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49ers mailbag: Should Steve Wilks be fired? Does Brock Purdy have the clutch gene? What is happening to the defensive line?

Marc Adams
Oct 25, 2023 at 9:15 AM--

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It's always difficult to deal with a loss. And for the second week in a row, fans of the San Francisco 49ers have been reminded of the frustration of watching your team lose to a team they should have beaten. But the 49ers are still a good team. There is no reason to panic or start jumping ship.

So grab some coffee (or whatever you drink), settle into your favorite place to relax, and let's talk through this together. Here are our responses to the latest 49ers Webzone Mailbag.

Is there an assistant coach who can replace Wilks if he gets fired? And he should. - Niner Jim

The 49ers won't be firing Steve Wilks anytime soon. Things would have to take a really bad turn in order for them to fire their defensive coordinator during the season. And by bad turn, I mean worse than a couple of bad games. It would take a catastrophic failure by the defense, where they are the sole reason for losing multiple games. It would take Wilks losing the defensive unit, to the point it becomes clear that a change needs to take place.

If Kyle Shanahan did feel the need to move on during the season, my best guess would be that Johnny Holland (linebackers) or Daniel Bullocks (defensive backs) would take over as Defensive Coordinator. I don't believe either has experience in that position, so maybe neither would be an option. But again, Wilks isn't going to be fired during the season, so I don't worry about that.

If they move on from Wilks after the season, it will be interesting to see who they pursue. I wouldn't expect them to hire anyone in-house.

Where is the defensive coordinator? There were no adjustments during that whole game. They tore the defense apart. Yes, purdy made mistakes. But with our so-called defense, we should be able to make some stops and carry him if we have to at times. - Michelle H.

It's true that Wilks and his defense have had a tough couple of games. I especially felt like they were bad on Monday night. They couldn't stop the run in the first half, couldn't stop the pass in the second half, couldn't get to the quarterback, and committed too many bad penalties. I'm certain, though, that Wilks made some adjustments. He just wasn't making the right ones.

The biggest issue, perhaps, was the call Wilks made right before the half when he sent seven guys after the QB on 3rd down and left his secondary to clean up whatever happened. It was an awful call. Minnesota had no timeouts, and very little time remaining. They weren't going to score, and there was no reason to bring that kind of pressure in that situation. Some have said it was a fireable offense, but I wouldn't go that far. If horrible calls continue to happen, then perhaps. But not at this point.

How can we get DeMeco Ryans back? - Omar Q.

DeMeco Ryans isn't coming back to the 49ers. He's not going to leave a head coaching position to go back to being a defensive coordinator. The only chance Ryans returns to Santa Clara is if he fails as a head coach and gets fired. But he's off to a nice start, so I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Can we trade our DC and HC for ones that have a clue? - Ray O.

If Wilks fails in San Francisco, with this talent on defense, no one would even toy with the thought of trading for him. Shanahan just signed an extension. He's not going anywhere.

I know Purdy still has fewer than a full season of starts under his NFL belt, but given what he's shown: From a 1-10 how worried are you that he doesn't have the "clutch" gene some athletes are born with? - Scott B.

At this point, I'm at a two. I'm not worried about Brock Purdy yet. I think he's shown he can be very clutch. Yes, the 49ers have lost two games in a row, in which Purdy had a chance to win the game, but I don't think it's only on him. Remember, in Cleveland, Purdy moved the team into position to win it, and Jake Moody missed a 41-yard FG. On Monday, Purdy threw the interception, and that's on him, but he wasn't getting great protection at that point, especially on the right side. Colton McKivitz gave up six quarterback pressures and a sack in the game.

I know everyone is going to pile on Purdy, but I think he'll be fine. Being clutch doesn't only have to do with the final drive. It also has to do with stepping up in big games and in big moments throughout the game.

Why didn't Kyle utilize his other RB's? A healthy Mitchell & Mason might have added spark to the running game! Why no use of Ronnie Bell? Another weapon. Why is it we are failing to get pressure from front 4, with Bosa? Is it time for a Gould comeback? - Jay B.

Let me see if I can knock out each of these questions.

  1. I'm not sure why Shanahan didn't use Elijah Mitchell or Jordan Mason on Monday night. Mitchell had one carry for minus one yard. Mason had no carries. I'd like to see Christian McCaffrey used a little less, and Mason a little more, whatever that looks like. The 49ers didn't run the ball well, gaining only 65 yards on 22 carries. And 18 of those came on a Purdy scramble. Perhaps Mason could have sparked the run game.
  2. Ronnie Bell played on special teams but didn't play on offense Monday night. Maybe he doesn't block as well in the run game as they would like him to. That's the only reason I can think of.
  3. The fact that the 49ers aren't getting much pressure on the QB with their front four is a mystery. And this defense is built on the pass rush. If they can't turn this around, the defense will struggle the rest of the way.
  4. If the 49ers didn't sign Robbie Gould after the Cleveland game, they're not signing him after the game in which Moody nailed a 55-yarder. Now if he misses more potential game-winners, then perhaps they will. Keep in mind that Gould is still available, meaning no other team believes he can help them.

WTH is happening to the D-Line and how can it get fixed? - Donald B.

They're not very good right now. They're not playing the run well, and they're not putting enough pressure on the QB. And it's really kind of shocking how poorly they're playing. Nick Bosa is getting pressure on quarterbacks, he just isn't getting any sacks. Javon Hargrave looked unblockable in the early weeks, but he's looked human lately. Same with Arik Armstead.

I think it has to be that the defensive line lacks the quality depth they have had in recent seasons. In years past, they could bring out some starters and replace them with guys who were very good in their own right. The consistent rotation of quality defensive linemen would overwhelm offenses. I just don't think they have the quality of rotational pieces they have had before. Javon Kinlaw looked like he might be dominant as a backup. But he hasn't been as good lately. Kevin Givens has flashed at times, but it hasn't been enough. Although this play by Givens was really nice.

It's one of the drawbacks of paying a lot of money to star players. It eats into your depth. You simply can't pay everyone.

Marc - if you were in Lynch's shoes, who would try to sign before the trade deadline? - All49ersUK

Well, there are three big spots that I'd look at. There's no way they can address each one, so they need to pick one and have players step up at the other spots. Here's what I'd address, in order:

  1. Edge rusher: Randy Gregory has played well, but he's not the answer. They need someone who is closer to the level of Bosa. Granted, that player will cost a lot in draft picks and salary. Brian Burns would be a huge trade, but it may take a small ransom to get him. Chase Young would be another, as would be Montez Sweat. All three would have a big impact on the defense and be just what the 49ers pass rush needs. Imagine trying to gameplan for Bosa, Hargrave, and one of those guys.
  2. Cornerback: Until Monday night, I would have said the cornerback need was more of a depth issue, in my hopes of keeping Ambry Thomas off the field. But Charvarius Ward struggled against the Vikings. Deommodore Lenoir wasn't great either. Maybe the 49ers need a frontline corner. They're hard to find, and they're expensive. But if you can't find an edge rusher, go get a corner. Patrick Surtain II would be a dream to get. But I don't think it's likely. Some cheaper options would be players like Adoree Jackson, Jaylon Johnson, or Troy Hill.
  3. Right tackle: I still don't trust McKivitz. So maybe someone like Garett Bolles would be a good one. He's a left tackle, but maybe he could play right tackle this season.
  4. Defensive tackle: The 49ers' defense needs to be better at stopping the run. They're currently ranked 23rd in EPA per play and in success rate. Could they trade for someone, like D.J. Jones, who can help them stuff the run? It would likely cost less than the other positions.

Who do you think will be the player that steps up their game/ helps the team the most after the bye week? (I know we still have a game but hopefully, we get some ppl back and maybe add someone by that time) - 49ers For Life

Certainly, Ward and Lenior need to step up. Another pass rusher needs to step up, as well. I would expect Purdy to regroup during the bye and come back strong after the bye. And you have to think Bosa would be one to step up, as well.

One thing to note is that the trade deadline is less than a week away. If the 49ers make a move, the player they trade for should be ready to go after the bye.

We stink. I'm so done with people trying to say Purdy is good. He can't win from behind and needs all these weapons and play-calling to win. He's not the guy and we need to realize that. - Justin C.

Is there a question in there, Justin? Regardless, it's too early to give up on Purdy. And how can you say he can't win from behind? He almost did in Cleveland (as I mentioned above). And he hasn't had many opportunities to be tested yet. He's rarely been behind.

Purdy passes starting to go wild. Wonder if his elbow is bothering him? - Kal B.

No, I don't think his repaired elbow is bothering him. He played in a rainy situation a week ago and then missed a few throws Monday night. It happens.

CMC had 15 rushes for 45 yards, and people are focused on Brock Purdy. Seems to me that there are 5 guys on the O-line who got beat pretty badly. How is Kyle going to address this? - Jack E.

Yes, the offensive line didn't block very well in the run game. I thought they were doing okay in the first half in pass protection. But in the second half, they weren't as strong. Each offensive lineman gave up one pressure, except for McKivitz and his six. And the pressure seemed to be bothering Purdy. It looked like it made him hurry his throw on the two interceptions.

It didn't help that Trent Williams was unable to play. His absence will be felt on any offensive line.

Everyone keeps saying Purdy isn't elite or can't do it when we don't have all the pieces and weapons, maybe Kyle is who can't do it when we don't have all of our pieces and weapons. If someone is missing that's usually when we struggle it seems. Kittles usage needs to be up more. Do you feel this is more on Kyle not having everyone instead of blaming others? - Michael G.

Here's an interesting statistic I saw from Associated Press Sports writer, Josh Dubow: "49ers fall to 0-36 under Kyle Shanahan when trailing by 8+ points in 4th quarter in regular season or playoffs. Niners have lost 37 straight in all in that scenario. Only Panthers have longer streak at 45 straight."

That's a concerning statistic. And it begs the question: Does Shanahan lack the clutch gene, or is it his quarterbacks who lack the ability to win it when the game is on the line?

That's all we have for this week's 49ers Webzone Mailbag. We'll open a new one on Monday, and we'll keep you updated on all things 49ers in the meantime.
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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