49ers

Why Emmanuel Sanders trade lets Kyle Shanahan open up 49ers playbook

Why Emmanuel Sanders trade lets Kyle Shanahan open up 49ers playbook

The addition of veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will provide 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan with infinite options, according to a member of last season’s coaching staff.

“It’s going to allow for Kyle Shanahan to open up the playbook a little more,” said Nick Ferguson, a former NFL safety and an assistant on the 49ers staff last season.

Ferguson, who works in Denver as a host on 104.3 The Fan, spoke on The 49ers Insider Podcast about the impact of the 49ers’ trade on Tuesday to acquire Sanders, a 10-year NFL veteran.

“He can take the top off defenses,” Ferguson said. “Also, his route-running, crisp route-running. If you want to put him outside the numbers, he can do that. If you want to put him in the slot, he can do that, as well. If you want to run gimmick plays, jet sweeps, kind of like what Andy Reid does with Tyreek Hill, he can definitely do that.

“So he gives them another element to their offense that they haven’t had.”

Sanders, 32, is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion, comes to the 49ers along with a fifth-round pick from the Denver Broncos in exchange for the 49ers’ third- and fourth-round selections in the 2020 NFL Draft. Sanders is signed only through this current season.

Sanders provides an immediate upgrade at wide receiver for the 49ers. Tight end George Kittle is far-and-away Jimmy Garoppolo’s most reliable target in the passing game.

Rookie Deebo Samuel, who missed Sunday’s game at Washington with a groin strain, leads the 49ers wideouts with 15 catches for 168 yards. Marquise Goodwin has 11 catches for 181 yards, while Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis have nine catches apiece for 139 and 83 yards, respectively. Richie James has five receptions for 108 yards.

“No disrespect to guys they have on the team, like Pettis, Bourne, Richie James, no disrespect, but now you have a savvy veteran coming in and you can say he’s 32, coming off some injuries,” Ferguson said. “All I know is he’s a gamer and the problem here in Denver was they were not getting him the ball. I don’t understand how do you not feature a guy like Emmanuel Sanders in your offense?”

Sanders sustained a torn left Achilles last December. He also had offseason surgery on his right ankle. While he made a strong return from those surgeries, he was not satisfied with his role in Rich Scangarello’s offense. Scangarello, the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach the past two seasons, is Denver's offensive coordinator under first-year head coach Vic Fangio.

[RELATED: How Sanders trade helps 49ers' beleaguered receiving corps]

Sanders caught 30 of the 44 passes thrown his way for 367 yards and two touchdowns for the Broncos (2-5). He joins an undefeated 49ers team that ranks No. 2 in the NFL in rushing. Ferguson said he believes Sanders’ presence will benefit Garoppolo, Kittle and the team’s ground attack.

“It’s going to open up things for Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman in the run game because with Emmanuel Sanders, his route-running, and his ability to catch the deep ball, it’s just going to open run lanes and passing lanes,” Ferguson said.

49ers' pass rush returns to 'fun' style of play vs. Drew Brees, Saints

49ers' pass rush returns to 'fun' style of play vs. Drew Brees, Saints

NEW ORLEANS – The 49ers’ pass rush can once again be a factor this week.

The 49ers went into their Week 13 game against the Baltimore Ravens knowing they had to make some dramatic changes with their style of getting after the quarterback.

After all, they could not be so aggressive, as 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek teaches, because of the running ability of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

On Sunday, they can get back to normal against the passing attack of the New Orleans Saints with quarterback Drew Brees.

“Those guys want to get after the quarterback,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “I know the D-line. I know their coach. It was a tough week for them. But they rose to the challenge and played those techniques very well. I thought they did a very good job against Baltimore and stopping the run.

“And now this week, you still got to stop the run. It always starts with that, but you can play a little more of those techniques you’re used to, which I know they have a lot more fun playing and I know we have a lot more fun coaching it, too.”

It certainly will not be easy for the 49ers’ pass rush to get to Brees, who has been sacked just nine times on 249 drop-backs this season. Brees gets the ball out quickly, in order to neutralize the 49ers’ pass rush of Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford.

A week ago, the 49ers played a different style in an attempt to prevent big plays from Baltimore’s quarterback-driven run game. Buckner registered the team’s only sack, and that came for zero yards.

The 49ers gave up some rushing yards, but made adjustments in the second half to limit Baltimore to just three points in the final 30 minutes.

[RELATED: How will 49ers deploy running backs?]

“When you do that, you definitely have to change-up your fronts and play run-first at all times,” Shanahan said. “You got to almost play in a four-point stance and just control people instead of teeing off on guys and trying to go through them. I know last week was a frustrating week.”

The 49ers own the league's top-ranked passing defense, allowing just 134.2 yards passing per game. The 49ers rank second in the NFL with 45 sacks.

49ers Mailbag: How will Kyle Shanahan deploy running backs vs. Saints?

49ers Mailbag: How will Kyle Shanahan deploy running backs vs. Saints?

NEW ORLEANS – It’s a good problem for the 49ers to figure out who among their running backs they are going to feature.

Leading rusher Matt Breida is scheduled to return to action on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints after missing three games with an ankle sprain. Raheem Mostert is coming off a 146-yard day, the best game from a 49ers running back in three years. But what kind of role will he play on Sunday?

That question leads off this edition of the 49ers Mailbag:

Coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff put a lot of discussion into how they are going to use their backs. Shanahan talks to his entire offensive staff, as well as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, about which plays are best fits for which players.

Then, Shanahan’s in-game decisions are also influenced by which running back is having the most success.

“None of them are bad at anything, so whatever we end up going with, all of them have a chance, whatever play it is,” Shanahan said on 49ers Game Plan, which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area and 9 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“We definitely try to decide which one we prefer during the week. We go into the game with a plan, but then we always stick with what’s hot.”

Tevin Coleman has been getting the starting assignments. It remains to be seen if that will continue, but Breida and Mostert should get their opportunities, too. 

I don’t know about using Daniel Brunskill for any trick plays, but it might not be a bad idea to mix him in for a series here and there to ease Joe Staley back into the action.

Staley has missed nine games this season, and Brunskill has shown to be a very effective player. It could be something along the lines of how the 49ers got Ahkello Witherspoon back into his starting role. At first, they had Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley sharing the playing time before Witherspoon was all the way back.

Richard Sherman will play despite hobbled last week with a knee injury. He appeared to be moving well during 49ers practices this week in Florida.

The only 49ers starter who will not play on Sunday is strong safety Jaquiski Tartt, who may miss multiple games with fractured ribs. Marcell Harris will start at strong safety. But everybody else is good to go, including Breida, Staley and Dee Ford.

My hunch is that if the 49ers do not place the franchise tag on Arik Armstead, he will end up signing a lucrative multi-year contract with another team as an unrestricted free agent. The 49ers' top priorities to sign to multi-year extensions are defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and tight end George Kittle.

[RELATED: Kittle on pace for best PFF season]

Neither Jalen Hurd nor Trent Taylor will play this season. Hurd will miss his entire rookie season due to a stress reaction in his back, while Taylor is out for the season from complications after undergoing surgery on a Jones fracture in his right foot.

The 49ers elevated defensive lineman Kentavius Street to practice this week. The 49ers might use their final injured reserve/designated to return spot on cornerback Jason Verrett, who has been out with a knee injury. He could return to practice as early as Wednesday.

The odds are very slim that Marquise Goodwin will be back on the team next season. He is scheduled to make $4.5 million in salary and bonuses in 2020, and that is not a price the 49ers are going to pay for what he gives them.

The 49ers are not giving up on Dante Pettis, though. They want him to put in the work during the offseason to have a big bounce-back season.

Pettis experienced the same kind of second season as Ahkello Witherspoon. Both players experienced success to ends their rookie seasons and thought they had it figured out.

[RELATED: How to watch 49ers-Saints]

Witherspoon struggled in Year 2, and realized what he had to do in order to perform at a high level. He came back focused for a strong third season.

The 49ers hope Pettis will make the same kinds of adjustments to his work ethic and mindset to become a reliable receiver in 2020.