will then be flying to Mexico City. As you may recall, Kinlaw's knee has not handled flights very well in the past.

Shanahan went on KNBR Wednesday morning and said, "Kinlaw will not play this week. Even if he had a chance to, we wouldn't risk it with all the flying here, going to this altitude and stuff. That's what kind of got him this last time, going to Denver."

But yes, I do think he will return this season. The bigger question is whether or not he will ever be the impact player he was drafted to be. If he continues to have knee problems, I would predict he will not become that player and could end up labeled as a bust. I'm rooting for improved health for Kinlaw. He has the tools to be a dominant player along the defensive line. He just needs that knee to give him a shot to do so.

Will Ebukam and Armstead play against AZ on Monday night? - Ghostof007

I would think Samson Ebukam would play. He was close to playing Sunday Night.

I'm not sure if Arik Armstead is ready. He has suggested he's close, so maybe he'll be ready for the Monday Night game. We should know more on Thursday, but he may also be a game-time decision. Asked on Wednesday if Armstead would play Monday night, Shanahan answered, "Not sure yet, but I do think it's going in the right direction."

If Armstead doesn't return this week, I would think the week after might be a good guess. It's a home game, so that would be an opportunity for him to get more recovery time and be able to come back when the team returns to Levi's.

Greenlaw has had a few unsportsmanlike penalties for unnecessary roughness this season. Could his ejection on Sunday have been a reaction to his cumulative actions over the course of the year and the league trying to send him a message? - Niner Jim

I suppose that's possible. Certainly, there are players who attract more of the league office's attention for things like that. But Dre Greenlaw isn't a dirty player, so I doubt he's on the radar of NFL officials in the way some players might be. I tend to think it was more of a reaction to some recent, big hits that weren't called.

Greenlaw plays fast and physically. He also plays a little out of control at times. And he always seems a little more on the edge of being penalized when he returns from an injury. Hopefully, he can play a little smarter because the 49ers need him to be on the field and not in the locker room.

Thanks for your questions. Our next mailbag will open up next Tuesday.
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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