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Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports


49ers mailbag: Can Brock Purdy succeed when trailing? Was SF exposed by the Ravens? What are the options for offensive line? Injury updates?

Marc Adams
Dec 27, 2023 at 1:55 PM--


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The San Francisco 49ers are still the frontrunners for the top seed in the NFC. But they will likely have to win both of the final two games to obtain that spot. The Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions have the same record as the 49ers, but San Francisco holds the tiebreaker. Win out, and the top seed is theirs. Lose a game, and they may find themselves without a bye week to rest and recover.

The Lions play at Dallas this week, while the Eagles host the Cardinals. It's possible both teams could lose, but it's not likely. In week 18, the Lions host the Vikings, while the Eagles travel to play the Giants. So chances are, both teams will win out, meaning the 49ers will have to, as well. It's not so much that playing in Philadelphia or Detroit concerns me, as much as the 49ers needing that bye week.

On Wednesday, the 49ers announced the following roster moves:

  • Signed DL Sebastian Joseph-Day and OL Matt Pryor to one-year deals.
  • Waived RB Jeremy McNichols.
  • Signed OL Sebastian Gutierrez and WR Willie Snead IV to the practice squad.
  • Opened the practice window for WR Danny Gray (Injured Reserve List).

Let's get to the 49ers Webzone mailbag to see what's on your mind. As expected, there are some anxious fans after the Christmas night loss to the Ravens.

Can Purdy perform well behind? Seems like if we don't have a lead he rushes and mistakes happen. Can he stay calm and lead the team to victory? - Andy P.


This is the question many are asking about Brock Purdy. He's great when the 49ers have the lead, but can he also be great when the 49ers are behind? In his defense, there haven't been many opportunities to find out because the team is usually in the lead.

Purdy was indeed horrible on Monday night. But so was the rest of the team. Who played well? Christian McCaffrey looked good, but he wasn't without fault. Brandon Aiyuk had a good night, but most of it came later in the game. George Kittle had a good game, but most of his success happened in the first half.

Purdy lacked his normal accuracy and started looking jittery in the pocket. He still made plenty of nice plays but didn't look like his usual calm self. Even Troy Aikman mentioned on the broadcast that it looked like Purdy was seeing more "color" than what was there. In other words, he was saying it looked like Purdy was seeing ghosts or things that weren't there.

Every QB has a bad game now and then. I'm not too concerned about it. He'll bounce back. And keep in mind, that in his previous worst game, in Cleveland, Purdy took his team down the field for what should have been a game-winning field goal. I think that said a lot about what Purdy is made of. When you can have a bad game and still put your team in a position to win in the end is impressive.

Unfortunately, the Ravens are much better than the Browns. And in a game against a very good team, losing the turnover battle 5-0 is going to be a loss every time.

I think the game was an anomaly in that every bad bounce seemed to go the Ravens' way. Those 2 tipped interceptions were brutal. But I do think we need to recognize that tackling remains a HUGE issue with our defense, and that needs to be fixed if we have visions of a Super Bowl ring. I also thought this game showed that when things start going really bad on offense, Purdy is not quite as resilient as we would hope. He looked shaky and unsure. And as always, I feel like we get stupid penalties that really screw us over. - Valerie M.


I would agree that this game isn't something we will see very often from this 49ers team. They beat themselves. Turnovers are killers. Way too many penalties. And though they didn't miss as many tackles as they had in the previous weeks, the tackles they missed were timely and hurt, like the 30-yard run by Lamar Jackson. And there were other times the 49ers seemed to have the Ravens stopped, but a missed tackle kept things moving.

Those things are easy enough to clean up. I believe that we'll see a different team in the postseason. And hopefully the final two games of the regular season, as well.

Do you think Arik Armstead's plantar fasciitis might make this his last season, or is it curable? - Niner Jim


I don't think Arik Armstead's foot injury is a threat to end his career, but it is concerning that the 49ers don't seem to know when he will return. On Tuesday, the team agreed to terms with Joseph-Day. This could be a sign that Armstead won't be coming back until the playoffs.

If the 49ers can hold on to get that first-round bye, then Armstead will have had about six weeks off to get healthier. It wouldn't surprise me to see the 49ers take this approach.

How long are the 49ers offensive line injury woes expected to last? Given that before the game vs the Ravens began, it was comprised of Trent Williams and then spare parts to the right of him and now it's uniformly poor sans Williams, what are our options? Will Williams and Banks be recovered by next week? - Tony M.


Well, for starters, the 49ers are re-signing Pryor back to the 53-roster. Trent Williams (groin) suggested he's fine and will play on Sunday in Washington, and the team has listed him as limited, which is a positive sign. Jaylon Moore will have to pass through the concussion protocol before he can be cleared to play. With one less day to do so, it's unlikely he'll be ready for Sunday. Aaron Banks has a toe injury, and so far, there's been no word on his availability.

Matt Barrows, in his "49ers minutia minute," for The Athletic, wrote, "If Williams and Moore miss the upcoming game, [Colton] McKivitz likely would start at left tackle and Pryor at right tackle. In that scenario, the team also might have to elevate Jesse Davis from the practice squad. Davis, 32, has bounced around the league since 2015, but he has started 72 games in that span, most of them at tackle."

As the week goes on, we'll learn more. But for now, it sounds like Williams will be good to go. We'll have to wait on Banks.

It was just a loss and we will bounce back. I would like to know how our guys are. Are there any major injuries? I hope they heal up if there are any. - Brenda D.


On Wednesday, Kyle Shanahan addressed the non-Williams injuries:

  • Banks (toe): Won't practice Wednesday.
  • Jauan Jennings (concussion): Still in the concussion protocol. I'd say there's a good chance Jennings will be ready for Sunday.
  • Armstead (foot): Nothing new.
  • Ross Dwelley (ankle): Good to go.
  • Elijah Mitchell (knee): Good to go.
  • Oren Burks (knee): Limited
  • Safety Ji'Ayir Brown (knee sprain): Won't practice Wednesday. Shahanan said there was some concern that it could be a long-term issue.
  • Ambry Thomas (hamstring): Limited
  • Deebo Samuel (neck): Limited
  • Javon Hargrave (hamstring): Limited
  • Purdy (stinger): Good to go.

Why didn't we utilize Brandon Aiyuk in the first 3 quarters? - Joshua W.


At one point in the fourth quarter, Aiyuk had one catch and one penalty. I'm not sure what the issue was, but things were a mess for the offense, at times. Purdy was struggling, the offensive line was struggling. That will affect everyone on the offense, especially the receivers.

They started getting Aiyuk the ball in the fourth quarter, and he ended up with six catches for 113 yards. But I was asking the same thing, Joshua. Aiyuk is too good and too valuable to go three quarters with only one catch.

Darnold is the better quarterback but still a backup - Ron F.


Just because Sam Darnold completed some passes, and threw a touchdown pass in a game in which Purdy was awful, doesn't mean Darnold is better than Purdy. I don't want to take away from what Darnold did. He threw some dimes out there. But he was playing against a softer defense than Purdy was.

Now, to his credit, Darnold had the 49ers in a position to score a late touchdown that would have given them a chance to kick an onside kick and hope for a miracle. That was impressive. But he also took a sack and then threw an interception that ended the game.

So no. Darnold is not the better quarterback.

Why doesn't Kyle use Mason on goal-line runs? It just seemed like a no-brainer when they had the ball at the 2 to give it to Mason to punch it in. - Andy G.


It would seem that Jordan Mason's bruising style would be a better option on goal-line and short-yardage situations, but McCaffrey is the best back in the NFL. He has great vision and is powerful in his own right. So I'm not sure Mason is a better option in those scenarios. But I would like to see what Mason can do.

I can accept the loss and Purdy having a bad day; partly unlucky, party bad play. What gets me is one single play that continues to happen over and over with Shannahan. On an important 4th and 1, instead of pounding the ball inside and taking the first. He once again gets cute and tries to fake the defense and roll out Purdy only to get crushed on the edge. We got bailed out on a defensive penalty but still. When will Shannhan ever learn? - Thane R.


I'm not sure if that's the play I'm thinking of, but there was a short-yardage call on which Purdy ran a bootleg to the right. I loved the call because it wasn't the normal run-it-up-the-middle play. I felt like the Ravens were looking for that. On the play, Kyle Juszczyk was open for a first down, but the Ravens played it perfectly and there was a defender immediately in Purdy's face, so he couldn't make the throw.

I know it didn't work, but I liked the call. And I realize this may not have been Shanahan's best game as a play-caller, but he's still one of the best in the league, if not the best.

First and goal from the one in Q4. Patched up offensive line. Why not run it four times with CMC, Juice, or Mason? - Niner Jim


I'm guessing the amount of time left on the clock was a factor. If you run the ball and don't make it, the clock continues to run. With a pass, it's either going to be complete for a touchdown or fall incomplete and stop the clock. Or, get intercepted, as was the case Monday night.

It's also possible that the coaches felt that the patched-up offensive line had a better chance to pass block than run block down at the goal line. Especially when you consider the weapons the 49ers have with McCaffrey, Aiyuk, Kittle, and Deebo Samuel running routes.

In your estimation, how big of a wake-up call was this 49ers awful loss to Baltimore? And how much of the 49ers was exposed by the Ravens? - Ed H.


Did the 49ers actually need a wake-up call? After all, they lost three in a row earlier in the season. That was humbling and a bit of a wake-up call. They're also in the driver's seat for getting the top seed in the NFC. I would think that would be enough to wake you up.

Not to mention the fact that you're playing the other team in the NFL that everyone says is as good as you. How can you not get up for that game? On Christmas night. In primetime. In your home stadium.

To me, it was just a complete breakdown. My one concern is that it seems like when things go poorly for this team, they tend to start making more mistakes which makes things even worse. Can they overcome mistakes in a tight game? The 2019, 2021, and 2022 teams did, but even those teams fell apart late in the game when mistakes were made.

But I don't think they were exposed by the Ravens. Here are some reasons I don't believe they were:

  1. They turned the ball over five times and had no takeaways. You don't win games when you're negative-five in turnover differential.
  2. They had over 10 penalties for 102 yards. That's bad.
  3. The offense still moved the ball, gaining 429 yards.
  4. They still scored 19 points. With a defense like what the 49ers have, that will win you a lot of games. (see Garoppolo, Jimmy)
  5. Even though they played so poorly, they had a chance to score at the end and move to within a touchdown of tying it. The 49ers won't get blown out like that again.

Seems to be a bit of a mental issue with this team. The interception on the opening drive reminded me of CMC's fumble early in Minnesota. I know we still went 5-0 up but I just have a feeling that if we had scored on opener things would have been different. - TheGreavance


I agree that the first interception got things off to a bad start. The defense started the game with a three-and-out, followed by the offense marching down the field with ease. The interception took at least three points off the board. And while the defense got the safety right after that, it was a win for the Ravens, and it broke up the 49ers' momentum.

Why didn't Kyle commit to the run?! CMC was averaging 9 yards a carry in the first half! 9!!!!! - Sammy P.


McCaffrey's average yards per carry was certainly helped out by his 39-yard run in the second quarter. But I hear what you're saying, Sammy. On the first drive, even though the 49ers moved the ball before the interception, all those plays were passes. There wasn't a single run. I didn't understand that approach. If you have a young QB, playing in a big game in primetime, shouldn't you try to be more balanced?

Was this a case of Kyle outsmarting himself when he should've just fed CMC with a 5-0 lead? - Andy G.


Let's take a look at it. After taking a 5-0 lead, here's what the rest of the drives looked like in the first half:

  1. Pass, run (for three yards), pass, pass (interception)
  2. Run (for two yards), pass, pass (interception)
  3. Run (for three yards), pass, run (QB sneak), pass, run (39 yards), run (nine-yard touchdown)

So on the two interception drives after the 5-0 lead, the 49ers ran the ball once on each drive. But they only gained a few yards each time. On the touchdown drive before halftime, the 49ers ran the ball four out of the five plays.

I don't know that Shanahan was outsmarting himself, but as I wrote earlier, I would think he would run more in a game like this. I'll admit it's easy to second-guess now that we know the outcome.

Sometimes it's hard to figure out Shanny and his stubborn playcalling. How many times have we seen him put the game in Jimmy G's hands and force a ton of throws as opposed to running a high percentage of the time? We saw that last night as Purdy was more and more rattled. He needs to mix it up. Also, our O-line played the worst game of the year, it was embarrassingly bad. - Zachary P.


See my previous response for my thoughts on playcalling. As for the offensive line, yes, they were bad. Especially when WIlliams and Banks left the game. That make-shift line at the end was giving the quarterbacks no time to throw.

That said, they did score a touchdown and then almost scored another one. But I still say it's because the Ravens were playing a softer defense.

Merry Christmas, Marc! Could I get your take on Shanahan's inability to come back to win a game, when down 8+ points in the 4th quarter? Everything is positive when the 9ers are up, leading, and winning, but when Kyle is down by 8+ points, the game is pretty much over, even with 15 minutes left. Why is that? Is it his stubbornness to stick with his script? His lack of awareness to adjust? His scheme? I can't see personnel being the big issue, in all 38 losses. Shanahan is also 1-31 when trailing by 3+ points in the 4th quarter. - Jordan


I've heard the record when Shanahan trails by eight or more in the fourth quarter, but I'm not sure I've heard the one about training by three or more in the fourth. The New Orleans game in 2019 must have been the only one.

You are what your record says you are. And right now, that's what Shanahan is. Now, in a few of those seasons (2017, 2018, 2020), they had a bad team. And bad teams blow it down the stretch. That's why they're bad.

I'll say the same thing for Shanahan that I said about Purdy at the beginning of this mailbag. The 49ers are usually in the lead, so they don't have much experience trailing. But at some point, they do need to figure out how to come from behind and win a close game.

Considering the pressure the Ravens' defensive line was mounting and discarding two horrible decisions by Purdy, what could Purdy have done differently, and what did he do well? - Tony M.


He needed to calm down and let the game come to him. He looked good on the opening drive before making a bad decision and throwing the pick. In his defense, I don't think his teammates helped him much. The whole team was bad, not just Purdy.

He still made some nice plays out there. But the decision-making was unlike him. Consider the third interception. On that play, McCaffrey was called for an illegal chop block. It was clear that it was a penalty against the 49ers, so no matter what Purdy did, it would have come back. But Purdy, while rolling to his right, made a nice throw back across his body that went off of Kittle and into the hands of a Ravens defender.

Had Purdy just thrown the ball away, the 49ers would have punted, the Ravens may not have scored, and Purdy would have had one less interception. He even mentioned after the game that he saw the flag and should have known better than to throw the ball.

I hated the pass-heavy game plan. They started to Eagles game the same way and struggled early. Hopefully, there is something to be learned. There was also the issue of nobody being able to cover Flowers. The Rams played the Ravens a lot better with a lot less talent. A sign of a poorly coached game. How can SF be better if these teams play again because I don't think they can contain Lamar. - Thomas H.


The 49ers threw the ball 46 times, compared to only 18 rushes. That's not the recipe for success for the 49ers. They need to be near a 50/50 split. When the 49ers run more than they pass, they usually win. When they pass more than they throw, those games often end with a loss.

I don't think the 49ers did too badly against Jackson. He only gained 45 yards on the ground, and 30 of those yards came on one run. No one is going to contain Jackson. He's just too good. He can beat you on the ground and through the air.

It looked like the Niner DE's kept running past Lamar rather than trying to keep contain like vs Hurts. Was that just undisciplined play or is Lamar just a different beast? - Andy G.


Jackson is just different. And I also think the approach was different. Because Jackson is a better passer than Jalen Hurts, the 49ers had to approach him differently.

That's all we have for this week. We'll be back on Monday, hopefully celebrating a win. Thanks so much for all your questions. I apologize if I didn't get to yours. I'll try to get them all next week.
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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