Dre Greenlaw

49ers Mailbag: Will George Kittle be ready for crucial next three games?

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49ers Mailbag: Will George Kittle be ready for crucial next three games?

The 49ers face a historically difficult challenge over the next three weeks, playing teams in back-to-back-to-back games that enter Week 12 with identical 8-2 records.

The 49ers lead the NFC West -- not to mention the NFC -- with a 9-1 record, and they have earned their way back onto NBC's "Sunday Night Football" for the first time in more than four years.

The 49ers meet the Green Bay Packers in a big one at Levi’s Stadium, and here are some questions on the minds of fans. 

George Kittle took part in walk-throughs and practices Thursday and Friday, which is an indication the club expects him to be available Sunday night. Kittle's goal all along has been to return to action to face the Packers.

So while the 49ers consider Kittle a “game-time decision,” the four extra hours after being flexed into a night game gives him four more hours to convince the decision-makers that he is ready to return to action after a two-game absence due to knee and ankle injuries.

Kittle, and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) and Deebo Samuel (shoulder) are expected to play against the Packers. However, left tackle Joe Staley, defensive end Dee Ford, running back Matt Breida and kicker Robbie Gould are not expected to play.

The best matchups for the 49ers are, in order: 1) Packers; 2) Saints; 3) Ravens.

Right now, the Baltimore Ravens are the best team in football. That game on Dec. 1 could be a rough one for the 49ers. The 49ers will practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, between the games in Baltimore and New Orleans. The hope is that the 49ers will be rested and fresh for the game against the Saints on Dec. 8.

There are enough holes in the Packers defense for the 49ers to get their run game going while also exploiting some matchups with their linebackers in pass coverage against Tevin Coleman and Kyle Juszczyk.

The 49ers are favored to beat Green Bay in Santa Clara. They will be decisive underdogs in their next two games.

The 49ers’ next three games are very important for playoff seedings, for sure. But the key through the course of a 16-game regular season is to treat every game the same way.

It’s the same level of preparation and the same level of focus that’s required whether they’re playing Green Bay in Week 12, New Orleans in Week 14 or Arizona in Week 11.

Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley has proven to be a starting-caliber player. Ahkello Witherspoon is likely to be back in the starting lineup on Sunday, and Moseley will be back as the team's backup corner.

I do not expect Moseley to take Richard Sherman’s job any time soon.

Sherman has one year remaining on the original three-year, $26.5 million contract he signed in 2018. I fully expect him to be back with the 49ers next season.

Moseley is going to be around for at least several more years, so I can definitely envision a time when he takes over as the starter.

Dee Ford has proven to be a valuable asset for the 49ers. He teams with Nick Bosa to give the team two outstanding edge rushers.

Yes, Ford is scheduled to make a lot of money. But the 49ers did not give up a second-round draft to acquire him for just one season.

Ford is under contract for five years. Arik Armstead is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after this season. The 49ers have more defensive tackles than edge rushers, so I think it will be a very difficult decision, but the priority would be keeping Ford and finding a way to reach a contract extension with DeForest Buckner.

Let’s see how this season plays out, but I expect Joe Staley to be back with the 49ers for his 14th NFL season. That has always been the intention since he signed a two-year contract extension through 2021 in June.

Staley has appeared in only three games this season due to injuries. The 49ers expect him to get healthy in the next week or two and finish the season strong.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw is a rookie. He is under contract to the 49ers for three more seasons after this one. The plan is for him to continue to be the third linebacker and core special-teams player.

I don’t see that role changing next season. Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander will be the every-down linebackers, while Greenlaw will start at Sam linebacker in the 49ers' base defense and be available to replace either Warner or Alexander, if needed.

Yes, Trent Taylor (foot) and Jalen Hurd (back) will remain on injured reserve for the balance of the season and be back next year to attempt to earn major roles with the club. The 49ers who remain possibilities to return off IR this season are Kentavius Street and Jason Verrett.

Coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff have a couple of big decisions to make, beginning Sunday night.

We know five of the team’s inactive players will be Breida, Gould, Staley, Ford and quarterback C.J. Beathard. So who will be the other two inactive players?

Defensive tackle Jullian Taylor could be inactive, as D.J. Jones is ready to return to action. Then, I think the last wide receiver on the depth chart is the most logical person of being inactive. Last week, that player was Dante Pettis, who saw two snaps on offense and no action on special teams.

Kendrick Bourne will continue to see a lot of playing time, but I’m not sure if Marquise Goodwin will have a big role. With Kittle getting back on the field, the 49ers will use mostly two-receiver sets with either two tight ends or two backs on the field most of the time.

No, signing Antonio Brown is not the right move for this team. It never has been, and it never will be.

I do not see the 49ers being interested in Dez Bryant, a receiver who has not played for nearly two full years. After all, he would have been on the team long before this point if they had any interest.

[RELATED: 49ers' Ward will have hands full with Rodgers, Packers in Week 12]

They will have to take a hard look at what they want to do at wide receiver, but I’m sure they will bring in some new faces.

We know that Deebo Samuel is a keeper. He is a long-term starter. But after Samuel, the 49ers do not have any reliable pass-catchers under contract for next season and beyond.

Emmanuel Sanders is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. I’m sure the 49ers would like to bring him back. But at what price?

They hope to get Taylor and Hurd back healthy next season. But they will need to bring in more competition for Bourne, Pettis and Richie James.

Fred Warner doing it all for 49ers' defense in Kwon Alexander's absence

Fred Warner doing it all for 49ers' defense in Kwon Alexander's absence

SANTA CLARA – Not only did the 49ers lose linebacker Kwon Alexander to a season-ending injury in Week 9, but linebacker Fred Warner did not play well that night against the Arizona Cardinals.

Warner responded Monday night with what 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh described as the best game of his two-year NFL career.

“I thought he was just on it,” Saleh said. “He played violent.”

Warner recorded 10 tackles, including the first two sacks of his career, and forced a fumble that DeForest Buckner scooped up and returned for a touchdown. He became the first player with that stat line since Chicago defensive lineman Akiem Hicks on Dec. 4, 2016.

Warner did it all for the 49ers’ defense in the club’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night at Levi's Stadium while taking on more responsibility with rookie Dre Greenlaw taking over for Alexander.

“That was really cool to watch, just him pick up the slack that we lost from Kwon and play with that much passion,” 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa said. “It’s fun to have him on the field.

“It was usually him calling the plays and Kwon being the energy guy. And now it’s him doing both. He calls the play. He gets us lined up. And he brings the energy, so he’s really important.”

Warner displayed his ability to rush the passer, which is a new look for the 49ers’ defense. Saleh said he believes the threat of Warner coming on blitzes will prove beneficial to the team’s defensive linemen.

“The most important thing for us is, by them having to account for him, especially using a lineman, is now you’ve got your four D-linemen in one-on-one situations, our four horses,” Saleh said. “If they’re in one-on-one situations, you’re pretty confident that one of them is going to win. They’ve got to bring in extra people to protect and now it’s are we blitzing or are we rushing four?

“It’s just a cat-and-mouse game. When you have to account for him, you’re freeing up your four horses in the one-on-one situations.”

[RELATED: Lynch frustrated by 49ers' receivers drops but won't panic]

Warner and the 49ers return to action against the Cardinals on Sunday at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers' defense had its worst game on Oct. 31 in a 28-25 victory over Arizona, a game in which Warner had two missed tackles. Saleh said he expects more performances from Warner like the one he had against the Seahawks.

"He had a very good game and now it goes back to consistency being the truest measure of performance. He’s got to go stack it up and do it again," Saleh said.

How Dre Greenlaw impressed Kwon Alexander in 49ers' loss to Seahawks

How Dre Greenlaw impressed Kwon Alexander in 49ers' loss to Seahawks

SANTA CLARA -- In the locker room following the 49ers’ first loss of the season, veteran cornerback Richard Sherman preached to his teammates about using the 27-24 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks as a learning experience.

“Like Sherm said, it’s just what we needed,” 49ers rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

The 49ers entered Monday night as the only unbeaten team in the NFL. They come out of the game with an 8-1 record, and a half-game lead over the Seahawks (8-2) in the NFC West.

“In this league, you’re never going undefeated. But at the same time, it’s a wake-up call," Greenlaw said. "It lets you know you can be beat any night. You got to bring your 'A game' every time. I think from here on out, a lot of guys are going to bring forward their best foot and play and execute and finish out the season strong.”

Greenlaw started Monday’s game in place of Kwon Alexander, who is out for the season after undergoing surgery last week to repair a torn pectoral. Greenlaw recorded eight tackles and intercepted Seahawks QB Russell Wilson in overtime.

The play, along with Greenlaw’s 47-yard interception return, put the 49ers’ offense in position to win the game. But the offense stalled after gaining a first down, and rookie fill-in kicker Chase McLaughlin shanked a 47-yard field goal attempt after making a kick of the same distance to force overtime on the final play of regulation.

“I knew Greenlaw was going to step in,” Alexander said. “I had no doubt about him. I saw it on his face when he first walked through the door.

“He’s been a tremendous rookie, doing everything right, working hard. He put a lot of extra film in this week and it all paid off. He got an interception. I’m proud of him. I’m happy for him. He’s a great young man.”

Greenlaw said he played with a lot of confidence because of the support he received on the field from middle linebacker Fred Warner, along with the encouragement Alexander gave him on the sideline.

“I made some mistakes, but I made some plays,” Greenlaw said. “I felt confident. I knew Fred was going to play his heart out, and he had my back. Having Kwon out there on the sideline, he brought us confidence. I felt good running around.”

Warner said Greenlaw stepped in and did as well as could be expected in taking over for Alexander.

“He honestly stepped in and did a great job,” Warner said of Greenlaw, a fifth-round pick from Arkansas. “I can’t say anything bad. Kwon is a seasoned vet, but Dre came out and played as such. He was communicating great. He got aligned.”

Warner had an exceptional game, as he recorded 10 tackles, including his first two NFL sacks. He forced a fumble that DeForest Buckner returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

[RELATED: Jimmy G sees 49ers' first loss of season as 'reality check']

What can the 49ers take from this loss?

“Just learn from our mistakes, look at yourself in the mirror and see what you could’ve done and keep moving,” Warner said.