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Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

Mailbag: Can the 49ers continue this level of play? Is SF better than Philly? Will Samuel Womack and Darrell Luter, Jr. play this season?

Marc Adams
Nov 14, 2023 at 12:19 PM--

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What a difference a week makes. Last week, the 49ers Webzone Mailbag was filled with anger and angst over the play of the falling San Francisco 49ers. But now, life is back to being good. The air is fresher, the sky is clearer, and hope has found its way back to Santa Clara.

We opened up this week's mailbag and found plenty of questions just waiting to be answered. Most were happy and positive. One was definitely not (you'll know it when you see it). Let's get to your questions.

The whole team, but especially the defense, looked fast and strong. Was the bye all they needed to get back rested and refreshed to where they were early in the season? - Andy G.

The bye week was just what the 49ers needed. Rest and reflection were a big part of it. It also helped that injured players, like Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams, returned.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of the bye this season was that the 49ers were able to clear their heads, refocus, make some adjustments, etc. When you lose three games in a row, you're going to be itching to turn things around. Kyle Shanahan said as much when he told Greg Papa, "I knew we needed to get away for rest, but the cool thing was when we came back Monday. I didn't know how the guys were going to be. I was ready to go in and talk to them as a team, and it was one of the most easy team meetings I've ever had.

"Just the energy in the room, the feeling. I think guys were really pissed and disappointed about how things have gone, and I think they were pumped to be back at work on Monday. We had a great practice to start the week, the energy has been at an all-time high, and we just want to get to Sunday and go out there and play football."

Hi, Marc. My question is if this level of play is sustainable for the rest of the season (including playoffs). Because we had that same level 5 games in a row and then, all of a sudden, it all came down. - Jose

I believe it is. After all, in the past two seasons, they went on a tear in the second half of the season after starting slow. In 2021, they won seven of their last nine and stormed into the playoffs. Last season, they won their final 10 games of the regular season.

So this team has a knack for turning it on when the time is right. If they stay healthy and focused, the 49ers can beat anyone.

When do we talk about firing Kyle Shanahan, as he won't let his QB pass? - Darren

Let me see if I understand, Darren. You want to fire Shanahan, and you're asking about this, not after the final leg of a three-game losing streak, but after they rolled a hot team, on the road, on the East Coast, in the early time slot? And you want him fired because he doesn't throw the ball enough? I'm hoping this is a joke, but in case it's not, let me tell you why the 49ers are not going to fire Shanahan any time soon.

Shanahan has led his team to the NFC Championship Game the past two seasons, and three out of the last four seasons. Since 2019, the 49ers are 48-27 in the regular season. If you take out the injury-ravaged 2020, in which they finished 6-10, Shanahan is 42-17 in the regular season. He's also 6-3 in the postseason.

There's no way anyone should be considering firing Shanahan, especially when the argument is that he doesn't let his quarterback throw enough. The 49ers are a run-first team, and they've been very successful. So far the Super Bowl title has evaded them, but they have been close, and have a chance to win it almost every season.

And who would you want to replace him? Remember, 49ers' history is scarred by successful head coach firings without a better option in place. John York fired Steve Mariucci and replaced him with Dennis Erickson. Erickson lasted two seasons and coached perhaps the worst 49ers team in history in 2004.

Jed York fired Jim Harbaugh and replaced him with Jim Tomsula. Tomsula was so bad that The Athletic's Matt Barrows told me that at the end of Tomsula's introductory press conference, Barrows looked at a couple of other beat writers, and said, "Well, see you here this time next year." He was right. Tomsula only lasted one season. So there's no reason "fire Shanahan" talk should be uttered right now.

By the way, Brock Purdy threw the ball 26 times on Sunday. Purdy was also sacked twice, so that's essentially 28 pass plays. The 49ers ran the ball only 30 times. That's excellent balance, and that's what you want to see from your offense.

Why didn't Juice go down at the one? LOL. - Niner Jim

I know! Kyle Juszczyk is so selfish. I'm joking, of course, as is Niner Jim. He's talking about the touchdown Juszczyk scored on Sunday, in which he caught the ball around the one-yard line and then went into the endzone. Even on the broadcast, Daryl Johnston (Mooooose!) joked that Juszczyk should have gone down at the one so Christian McCaffrey could score and break the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown scored.

Juszczyk is certainly not a selfish player. Had he known that McCaffrey wouldn't score and break the record, the fullback very well might have done what we're talking about. McCaffrey himself joked about it, saying, "Juice really wanted me to score, unless, he could score."

Assuming good health, do you believe SF is better than Philly? - Thomas H.

Yes, I do. But I think they're very close. The 49ers probably have the better overall roster, but the Eagles may have the advantage in two really huge areas—quarterback and the trenches (offensive and defensive lines). And right now, they are in the driver's seat in getting the number one seed. That could change, of course, but if the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Philadelphia, it's a disadvantage for the 49ers.

I do believe, though, that if the 49ers are healthy and play like they are capable of playing, they are better than the Eagles and can beat anyone. That includes any of those overrated AFC teams.

What's stopping Moore from playing RT moving forward? - Scott B.

Jaylon Moore played well in Williams' absence. And Colton McKivitz hasn't been spectacular, though I'm not sure he's been any worse than Mike McGlinchey was for the 49ers. But would the 49ers look to move Moore from left tackle to right tackle?

It's possible, but I'm a little skeptical. For starters, some offensive linemen have trouble going from one side to the other. Some can do it with little to no problem. I'm not sure which Moore is.

But also, would Moore be enough of an upgrade over McKivitz to make that move? And what happens if Williams' ankle injury worsens? Then you'd be moving Moore right back to left tackle.

I really don't know what they'd do in that situation, but I'm going to predict that they will leave Moore as Williams' backup and hope that McKivitz can improve as he gets more playing time. This offseason, though, they need to invest in the offensive line. They really haven't done so in recent years, and with Williams nearing the end of his career, they need to do something soon.

Do you expect Samuel Womack to get in the DB rotation at some point? - Zach M.

Yes, I do. The 49ers opened the practice window for Samuel Womack III, along with Robert Beal, Jr., and Darrell Luter, Jr. Once the 49ers open the practice window for a player returning from injury, the team has three weeks to decide whether to add the player to the active roster, which means someone else would be released, or shut the player down for the season. Of the three, I would expect Womack to be the most likely to break into the lineup because of his experience. The other two, of course, are rookies. Beal, Jr. went down in late August. Luter, Jr. never even practiced during training camp, as his injury occurred before camp even started.

The interesting thing to watch, if Womack does get added to the active roster, is what the rotation might look like with him. Will he be on the outside? Will he play Nickel Corner?

Hi Marc! Will Darrell Luter Jr. ever see the field this year? He seems like a much better option outside than Oliver as a slot CB. - Uncle Salty

I think it's going to be tough for Luter, Jr. to be added to the active roster, much less be part of the rotation at corner. As I mentioned in the previous question, Luter had no training camp, and no preseason. That makes the path even harder for a rookie.

However, if Luter shows the coaches enough during practice, it's possible that he could be added to the active roster and have a chance to play. If Amby Thomas continues to play well, it will be hard for Womack or Luter to pass him this season. But if Thomas struggles, as he's been known to do, there's a chance Womack or Luter could move ahead of him on the depth chart.

Whether the coaches would play Luter at nickel or on the outside remains to be seen. Some believe he's best suited on the outside because of his length, while others think he'd be a good fit at nickel.

Mitchell is obviously Kyle's fave for RB2. But why isn't Mason getting at least some run in the offense? - Andy G.

Shanahan trusts Elijah Mitchell for sure. Why does he trust him more than he does Jordan Mason? I really think it's three main issues:

  1. Mason isn't as good in pass protection as Mitchell is. For Shanahan and RB coach Bobby Turner, that's a very big deal. Their running backs must be able to pass protect.
  2. Mason isn't as good of a receiver as Mitchell. One of the the things that makes McCaffrey so special is that when he's lined up in the backfield, defenses don't know if he's going to run the ball, block, or be a target in the pass game. Mitchell, although not on the same level, has similar skills. Mason isn't quite the receiving or blocking threat. So when Mason is in there, defenses know he's probably going to be running the ball.
  3. Mitchell has never fumbled the ball in his NFL career. Don't underestimate that.

So it's not about who's a more effective rusher. Mason might have a slight edge as a runner, but it's not enough to overcome the other advantages that Mitchell has over him.

End of the season: does SF prioritize extending Chase Young or Brandon Aiyuk? - Rob

I'm sure the 49ers will, at least, try to re-sign Chase Young. I also believe they will try to extend Brandon Aiyuk. Both are great players and great teammates. They're the kind of guys you want in your locker room. The question is, will their talent and success make them too expensive for the 49ers to keep?

My best prediction is that they find a way to keep Aiyuk, but have to let Young walk in free agency. They can't pay everyone and already have several big contracts. And those big contracts have hurt the quality of depth they've had in the past.

Was there an explanation as to why Bosa was flagged for a personal foul on one of the sacks? He didn't hit low, lead with the head, or land full body weight on Lawrence? - Niner Jim

I have not heard any explanation. I can only assume the officials believed Nick Bosa slammed Trevor Lawrence to the ground. When I first saw the play, it looked like something that might draw a penalty. But after watching it multiple times, I'm not sure it should have been called. But you can at least see why they called it, especially if they believe Bosa slammed Lawrence to the ground.

That's all we have for this week. We'll be back on Monday to open a new mailbag.
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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