NBC Sports

49ers overreactions: Pass rush must compensate for corners

NBC Sports

Left tackle Trent Williams appeared Monday night at a private screening of his documentary, "Silverback: The Trent Williams Story."

“I was thinking about canceling it if we’d lost,” Williams said, the night after the 49ers’ 26-23 overtime victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Overreaction? Yes.

Williams was joking, but the mood at the event was a lot more upbeat because the 49ers found a way to pull out the win after squandering a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and rallying from a three-point deficit in overtime.

The 49ers are entertaining in victory and defeat. And that always leads to a healthy diet of overreactions.

Such as ...

Overreaction? No.

This is absolutely correct. And it’s true for just about every team in the NFL.

The 49ers are playing without the starting cornerbacks that opened the season. Jason Verrett is out for the year, and Emmanuel Moseley will miss at least two more games due to a high ankle sprain.

The 49ers did not go out in free agency to spend starter’s money for a backup. That’s understandable because they did not need a starter. They selected Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir in the draft.

We can second-guess that the 49ers should have selected cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft over guard Aaron Banks. Perhaps if they had to do it over again, they would. But GM John Lynch has maintained his belief that Banks will be a “great player.” (And that sounds to me like he’s doubling down.)

 

Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions for a rookie to step in and play. Using the only metric we have, Pro Football Focus ranks Samuel tied for 87th among NFL cornerbacks. He has started all nine games in which he’s appeared for the L.A. Chargers. His passer-rating-against is 99.7.

I think it’s fair to say Samuel would be an upgrade over veteran Josh Norman, and that Moseley is better than Samuel right now.

We can all expect Samuel to be a very good cornerback in the future. He’s not there, yet. All cornerbacks in the NFL are reliant on the pass rush because I’m not sure any of them can hold up in coverage against any of the game’s top receivers.

Thomas got his first start on Sunday, and he was up-and-down, as you would expect. 

He was targeted only four times — and that shows he was doing something right. But three of those passes were completed for a total of 81 yards, including the game-tying touchdown. Thomas did a good job of redirecting wide receivers with his jam at the line of scrimmage, but he also aimed too high and drew penalties that wiped out a Jimmie Ward interception and a Nick Bosa sack.

Personally, I find it to be one of the true accomplishments of this season that opposing offenses have not carved up the 49ers’ secondary. It happened in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, but that was it.

The 49ers’ defense allowed only two touchdowns to that quarterback and group of wide receivers. And the pass defense came through when it counted most, as the coverage was good enough to allow Bosa to sack Joe Burrow on the key third-down play in overtime.

Nobody should expect miracles from the 49ers’ cornerbacks. It is clearly the most-vulnerable position group on the team. So it should be considered a win (up to this point) that the team ranks sixth in the NFL, allowing just 213.2 yards passing per game.

Overreaction? Yes.

Recently, coach Kyle Shanahan explained it very well. As a play-caller, he gets into a rhythm of knowing what to expect from the opposing defense.

When he inserted Trey Lance into games, the defenses changed. Therefore, he could not set up plays because all the defensive rules when Jimmy Garoppolo was at quarterback changed once Lance entered the game.

I saw Lance on Monday night at Williams' function. He was upbeat and positive about what has been taking place. He continues to develop and work behind the scenes. His attitude is to concentrate on the things he can control.

Now, let’s take a look at Jimmy Garoppolo. And let’s talk about this season and this season only.

 

Five rookie quarterbacks were selected within the top 15 of the draft. Personally, if the goal is to win as many games this season, I’d take Garoppolo over all of them. (That was not always my opinion, but after observing how this season has played out, that’s my opinion right now.)

Yes, I’d take Garoppolo over Trevor Lawrence. I’d take him over Zach Wilson. I’d take him over Trey Lance. I’d take him over Justin Fields. I’d take him over Mac Jones.

For the long term, I’d probably take each of those quarterbacks over Garoppolo. But we’re only talking about the 2021 season.

With a team like the 49ers that has superstars at nearly every position group, Shanahan has to try to maximize this season by going with the best players.

I also think it was telling how Shanahan handled Lance’s one start this season.

Clearly, he identified that running the ball was Lance’s best way to challenge the Cardinals defense in Week 5. It takes a while for young players to learn the position. So, from that standpoint, we can all assume Lance is very much in the early stages of his growth as an NFL quarterback.

Overreaction? No.

First off, hate is a strong word. But I understand your intent.

There are few players as easy to like as Garoppolo. He has handled this entire uneasy situation wonderfully. He has been classy and professional.

When you go to games at home and on the road, Garoppolo is clearly one of the most-popular players on the team among the paying fans.

Among quarterbacks in the NFL, he falls somewhere in the middle. He’s not among the elite. He’s not among the worst. But, at times, he looks like both ... in the same game.

Sunday in Cincinnati was a perfect example.

From my location, it looked as if Bengals safety Jessie Bates would have had an easy pick-six late in regulation if he had held onto Garoppolo’s ill-advised pass. Bates dropped it, and Garoppolo was given new life.

In overtime, Garoppolo was 6-for-6 for 78 yards and the winning touchdown pass to Brandon Aiyuk.

Shanahan described Garoppolo’s handling of the overtime as “automatic.” It’s been my experience that “automatic” is the highest praise Shanahan can give to a quarterback.

RELATED: Maiocco: 49ers' turnaround could be Shanahan's best work yet

The problem is Garoppolo is not automatic in all situations, and that is why the decision was made in the offseason to eventually replace him.

Overreaction? No.

I’m not sure the 49ers have proven to be consistent enough to win out. But I agree the win over the Bengals was huge, and the 49ers have put themselves back in contention.

Overreaction? No.

I also agree with this.

The 49ers should not fear any team they might be fortunate enough to face in the playoffs.

 

But they have given few reasons for any team that earns a postseason berth to fear them, either.

That is how it goes this season for every team in the NFL.

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast