Five 49ers to watch in Week 6: Jimmy Garoppolo needs to produce more

Five 49ers to watch in Week 6: Jimmy Garoppolo needs to produce more

The 49ers remain, along with the New England Patriots, one of just two unbeaten teams in the NFL.

Coach Kyle Shanahan’s team does not face a must-win, by any stretch, on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Rams. But the 49ers have an opportunity to create a little distance between themselves and the two-time defending NFC West champions. The Rams enter in third place in the division with a 3-2 record.

The odds are against the 49ers, who will not have the benefit of four important starters – cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, offensive tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

“We’re missing some tackles and our fullback, but I think we’re ready for this more mentally than we have been in the past,” 49ers tight end George Kittle said.

Here are five important players to watch for the 49ers:

5. K Robbie Gould

Kicker Robbie Gould made no excuses this week when asked to explain his slow start to the season.

But, let’s face it, there is no advantage in the 49ers employing three different long-snappers as they try to get through the first six games before Kyle Nelson is eligible to return from serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

When the season began, Gould was second in NFL history behind Justin Tucker with an 87.7 career field-goal percentage He has since fallen to No. 5 at 86.9 percent. Gould has made just seven of his 12 attempts through four games.

The short-handed 49ers will not be able to leave any points behind if they have any hope of beating the desperate Rams on Sunday. Gould, long-snapper Garrison Sanborn and holder Mitch Wishnowsky must work well together to capitalize on every scoring opportunity.

4. DB K’Waun Williams

The 49ers have long-believed that K’Waun Williams is the best nickel back in the game. That assertion is open for debate, but Williams has certainly gotten off to a strong start this season with two interceptions.

But what the 49ers like most about Williams is his ability to tackle despite his 5-foot-9, 185-pound stature.

Williams will be matched mostly against Rams slot receiver Cooper Kupp, who already has 41 receptions for 505 yards and four touchdowns. The 49ers will undoubtedly give up some receptions to Kupp, as quarterback Jared Goff will look to get the ball out quickly.

The key for Williams is to quickly bring down Kupp, who at 6-2, 208, is a bigger man than most slot receivers Williams faces.

3. C Weston Richburg

After Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald thoroughly destroyed the 49ers last October, Staley said, “I don’t think there’s anybody that’s been like him in the NFL.”

There’s a strong case to be made that Donald is the best player in the league – regardless of position. Donald is so impactful as a defensive tackle because lining up on the interior of the Los Angeles defensive line places him closer to the ball when it is snapped. It’s not as easy for an offense to go to one side or the other to minimize his impact.

Whether Donald shades to the side of left guard Laken Tomlinson or right guard Mike Person, the 49ers will need center Weston Richburg on top of his game to lend help and get the offensive line working on the same page.

Richburg struggled through his first season with the 49ers. He played most of 2018 with an injured knee and quadriceps that required extensive offseason surgery. He is feeling much better and his play has reflected it.

Richburg is one of the key players on an offensive line that has helped the 49ers lead the NFL in rushing with a 5.2-yard average. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been sacked just four times in four games.

2. FS Jimmie Ward

After missing the first three games of the season following surgery on his broken right ring finger, Jimmie Ward replaced Tarvarius Moore and was back in the starting lineup Monday night against the Cleveland Browns.

There are a lot of elements of Ward’s game that the 49ers appreciate, such as his versatility and his toughness. Moore is an immensely talented player, but he has struggled to take the correct angles and failed to prevent two long touchdown passes already this season.

Ward has a good feel for the game, and he will be relied upon to serve as “The Eraser.” With the number of weapons in the passing game the 49ers will face on Sunday, Ward’s main duty is to prevent Rams wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods from exploding for big plays.

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1. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo views his job in the most simple of terms: “At the end of the day, it’s did you win or did you lose? That’s all I care about.”

The formula for success through the 49ers’ first four games has generally consisted of a stout defense and the league’s best running attack.

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On Sunday, there will be more on the plate of Garoppolo, as the 49ers will replace Staley and McGlinchey with Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill. They must also compensate for the loss of Juszczyk, who is such a large component to the 49ers’ offense.

After ranking 22nd in the NFL in passing yards through Week 5, the 49ers will likely seek more production from Garoppolo and the passing game.

Why 49ers fans should be optimistic after Week 10 loss to Seahawks

Why 49ers fans should be optimistic after Week 10 loss to Seahawks

Raise your hand if you predicted the 49ers to have eight wins after their first nine games this season? You in the back, put your hand down. 

Entering coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch's third season at the helm in Santa Clara, the 49ers were expected to make a leap. But not this kind of leap.

It was reasonable to expect wild-card contention while competing in the NFC West this season, just months after owning the No. 2 pick in the draft. The 49ers, however, defied expectations to start the season and reeled off eight straight wins. After losing to a "real contender" in the Seahawks, 27-24 on Monday night, though, The Faithful has to take a deep breath. 

Analyst Peter Schrager said it best Tuesday morning on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football."

"The offensive line couldn't protect anything, the Seahawks were just crashing in on Garoppolo, they couldn't catch a ball and yet, a minute left in this game, they were in position to win," Schrager said. "They went to overtime, they were in position to win. I wouldn't feel so bad if I'm a Niners fan this morning.

"That was as bad of an offensive performance they've had all season long, and yet they were still in striking distance to win."

The 49ers took an early 10-0 lead on Seattle and looked to be in driver's seat of what might have been the biggest game in the history of Levi's Stadium. And then, life came at them fast in the worst ways possible. 

San Francisco already was dealing with the injury bug going into the game as they were without George Kittle -- perhaps the best tight end in the NFL -- veteran kicker Robbie Gould and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Once wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders exited early with a rib injury, the 49ers' offense sputtered. 

The inconsistency of the 49ers' wide receivers was on full display Monday night. Pro Football Focus marked the 49ers down for five dropped passes but it felt more like seven to nine. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's lone interception came right off the hands of receiver Kendrick Bourne. The INT was returned 44 yards and the Seahawks scored three plays later to take a 14-10 lead. 

Garoppolo was without his top-two options the majority of the game and constantly was under duress. 

Jimmy G also lost two fumbles and the Seahawks dropped at least two easy interceptions thrown by the 49ers QB. While the narrative turned to Garoppolo against Seattle QB Russell Wilson, San Francisco's signal-caller was shorthanded and the 49ers defense deserves credit for how they handled the MVP frontrunner. 

Robert Saleh's 49ers defense sacked Wilson five times and broke up five passes. Wilson threw just his second interception this season and had his lowest PFF grade of the year. The 49ers faced a superstar quarterback who has dominated them for years -- to say the least -- and actually held him in check.

[RELATED: Should 49ers have gone for tie late in overtime?]

Along with Sanders, center Weston Richburg, as well as defensive linemen Ronald Blair and D.J. Jones, exited early in the loss, and running back Matt Breida aggravated his sprained ankle. The extent of their injuries aren't yet known, though Breida is expected to get a second opinion and might miss time.

For the cards the 49ers were dealt, and having to lean on an undrafted rookie kicker who had a chance to win the game in overtime, San Francisco has plenty of reasons to be optimistic after its first loss. Now the focus turns to health and consistency with a tough remaining schedule.

NFL rumors: 49ers' Matt Breida getting second opinion on ankle sprain

NFL rumors: 49ers' Matt Breida getting second opinion on ankle sprain

The 49ers were handed their first loss of the season Monday night as they fell to the Seahawks, 27-24. They might be without their top running back for a period of time now, too. 

NFL Media's Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday that Matt Breida is going to get a second opinion on the sprained ankle he aggravated in San Francisco's loss against Seattle. 

Breida was held to only 18 yards on 10 carries Monday night. He had the most carries out of the 49ers' running back trio, but the fewest amount of yards. 

The third-year pro's 18 yards were a season-low by a wide margin. His previous season-low was 35 yards in back-to-back weeks earlier in the year. 

Breida leads the 49ers with 542 rushing yards on 109 carries, which is good for 5.0 yards per carry. He has been banged up multiple times in the past, but always seems to find his way onto the field. 

[RELATED: 49ers' inconsistent wideouts a problem in Seahawks loss]

The 49ers, however, have a shortened week of practice and recovery time as they face the Cardinals this Sunday in Santa Clara after playing the Seahawks on Monday night. Coach Kyle Shanahan rotates ball carriers frequently, but losing Breida for any period of time certainly would hurt the offense. 

Tevin Coleman would step in as the team's top running back. The fifth-year pro has 395 yards rushing and five touchdowns over seven games this season.

Peliserro also reported center Weston Richburg should be fine after leaving the game early with an injury to his non-snapping hand. This is big news for the 49ers as Richburg plays a key role on the offensive line, especially as QB Jimmy Garoppolo's primary ball-snapper.