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49ers overreactions: Is Mitchell long-term answer at RB?

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Elijah Mitchell

The 49ers broke their losing streak on Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

But our consecutive non-bye-week Tuesdays with a healthy dose of 49ers overreactions continues on.

Here is our latest installment to get you ready for an all-important week, in which the 49ers line up against the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium with something to prove.

Overreaction? No.

It is certainly not an overreaction to believe Elijah Mitchell is the future No. 1 running back for the 49ers.

Mitchell and safety Talanoa Hufanga have proven to be the two rookies who have earned their way onto the field and into key roles at this stage of the season.

Both have done all the right things to put themselves into position to step in when there have been injuries to the players in front of them on the depth chart.

But I would not close the door on Mostert.

Due to his injury this season, it seems unlikely he would sign a multi-year, big-money deal elsewhere in the league. And the 49ers know Mostert’s value. He is an outstanding running back who fits perfectly in the 49ers’ scheme.

You can never have too many good running backs, and there is still a belief that Trey Sermon will develop into a good player, too.

All that said, Mitchell looks like a long-term starter to these eyes.

Overreaction? Yes.

The 49ers’ personnel structure is as follows: General manager John Lynch has control over the 90-man roster, free agency and the draft; and Kyle Shanahan has control over the 53-man roster and which 48 players are active for games.

 

So there's really no personnel power to strip from the head coach.

“But in all of those, it's also written (into their contracts) that it’s subject to approval of the other guy," Lynch said at the introductory press conference in February of 2017. "That's the way we wanted it, that's the way we wanted it reflected, but that's the reality of it."

In other words, the 49ers’ personnel decisions are a partnership in which one person does not have all the power and works with complete autonomy.

It should be noted that the 49ers are well-aware that there have been some key misses in the draft to go along with some big hits, such as Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Fred Warner and George Kittle.

“We have had a lot of hits,” Lynch told NBC Bay Area last month. “We’ve had some misses. We have to be better there. And we’re working hard to identify, ‘OK, what’s been the common threads when we’ve hit, and where have we gone wrong when we’ve missed?’

"I think we have a good idea of what that is. I think we’re going to keep that in-house and we’re going to continue to hone that because I think it’s a strength of ours.”

If I were ownership -- and, despite what I try to portray, I am not -- I’d ask those questions.

I’d want to know why the decisions were made at the time to select such players as Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, Dante Pettis and Ahkello Witherspoon. And I’d want to know what was learned and how to implement measures to improve the evaluation process.

Overreaction? Yes.

Hold it. You’re saying this now? Why?

Justin Fields might end up being a great player. I don’t know. What I do know is that now is certainly not the right time to gloat about a glowing evaluation of him.

Justin Fields has started six games for the Bears, and their passing game has been absolutely atrocious.

He had a remarkable touchdown run against the 49ers. But he also had just 148 yards of net passing -- and that was one of his better games. He has thrown three touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has been sacked 26 times for minus-206 yards.

Fields’ struggles in this early stage of his NFL provides an example of why Kyle Shanahan was not willing to seriously consider going with Trey Lance over Jimmy Garoppolo to start the season.

Right now, as Fields showed on Sunday, he is a bigger threat with his legs than with his arm. And that should never be the case with an NFL quarterback.

Overreaction? No, but ...

 

I agree. If the 49ers are not going to play Brandon Aiyuk, they should trade him.

But ... the 49ers have been playing Aiyuk. In fact, they have been playing him a lot.

The 49ers had 56 offensive plays on Sunday against the Bears, and Aiyuk was on the field for 49 of them. Deebo Samuel played 46 snaps.

Aiyuk was targeted a season-high seven times, not including a successful two-point conversion. He caught four passes for 45 yards. And while those numbers were not all that impressive, it had a different feel to it than past games.

The 49ers will need Aiyuk playing a lot and contributing for the offense to continue to improve. Sunday’s game looked like a positive development.

Overreaction? Yes.

The 49ers signed veteran cornerback Josh Norman to step into a backup role. After the 49ers lost Jason Verrett in Week 1 to a season-ending knee injury, Norman moved into the starting lineup.

He has started five games, so clearly it was not a mistake to sign him if he is the best option at cornerback, which he appears to be.

A week into the season, the 49ers signed veteran Dre Kirkpatrick to be a backup. If the 49ers had not signed Norman, then Kirkpatrick would be the starter opposite of Emmanuel Moseley.

Here’s a fun fact: The 49ers’ pass defense ranks third in the NFL, yielding just 196.9 yards per game. Only the Buffalo Bills (182.4) and Carolina Panthers (188.9) are better.

Of course, that does not take into account the 35.7-yard average the 49ers have given up on pass-interference penalties.

Overreaction? Yes.

Generally when a team is backed up on a third-and-forever, I believe there are two kinds of plays that make the most sense: Draw play or screen pass.

The 49ers set up a wide receiver screen to Deebo Samuel, which might have been obvious.

What was also obvious was that it was the best play call that could have possibly been made in that situation.

The odds are not good to throw a pass 20 yards down the field to convert a third down with the Bears playing coverage. The odds of a mistake increase dramatically in that situation. Giving the Bears a short field in that situation could have spelled defeat.

I suppose the only thing I did not like about the play call was -- and this is part tongue-in-cheek -- that I expected it, and, pre-snap, thought it was the best option.

Overreaction? No.

You might be right.

I think the 49ers’ offensive line has been very good this season.

Checking the grades at Pro Football Focus, they have the 49ers ranked as the fourth-best pass-blocking team in the NFL, as well as the fourth-best run-blocking team.

Trent Williams is rated as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the league. And Laken Tomlinson is ranked ninth among all guards, right and left.

 

Mike McGlinchey struggled against J.J. Watt but has generally played well this season.

I’m thinking of the team’s other position groups, and I would agree that the play of the offensive line has been a bright spot.

RELATED: 49ers' Shanahan not expecting big deal at NFL trade deadline

Overreaction? Yes and no.

Let’s not call the 49ers a “good team,” quite yet.

After all, their three victories have come against winless Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago (both 3-5). So we should hold off on giving the 49ers credit until they are above .500 or beat a good team.

That said, yes, the 49ers do have a good shot at making the playoffs.

At 3-4, they are barely outside the NFC playoff picture. As long as they remain right around the break-even point on the season, they will continue to be in the hunt for one of those three wild-card spots in the playoffs.

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