Week 16: Top 5 storylines in 49ers-Lions matchup


Week 16: Top 5 storylines in 49ers-Lions matchup

DETROIT -- A couple weeks ago, this game looked a lot more promising for the 49ers than it does right now.

While the game matches a pair of teams that have known for the second half of the season that there would be no playoff chances, 49ers and Detroit Lions are going in different directions. The 49ers (4-10) continue to struggle with poor play and injuries, while the Lions (5-9) are playing well as they near the finish line. Here are five storylines for Sunday’s game at Ford Field:

1. O-line looks to the future
One of the major issues for the 49ers as they move into next season is the offensive line. Guard Alex Boone might have played his final game. The 49ers on Saturday placed him on injured reserve with to a knee injury. Marcus Martin is out with a concussion. Rookie Trent Brown could have a future at right tackle, and he is expected to see a lot of playing time in Sunday’s game. How he reacts to blitzes early in the game could determine if the 49ers stick with him for the entire game. Andrew Tiller showed promise at right guard, and he could see more action on the left side. If Brown and Tiller show some good things, the 49ers might feel better about the line going into the offseason.

2. Tomsula’s statement
Coach Jim Tomsula is probably a popular man in the locker room for delaying the team’s trip to Detroit for a day to enable his players to spend much of Christmas with their families. Will they repay him with a strong effort? As of right now, it appears likely Tomsula will get a second season as 49ers head coach after signing a four-year contract in January. But if the team completely falls apart, it might force CEO Jed York to reconsider his plan.

3. Gabbert looks to bounce back
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been OK since taking over for Colin Kaepernick in the middle of the season. But at some point for Gabbert – and for offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, too – the 49ers need to prove they can score more than 20 points in 60 minutes of football. The 49ers have not topped 20 points in regulation since their Week 6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. (They scored 26 in an overtime victory against Chicago three weeks ago.) The 49ers rank last in the NFL in scoring. San Francisco and Dallas are the only teams that have not scored 30 points in a game this season. The Lions’ defense ranks 28th in the NFL, allowing 25.9 points per game.

4. Johnson-Johnson challenge
Dontae Johnson did not know he would play most of last week’s game against Cincinnati, but he took over at right cornerback in place of Kenneth Acker early in the game and held up well. At 6 foot 3, Johnson appears to provide the best physical matchup against 6-5 wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has posted six consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Lions. “You get to showcase what you’re doing and see how you measure up against to the best,” Dontae Johnson said. “He’s freak-of-nature big, strong, fast and has great hands. He’s everything you want in a prototypical wide receiver.” Johnson has been held to just one reception in both of the past two games. With a scheduled $24 million cap hit for next season, Johnson is certainly not guaranteed to be back with Detroit. This could be his final home game. You can bet quarterback Matthew Stafford will want to get the ball in his hands early and often.

5. Hayne back in uniform
Jarryd Hayne spent nearly two months on the 49ers’ practice squad to concentrate on learning the sport of American football. He is back on the active roster, and is likely to see some action on Sunday. He could see some action at running back. Hayne could see some action on punt returns. While he does not figure to have a huge role, the presence of the former rugby league star figures to promise this game will receive more attention in Australia than in the United States.

Why NFL Media's Peter Schrager believes Richard Sherman is underrated


Why NFL Media's Peter Schrager believes Richard Sherman is underrated

Richard Sherman's resume is as long as any other cornerback, but NFL analyst Peter Schrager believes the 49ers veteran is underrated. 

"I think Richard Sherman last year had a really good season," Schrager said on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" on Monday. "The Achilles didn't seem to bother him all that much. And then when it mattered most, [he] was shutting down the No. 1 wide receivers in the league, and that was with a completely depleted defense and an offense that had an undrafted rookie named Nick Mullens keeping them afloat. I think Richard Sherman [is] still underrated." 

Sherman started 14 games in his first season with San Francisco, defending a career-low four passes and intercepting zero passes for the first time in his career. Those low counting stats would be concerning for a defensive back's first season in their 30s, even excluding the season-ending Achilles injury he sustained in 2017, but Sherman's production wasn't the same as his best years with the Seattle Seahawks in large part because NFL offenses didn't seem to underrate him. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Sherman was targeted just once every 12.6 coverage snaps. No cornerback was avoided more than him, and Sherman also ranked first among corners in allowing a reception every 20.7 coverage snaps. In other words, opposing quarterbacks seemed to rate Sherman as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. 

[RELATED: 49ers have important conversations beginning during OTAs]

How long that continues is an open question. Sherman is entering his ninth year in the NFL and turned 31 in March. Twenty-eight defensive backs were 31 or older last NFL season, and only 12 of them were 32 or older. Sherman will be 33 if he finishes out the three-year deal he signed with the 49ers last year, and it seems likely he will be targeted more the older he gets. 

But until then, it's clear Sherman's opposition under center view him as one of the best cornerbacks in the league even if Schrager's punditry peers do not. 

Ex-49ers LB Reuben Foster reportedly suffers torn ACL, possible artery damage


Ex-49ers LB Reuben Foster reportedly suffers torn ACL, possible artery damage

Organized team activities began Monday for NFL teams, and Washington suffered a loss shortly after the opening of camp.

Former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster went down during the second play of OTAs with what appeared to be a serious left leg injury. He was on the ground for several minutes before being carted off while in tears.

After an receiving an MRI, Foster's injury appears to be very serious.

That's a brutal development for Foster and Washington.

[RELATED: 49ers have important competitions beginning during OTAs]

Foster was drafted by the 49ers with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which was the beginning of a tumultuous time in the Bay Area.

The Alabama product was arrested three times and suffered multiple on-field injuries during his time with the 49ers. San Francisco cut ties with Foster last November after he was accused of committing domestic battery at a team hotel in Florida.

Washington claimed the linebacker off waivers a few days later. Foster recorded  84 solo tackles in his 16-game career with the 49ers.

The 49ers have since revamped their linebacking corps after Foster's departure. They signed Kwon Alexander to a four-year contract in the offseason and spent a fifth-round draft pick on Arkansas' Dre Greenlaw.

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch hope Alexander, once he gets fully healthy, and Greenlaw can fill the role left by Foster's departure in the middle of the defense.