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49ers mailbag: Is Christian McCaffrey being overused? Should Spencer Burford be benched? Is Steve Wilkes who the defense needs? When is Nick Bosa going to show up?

Marc Adams
Sep 19, 2023 at 2:40 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers are 2-0 to start off the 2023 season. In 2021, the 49ers won their first two games but then lost their next four. A win Thursday night, in the home opener against the New York Giants, would be the 49ers' first 3-0 start since 2019. That season, the team started out 8-0 before going on to win the NFC West and cruise through the NFC playoffs on their way to a birth in Super Bowl LIV.

I can't seem to remember how that game turned out, though. It's like it's been blocked from my memory.

It doesn't matter, because we've moved on to the current season. And to celebrate the 2-0 start, we've opened up the mailbag to answer those questions burning a hole in your mind. So let's get to it.

Marc, what did ya think of CMC channelling Jauan Jennings vs. Ahkello Witherspoon? Did you see that field cam view of that run & shove? - Melissa R.

I loved it. Anytime one of the 49ers' offensive players throws down a Rams defensive player, it makes me happy. And since Jalen Ramsey isn't in Los Angeles anymore, to be bullied by Deebo Samuel and Jauan Jennings, Ahkello Witherspoon will have to do. And that had to burn Witherspoon badly because you know he wanted to stick it to his former team. That's probably why he got in Christian McCaffrey's face after the play.

The 49ers are bullies, not just on defense, but on offense, as well. Did you see what Trent Williams did to some poor defensive back? That should be illegal.

Burford has scored below 30 in back-to-back games according to PFF. Is it coming close to making a change? - Josh

It's true that Spencer Burford has not graded out well (according to Pro Football Focus) in the first two games. He earned a poor grade in week one, and deservedly so. Burford wasn't good in Pittsburgh.

But I'm not sure he deserved such a poor grade (and actual zero) on Sunday. After all, he drew Aaron Donald more than anyone did. And how many times did we hear Donald's name? Once? We expect that kind of domination from Daniel Brunskill, but Burford wasn't too bad, even though he gave up three QB pressures. Again, look who he was playing against.

I don't pay much attention to PFF grades. After all, they had Fred Warner as the lowest-graded 49ers defensive player a week ago. That seems off to me.

Sign BA now or later? Seems to me now would be prudent given his price will rise the longer they wait. Aiyuk Aiyuk Aiyuk is on fire! I hope he feels better by Thursday.- Teri P.

I'd sign him now, but I know nothing about salary cap management, so you probably shouldn't go off what I say.

As we all know, the 49ers prefer to handle these things in the offseason, as in late in the offseason (at the start of training camp). I don't see them venturing off this path next offseason, either. I believe they want to extend Brandon Aiyuk, and he deserves it.

Even if the 49ers front office wanted to extend Aiyuk now, as Teri said, "given his price will rise the longer they wait," I doubt Aiyuk's agent would advise him to sign now. Yes, there is a chance of an injury that could derail his season, but most good players are willing to bet on themselves. I think Aiyuk would prefer to have a big season and be rewarded with an extension in the offseason that will be bigger than if he were to sign right now.

I don't think you have the answers we need…lol. Like why is CMC being beaten into the ground? It's only week 2. No reason for him to be in the game up 30-7 against Pitt with a few minutes to go and up 10 with 2 minutes to go yesterday. Maybe Kyle took him in fantasy lol. - Josh E.

Do we have any running backs other than CMC? - Anthony T.

You're doubting I have the answers, Josh? I'll try not to be offended while I provide an answer (that you think I don't have) to your question.

I agree that McCaffrey is being used too much so far. He played every offensive snap for the 49ers on Sunday. There's no way he can sustain that kind of use. Neither Elijah Mitchell nor Jordan Mason, both of whom were active and healthy, played a snap on offense. And I don't think Kyle Juszczyk has touched the ball in either game so far.

The good news is that Kyle Shanahan addressed this issue when he spoke with the media on Monday. And he seems to agree. Shanahan told the media, "Yeah, we definitely got to get Elijah in there more and do better with our rotation than we did yesterday. That wasn't the plan going in. It just ended up that way. I got to make sure that doesn't happen."

McCaffrey currently leads the NFL in rushing, but he also currently leads the NFL in carries.

I'm not entirely sure who handles the running back rotation, Bobby Turner or Anthony Lynn, but Shanahan confessed that he should have noticed and requested Mitchell to get in the game. With a short week, due to the Thursday night game, you can expect to see a lot more of Mitchell against the Giants.

Has anyone seen Nick Bosa? Dang dude you demanded all this money and have only got 2 solo tackles in 2 games. - Michael B.

When is Bosa going to show up? - Lisa M.

It's normal for it to take a couple of games for a player to get in game shape. Nick Bosa even admitted as much after the game on Sunday. "I feel good. I think I needed a couple of games to get my body into football shape," said Bosa. "I think now that I'm through two and had some pretty good output, I think I'm only gonna be up from here."

But don't just focus on sacks. According to Nick Wagoner, of ESPN, "Bosa was double-teamed on 37.2% of his pass rush attempts Sunday, a little down from the 43.5% last week but still a high number." As Wagoner mentioned, Bosa had four pressures (he actually had five) and three QB hits.

Bosa also drew a couple of holding penalties on Sunday. He hasn't even gotten into game shape yet, and he's already causing problems for opposing offenses. Rest easy, 49ers fans. Bosa is showing up, and the stats will soon follow.

Can we talk about how gambling affected the end of the game? How is this ok? - David

A lot has been said about Sean McVay's decision to kick a seemingly meaningless field goal as time expired on Sunday. I'll admit, I was asking the same thing at the moment. What was the point? The game was over. Does McVay have such a big ego that he can't stand to lose by double-digits to Shanahan again?

I seriously doubt it had anything to do with point spreads or gambling. If we strapped McVay to a polygraph, my guess is that he'd either admit it was an ego thing or maybe he thought they could get the field goal and have one second left. With one second remaining, they could attempt to recover an onside kick and hope for some kind of miracle. But the chances of that are so minute, that it doesn't seem possible. Still, that could have been McVay's thinking.

Or maybe he just has a gigantic ego.

Marc, thoughts on Deommodore Lenoir & how clutch he is? Also, miss seeing him outside. - Melissa R.

I agree that Deommodore Lenoir is better on the outside than he is at Nickel Corner. And since I'm not a huge believer in Ambry Thomas, I prefer to keep Lenior outside and have Isaiah Oliver inside, even though I still don't have a lot of confidence in Oliver. Maybe Darrell Luter, Jr. will come back from injury soon and work his way into the lineup. But I'm not getting my hopes up.

Lenoir has played well on the outside, and he seems to be getting better the more he plays. His interception on Sunday was a big moment in the second-half turnaround for the defense.

Why aren't you going to make it or win the SB. I'll tell you why. One word: numbnuts coach. He should have blown out the Rams. But he underestimated our Ramhearts. You got all the so-called talent but don't know how to utilize it. Shanna hands off. - Larry C. (a Rams fan)

  1. "Numbnuts coach" is two words.
  2. That coach has beaten your coach in nine consecutive regular season games.
  3. Whose house?

Is everything ok between DS and BP? Seems like BA is Purdy's new favorite. With Aiyuk somewhat injured, I expect DS to have an awesome game this week. JJ may also have a breakout game. And yes, rotate CMC-don't want to wear him out. Keep it up defense! - John B.

Everything is fine between Brock Purdy and Deebo Samuel. Enough so that Samuel had six receptions for 63 yards on Sunday against the Rams. And though his lone touchdown was ruled a carry, it was initially ruled a catch.

Purdy isn't avoiding Samuel. In fact, the QB targeted Samuel nine times. That's more than any 49ers receiver has been targeted in either game this season.

Is Steve Wilkes really the DC the team needs?? He seems rather low-key and not the super enthusiastic go-get'um kind of guy that Saleh and Demeco are!! The defense didn't look as stifling yesterday. Stafford was picking them apart. My gawd, they scored 23 on us!!! That's way too many points to give up. We need the smothering defense of last year. I didn't see it yesterday. - Karla A.

Steve Wilks made some excellent adjustments in the second half, being more aggressive, bringing more blitzes, and playing less soft zone. I agree that he should have made those adjustments sooner, but it worked out.

I do wonder if Wilkes, who is known to be more aggressive, has decided to play less so early on because that's how the previous two coordinators played it. I'm not that concerned about it. Fans just need to be patient and give Wilkes time to learn his new defense.

I appreciate the win, truly I do. But why does it seem like our defense played lethargic? Or better yet why didn't our DC turn the defense loose? This is what killed us when Saleh was coaching. We've got to be able to get to the QB, especially with all those studs. - John C.

Robert Saleh was really good in San Francisco. That's why he was hired to coach the New York Jets. As I mentioned in the previous response, we just have to give Wilkes time to learn how to best use his defense.

And has Wilkes really been that bad? His defense has been dominant in six of the eight quarters his team has played in so far. I'd say that's really good.

Why don't the Niners utilize Kittle the same way KC does with Kelce? The Niners would be so much better on offense if they did. - Ralph G.

Why isn't Kittle involved more? - Gerry A.

It's true that George Kittle hasn't been used as much in the passing game the first two weeks of the season. The tight end has only six catches so far.

In Kansas City's offense, Travis Kelce is option number one. In the 49ers' offense, Kittle is probably the fourth option at this point. And he should be. He's not as explosive as Aiyuk, Samuel, or McCaffrey.

The other reason it may seem like Kittle isn't involved enough, or that he's not used like Kelce, is that Kittle is used in the running game a lot. He's a great blocker and is valuable to the 49ers as a receiver and blocker. While Kelce is used as a blocker, he is primarily known as a receiving tight end.

And don't forget that Kittle started the season off with a groin injury, and was listed as questionable leading up to week one. So he may still be affected by that.

Lastly, there will be games in which Kittle will be the one with the big numbers. It's all about matchups, and that changes from game to game. One week, Samuel will be the guy. One week it will be Aiyuk. Another week week it will be Kittle.

Are the Niners concerned with the defensive back play? - Alex R.

I'm sure the 49ers are a little concerned with the play of a couple of corners, namely Oliver and Thomas. Oliver played well on Sunday and came up with a couple of huge plays, but he may not always be as effective when the 49ers play teams with a slot receiver who is quicker and shiftier.

The 49ers certainly have to be a bit concerned with the depth at cornerback right now. Thomas is dealing with a knee injury, and Samuel Womack was placed on short-term IR. Luter, Jr. started the season on PUP, and won't be available until week 5 or 6. So they are getting a little thin at the corner position right now.

The 49ers addressed this on Tuesday by signing free-agent cornerback Anthony Brown. Brown was drafted in 2016, and last season played for the Dallas Cowboys.

That's all for this edition of the 49ers Webzone Mailbag. We'll open it back up on Monday to solicit more of your 49ers questions.
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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