How 49ers' offense will adjust after fullback Kyle Juszczyk's injury

How 49ers' offense will adjust after fullback Kyle Juszczyk's injury

Kyle Juszczyk's skills are so unique and he is so valuable to the 49ers’ offense that they do not even bother with the formality of devoting a roster spot to a backup fullback.

The 49ers believe it is a waste of a roster spot to have a backup when no other player could possibly give coach Kyle Shanahan what he wants from that position -- the combination of a threat in the passing game and a punishing lead-blocker.

The 49ers received some bad news Tuesday that Juszczyk is expected to miss four to six weeks with a sprain to the medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

The good news is Juszczyk will not require surgery, nor is he expected to be placed on injured reserve, which would make him ineligible for two months. If the 49ers can keep their heads above water without Juszczyk, he should be healthy and available for the final playoff push and, possibly, the postseason.

The 49ers are 4-0 and lead the NFC West, but have yet to face a division opponent. Their first division matchup comes Sunday at the Los Angeles Rams, who face an early must-win scenario. The Rams (3-2) lost a division game in Week 5 to the Seattle Seahawks. They cannot afford to fall three games behind the 49ers in the loss column.

Shanahan must get creative in ways to compensate for the loss of the player who makes his system unique. Few teams in today’s NFL even deploy a fullback, and no other teams rely on that position to be quite as much of a staple of their offensive systems as the 49ers do.

Juszczyk was on the field for 34 of the team's 52 offensive snaps before sustaining his knee injury in the 49ers’ 31-3 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Monday at Levi's Stadium.

By that time, the 49ers have already racked up the bulk of their 275 rushing yards, mostly behind Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman.

“It’s the easiest way to win when you play real good defense and you can run the ball,” Shanahan said. "It takes the pressure off a lot of people and doesn’t put you in a lot of risky situations, but also can help you get some easier explosives, too.”

Through four games, the 49ers have used two backs, pairing Juszczyk and a halfback on 78 of the team’s 113 snaps on first-and-10 situations.

A roster spot does not open with Juszczyk’s absence, so the 49ers may not make a transaction with their 53-man roster to compensate for the loss. Instead, the 49ers are likely to use more personnel groups consisting of one back and two tight ends.

The 49ers are likely to prescribe more playing time for tight ends Ross Dwelley and Levine Toilolo, along with every-down tight end George Kittle. Dwelley is more of a receiving tight end, while Toilolo is a better blocker.

Depending on the matchup, the 49ers could also feature a lot more three-wideout groupings consisting of some combination of Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Richie James and Kendrick Bourne. Veteran Jordan Matthews is also on the 49ers’ 53-man roster, but he was inactive on Monday against the Browns.

[RELATED: Grading 49ers' offense, defense in dominant win vs. Browns]

Shanahan is known for his creative offensive designs and his ability to detail game plans that exploit the weaknesses of his opponents. He will be tested in the weeks in which Juszczyk is forced to be a spectator. The 49ers' offense could come up with something different every week.

Said Shanahan: “We’re going to have a lot of challenges ahead of us.”

Jimmy Garoppolo 'really good' but not elite, analyst Chris Simms says

Jimmy Garoppolo 'really good' but not elite, analyst Chris Simms says

Is your quarterback elite? Well, if you're a fan of the 49ers then no -- at least according to Chris Simms.

The NBC Sports football analyst couldn't confidently put Jimmy Garoppolo in the elite category, but still had plenty of praise toward him, especially knowing he plans on leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

"I think there's some quarterbacks in football right now: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, DeShaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes -- they kind of stand alone," Simms said.

After that handful of quarterbacks, Simms highlights a group of "good," a squad that he considers Jimmy G to be a part of. Plus, Garoppolo has a lot of "good" surrounding him.

The elite talents of tight end George Kittle are something that shouldn't be argued -- unless you're not sure if he's a decent blocker or not. Ahem, Doug Gottlieb.

"That's all you need to win a Super Bowl," Simms added.

The consensus around Jimmy G's eliteness is that he's not elite, but he's not bad, but he's good enough.

[RELATED: NFC offensive consultant on Jimmy G's eliteness

Got all of that?

His throwing abilities have been talked about, but once again the word "elite" was not mentioned.

49ers tackle Joe Staley doesn't have looming retirement on his mind


49ers tackle Joe Staley doesn't have looming retirement on his mind

A lot of times for athletes, it's not up to them whether or not they want to retire -- it's up to their body. For 49ers tackle Joe Staley, it's really no different.

"I like to think that I can continue to play football for as long as they'll have me," Staley said in an interview with 95.7 The Game on Thursday. "And that's my mindset. I've never thought about when an end is going to be."

The 35-year-old signed a two-year contract extension with San Francisco in June which ultimately means he could spend the entirety of his NFL career as a member of the 49ers. And while that seems like a long time, he's still soaking up the everyday grind of his job even with the setbacks he's faced this season.

"The challenges of this season have been different than seasons past," he said. "I love the adverse situations and you kind of learn a lot about yourself -- how you respond and challenge yourself daily with different goals ... "

Staley sustained a fractured left fibula earlier in the season during the Week 2 matchup against the Bengals and with a smile tried to remain positive but admitted: "it sucks." He was emotional after the injury but said that had a lot to do with how special the team was and the guys he was surrounded by.

Still, you can't fake the passion the six-time Pro Bowler brings to the 49ers and it appears you would have to pry the game away from his hands if you anticipate him hanging up his cleats any time soon.

[RELATED: How Jimmy G can enter record books in 49ers-Falcons]

"That love for the game is still there, burning," Staley said.

He finished the statement saying he doesn't have an honest answer as to just how much football is left in his body, but it's not something he's concentrating on at the moment.