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49ers mailbag: Can SF beat Philly again? How much influence does Kyle Shanahan have over the defense? How did Ji’Ayir Brown look on Sunday?

Marc Adams
Dec 6, 2023 at 9:52 AM--

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It's mailbag time again. I know you're excited. I can tell by the look in your eyes.

As always, thank you so much for submitting your questions. You are the reason the 49ers Webzone Mailbag is a fun read. So thank you for bringing your questions each week. Alright, let's jump right in to see what's on your mind.

Were there any changes made between the first two failed offensive drives and the rest? It seemed to be a major turnaround. - Frank W.

I'm sure they made some adjustments. The play-calling seemed to change a little. For example, in the first two drives, the 49ers ran one run play and five pass plays. Christian McCaffrey didn't touch the ball on either possession.

On the third drive, McCaffrey ran the ball on the first play (for no gain). The 49ers, of course, moved the ball down the field and scored a touchdown to take the lead. That was the first of their six straight touchdowns. Unreal.

But the bigger change was that the 49ers started executing the plays. The offensive line started giving Brock Purdy more time. And Purdy settled down and started making plays. So, yes, they started slowly but turned it on and blew out the Eagles.

How do you feel about the 49ers in the trenches? D Line is elite but opposing QBs have a decent time to throw. O Line is a toss-up for me because it's hard to gauge given this team's ability to get rid of the ball so quickly. The Browns had our number taking away the quick game. - Nick

Some teams have indeed used the approach of getting the ball out fast, to protect their quarterback against the 49ers pass rush. Against the Eagles, the pass rush wasn't getting as much push, but I think the pass rushers were trying to stay in their run lanes to keep Jalen Hurts from picking up big yardage with his legs. So while it may have looked like they were giving Hurts too much time, I believe their focus was on stopping the run first. And it worked.

The offensive line is the weakness of the team. In the first quarter, they were not good. But they settled in and played really well for the rest of the game. Purdy had time to throw, and there were running lanes. This was a big test because the Eagles' defensive line is so good. My biggest concern was what it would be like on the road, in a loud environment, against a very good pass rush. I'd say, overall, the 49ers offensive line passed the test.

The last time the 49ers blew out a rival opponent (Cowboys), they lost three consecutive. What prevents this from happening after the Eagles game? - Matt P.

The biggest thing that will keep the 49ers from having a letdown following the Eagles game is the letdown they had after the Cowboys game. Every season, the 49ers seem to have a stretch of bad games (except for 2019). In most seasons, it happens early. This year, it came after a 5-0 start and a big win over Dallas.

You can make the case that injuries caused the three-game losing streak earlier this season. Losing Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel for multiple games, and Christian McCaffrey for most of one game, will certainly make a difference. But now the 49ers are healthier and more focused.

The three-game skid from earlier in the season should keep them focused for the rest of the regular season. And then once the postseason begins, the 49ers will be extremely focused and motivated to get back to the Super Bowl and win it this time.

How do you think Ji'Ayir Brown did in this game? Is the door still open for Jason Verrett?

Ji'Ayir Brown has played pretty well since Talanoa Hufanga went down. I do recall him missing a couple of tackles on Sunday, but he's been in a position to make the plays. He's going to make his fair share of mistakes. Most rookies do. But Brown seems to have a good feel for the game and doesn't appear to be lost or in over his head. He should continue to get better, too.

As far as Jason Verrett, the 49ers were hoping to sign him in mid-November. Shanahan even said as much. But it still hasn't happened. There is a belief that he's holding out for another team to sign him to their active roster before he signs on with the 49ers practice squad. Whether or not that's true, I'm not sure.

Right now, the 49ers are in good shape at cornerback. The team added Samuel Womack and Darrell Luter, Jr. to the active roster. Both players have been making plays on special teams. Is Verrett going to come in and play on special teams? It's unlikely. And look at how well the secondary has been playing since Ambry Thomas entered the starting lineup, allowing Deommodore Lenoir to slide inside to nickel. It would be tough for Verrett to unseat one of those guys.

Now if the 49ers lose someone to injury, then maybe it happens, but it doesn't appear that either side is willing to budge much. Most importantly, the 49ers corners are playing at a high level right now. And when you combine strong secondary play with a ferocious pass rush, you have a chance for something really special.

In general, how much influence does Shanahan have over the defense? Specifically, is it "his," or does Lynch draft players that he anticipates the DC will want based on DC's system? I understand that to be a good offensive play caller (Shannahan), one has to have a detailed understanding of defense, but I've always wondered if coaches are heavily involved in both sides of the ball, or delegate a lot of their non-specialty to another person. - Tony M.

It's something we discussed quite a bit during the two weeks after the Vikings and Bengals games when the defense played so poorly. Even though Steve Wilks is calling the defense, this is Kyle Shanahan's defense. So I think he has plenty of input, especially when he feels like he needs to give input.

And maybe John Lynch does, as well. There was the story last week about how Charvarius Ward said it was Lynch's idea to have Ward shadow D.K. Metcalf. "[Defensive backs coach Daniel Bullocks], he and John Lynch talked, and they was wondering why I wasn't following DK tonight," Ward told reporters. "The game plan wasn't for me to follow him. I guess he talked to John Lynch, and Coach Kyle Shanahan was like, 'Well, why not? We need him to.' So they told me to do it, and I was up to the task. I feel like I had a pretty good game."

Lynch said on KNBR last week, "You bite your tongue. You say, 'I don't want to be that guy delving into coaching.' But at the same time, Kyle and I talk about everything, and I just said, 'Man, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you I think we should be doing this.'"

As for who decides what players are drafted or acquired, I think Lynch and Adam Peters have a good understanding of what Shanahan and the coaching staff want in their players. It's a collective effort, but if push comes to shove, Lynch is going to draft the players he believes best fit Shanahan's scheme, on offense or defense.

Hi, Marc. The Eagles looked kind of tired as the game went on and if we face them in the playoffs they will probably be more rested, make huge adjustments, and also they would get a healthy Dallas Goedert and now Shaq Leonard. With that in mind, do you believe we can beat them again? - Jose

Yes. I believe the 49ers are the best team in the NFL, and when they are healthy and locked in, no one can beat them. Now, if they're not healthy and not locked in, we've seen that they are capable of losing to teams they should beat.

If the two teams play again, the Eagles will be more rested, unless the 49ers have the number one seed, and they will make several adjustments. Who knows if they'll be healthier at that time? Injuries are impossible to predict. If Philadelphia gets the number one seed, then they will certainly be more rested than the 49ers, because of the bye.

Hey, Marc! Why wouldn't the 9ers place Dwelly on the IR, instead of releasing TDP? Is there something more that we are not aware of? Seems like this could foreshadow Mason's future and draft both of their replacements in April 2024. - Jordan

Jordan is referring to the news that Ross Dwelley will miss some time, and that the 49ers released Ty Davis-Price to make room for another safety.

It would seem that they believe Dwelley will be good to return this season and feel he's more valuable to the team than Davis-Price is. I'm just not sure what the coaching staff thinks of the second-year running back. Some believe he doesn't hit the right holes when he has the ball, and that he isn't good enough in pass protection. Those are two things the 49ers don't seem to be very patient in waiting to develop. It's one reason why they let Trey Sermon go after a short tenure in Santa Clara.

I wanna know why Kyle can't create a playbook like the Eagles game for every game. - Frank S.

There are a lot of things that go into winning and losing. Play-calling is one of them. Executing plays is another. I just think the 49ers are at their best against good teams, on big stages, with a lot on the line. This is why I believe that if they end up with home-field advantage, they will be playing in the Super Bowl in February.

Shanahan was great against the Eagles. There was one point when the 49ers had scored about four touchdowns in a row, and the camera showed the Eagles' Defensive Coordinator on the sideline. He looked lost. That's what Shanahan does to defensive coordinators. The many different looks he gives a defense, the motion and misdirection, the creativity. He's cooking defenses right now. Not just the Philadelphia defense. He's been doing it for weeks.

Be thankful you have a coach that almost every NFL team would love to have.

Which 49ers player should make Santa's naughty list this year? In essence, which player hasn't had a good season? - Ed H.

Earlier in the season, it was Thomas. I was nervous whenever he stepped on the field. But he's been playing so well, that he's been moved to the "nice" list.

I would say Spencer Burford and Colton McKivitiz would be the two obvious ones on the "naughty" list for 2023. But they've also had some good moments.

Marc, when you watch a 9er game, how do you watch it while being unbiased? - Sasha R.

I'm not unbiased at all. I am pretty good at being open-minded, though. For example, if the 49ers commit a penalty, and it's clear that it's a penalty, I can admit it. But if it's close, like when the officials have to decide between a catch and fumble, or a dropped pass, I probably lean toward whatever favors the 49ers.

That's all we have for this week. We'll be back with a shiny new mailbag next week. Come find the post on Monday so you can drop in your 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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