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What Lies Ahead For Embattled 49ers

Dec 10, 2020 at 2:59 PM


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The Monday night showdown between the 49ers and the Bills proved to be the latest disappointment for Faithful fans in a season that has been riddled with letdowns. Heading into the matchup, the 49ers were in charge of their own playoff destiny and a win would have put them in a tie with the Vikings and Cardinals for the 7th seed in the NFC playoff picture. After the Bills' first few drives of the contest, it was fairly obvious that the Niners were going to have a difficult time. The defense especially had no answer for budding star quarterback Josh Allen, who was able to drive the Bills up and down the field at will. In fact, the first punt for the Bills didn't come until garbage time late in the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand for the visiting team.

The outcome prompted more questions than answers regarding key personnel and coaches for the 49ers, not only this week but also further into the future. Why couldn't defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (widely considered the hottest head coaching candidate in the NFL this coming offseason) adjust or scheme up some more creative blitz packages to slow down the Bills offense? What is Richard Sherman's future with the team after this season as he looked slower and surprisingly out of place on multiple plays throughout the game? Is Tarvarius Moore a capable replacement for Jaquiski Tartt at safety next season after he was the victim of numerous big plays surrendered? Even Jason Verrett, who has been stellar all season, looked a step slower trying to keep up with Stefon Diggs and the rest of the Bills offense. It was a good old fashioned beat down from start to finish and one that left players, coaches, and Faithful everywhere wanting more.

So where does the team go from here? For starters, although the loss against the Bills felt like it left little to no hope for the rest of the season, the Niners are still in the playoff hunt. Their already thin margin for error grew even slimmer and they will need some help along the way, but they can still get into the postseason if they can start stacking wins these last four weeks of the season. The offense saw Nick Mullens play respectfully throughout the game and prove that he is what we think he is: a backup quarterback with severe limitations who can keep the team competitive if he has help from the defense and special teams. He failed to get the help he needed especially from the defense in this past contest.

However, even with numerous losses to key starters, the defense has proved throughout the year that it is a gritty bunch and one can expect it to bounce back and perform much better against a less potent Washington team. The team may get Emmanuel Moseley and K'Waun Williams back, which would only help to fortify the coverage unit. On offense, the team will hope for better game flow, which will allow it to utilize the explosive talents of Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel, and stud rookie Brandon Aiyuk. The team has found success when it can control the clock and win the time of possession battle. The team needs to push the ball downfield on occasion to keep teams honest, as opponents will stack the box as the Bills did, and take their chances with Mullens beating them with this arm. The 49ers took two rare deep shots in the Buffalo game, both to Aiyuk. The first drew a defensive pass interference flag and the second produced a large gain to the impressive rookie. Nobody is going to mistake Mullens for having a cannon arm any time soon, but at least the occasional deep shot will keep a defense on its toes.

The Niners need to reestablish their identity of controlling the trenches and run the ball effectively to set up the pass. If Mullens can play smart and choose his spots to push the ball downfield wisely, the Niners have a shot of moving the ball consistently throughout this contest, along with their remaining games. In the coming game Sunday, this will be easier said than done as the Washington Football Team has a very stout defensive line that is sure to dial up consistent pressure on Mullens. The offensive line needs to dig deep and come ready to battle, especially right tackle Mike McGlinchey, whose pass protection has seemingly regressed significantly this year.

If Coach Shanahan can use his creative genius to dial up an effective game plan establishing the run and using the quick passing game with a few deep shots mixed in, the Niners have a good shot in the game. The team needs to minimize penalties and mental mistakes and get ahead of the chains on early downs. While the team definitely misses George Kittle, there is still more than enough fire power to produce points if the O-line and Mullens can perform. Aiyuk is a budding star, Deebo is tough as nails, and Mostert is as explosive and dangerous as they come. Not to mention that Jordan Reed and Kyle Juszczyk are dangerous in their own rights.

This week will determine how much fight this team has left after facing so much adversity in this 2020 season. A win keeps the hope alive for a bid to the tournament where more key players will be getting healthy and anything can happen. A second-straight loss will shift focus to the offseason, which projects to be ripe with change.
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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