Bright Spots in the Loss to Tampa Bay
Image Credit: Scott Young
“Averted vision” is a term astronomers have coined to explain that our eyes have two types of light-detecting cells. It explains why when you look directly at a dim light you can’t see it, but if you look just to the side it becomes visible. This is also how I feel about the game versus Tampa Bay. If you look directly at it, there’s not much to see, but look just to the side and some light gets through. We’ll take a look at some of the dim light that worked its way through the darkness on Sunday.
Dante Pettis saw his highest snap count since Week 2 versus the Detroit Lions, and he was able to turn those opportunities into the best game of his young career with four catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. It’s important for the team to focus on Pettis while Pierre Garçon is out with an injury; it’s clear that the team believes Pettis is the future at the position, and the earlier they can find out if that’s true the better. It’s also clear from Pettis’ snap counts the last two weeks that Kyle Shanahan is moving the young receiver around to see where he performs best, Week 10 against the Giants Pettis saw 32 snaps at the slot with 9 coming at wideout, those numbers flipped against the Bucs where he had 11 snaps in the slot and 47 at wideout. Pettis has the versatility to put up numbers at any of the receiver positions, but over these last few weeks I’d expect the coaching staff to move him around to find where his skills can be best utilized.
I’m going to bang this drum the rest of the season: Earl Mitchell’s snaps will have to be dramatically reduced if this coaching staff is serious about evaluating the young talent heading into 2019. Mitchell played 38 snaps against the Bucs on Sunday, his second highest total of the season. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones, who the team drafted last year, saw only 12, after being inactive for three of the last five games. Solomon Thomas saw his highest snap total of the season; 53, but only six of those came on the interior. Shanahan has acknowledged that the remainder of the season is about evaluating talent and deciding who’s going to be here next season; if the team is serious about that then Mitchell has to sit. John Lynch and Robert Saleh have both said that Thomas needs to play on the inside to perform at his best, but still he’s not getting there. It’s great to see his snap count increase so they can see what he’s capable of, but if he’s not getting interior snaps then what does it matter?
Ok, rant over. The two highlights of the game were Arik Armstead and Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon has been brutal this season, he seems lost at times in coverage and has also suffered from criminally bad safety help over the top. On Sunday he seemed to perform better: he was targeted nine times, giving up four receptions for 36 yards. He also had a pass interference call against him that was suspect. Over the last four games Witherspoon has surrendered only 13 catches for 163 yards. Has he turned a corner? Hopefully we’ll see in the next few weeks.
Armstead earned his second-highest grade of the season from Pro Football Focus with an 82.2 mark. He compiled five hurries and one quarterback hit while making one tackle for a loss. Armstead has quietly had a productive season and you could make the argument that he’s currently the second best defensive lineman on the team. Can Armstead turn some of these hurries into sacks and solidify his place on the 2019 roster? Only the next few weeks will tell.
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