Always Improving: What the 49ers Need to Focus on During the Bye
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Bye Week To-Do List
Every day you either get better or you get worse.
You never stay the same
– Bo Schembechler
When the 49ers’ schedule was released in April, the first thing that stood out was the Week 4 bye. In an ideal world their bye would come near the middle of the schedule. Instead it comes at earliest possible time, but that doesn’t mean that it comes at the worst possible time. Sure, there have only been three weeks of accumulated wear and tear from which to heal, but the bye also comes after the team played its worst game of the young season.
This year, the 49ers are treating the bye a bit differently. Usually the head coach gives the “protect the team” speech and tells theme he doesn’t want to see them in a police report or on TMZ before dismissing them for the week, but this week as Kyle Shanahan confirmed on his bi-weekly interview on KNBR there will be two days of practice before turning the players loose.
Here’s what the 49ers need to accomplish during the bye week:
The first priority of any bye week is to get healthy. The 49ers have several players who have missed all or part of the first three games and a couple more who have played despite battling through injuries. Nick Bosa has spent almost as much time in the opponent’s backfield as their running backs. In 72 pass rush snaps, Bosa ranks sixth in quarterback hits, eighth in pressures and tenth in hurries (according to Pro Football Focus) despite being hampered by an ankle sprain suffered in training camp. Bosa’s ankle issues have led to limited participation during the week, limited snaps on Sundays and limited mobility on the field which has affected his sack numbers. Getting Bosa to one hundred percent health should take the pass rush to yet another level.
Dee Ford, the bookend to Bosa on the defensive line, has also been hampered by a leg injury that has limited him in practice and on game day, but defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has done a good job of deploying Ford in a manner that maximizes his impact. Ford played just 16 snaps against the Steelers but recorded a sack that ended a drive at the end of the first half. Ford’s injury is one that is likely to linger throughout the season, but is one that Ford and the team should be able to manage.
Running back Tevin Coleman is likely to return from an ankle sprain after the bye. Coleman has not played since the first half of the Week 1 game against Tampa Bay. The 49ers have a talented stable of running backs, so they have been able to work around Coleman’s absence and theoretically could allow him extra time to ensure that his ankle injury isn’t something that lingers throughout the season. A healthy Coleman will give Kyle Shanahan another weapon to rotate in the backfield to make sure there is always a set of fresh legs in the game.
Jalen Hurd, who has not played since the preseason opener, is recovering from a stress fracture in his back, but he should be ready in time for the Monday Night game against the Browns. Unlike Tevin Coleman, the 49ers do not have anyone that can approximate what Hurd brings to the wide receiver group. Hurd has yet to take a regular season snap, but in training camp and the preseason he showed that he could be a matchup nightmare for teams, especially in the red zone. Hurd will help infuse more versatility and toughness into the wide receiver room.
Clean Up The Mistakes:
The 49ers lost three fumbles against the Steelers; one of the fumbles came on an ill-timed snap that hit Richie James in the face as he went in motion, and it is emblematic of the type of cleanup that needs to be the focus this week. The team’s record belies their sloppy play. The Niners rank number 26 in the NFL with 8.3 penalties per game and are currently minus-1 in turnover margin. The extra practice time afforded to them this week needs to be devoted to cleaning up the mistakes.
Coming into the bye with a 3-0 record is fantastic, but there have been far too many turnovers and penalties to expect that to continue. Ball security promises to be an emphasis heading into Week 5. Four interceptions and 5 fumbles (4 lost) in three games are far too many for a team that has playoff aspirations.
The extra practice time will also come in handy for getting Justin Skule extra reps at left tackle. The rookie, who is filling for the injured Joe Staley, will have his hands full in the next game with the Browns’ Myles Garrett. Skule managed to go largely unnoticed (which is a good thing for an offensive lineman) for most of his debut but was flagged for multiple penalties in the second half.
Work The Phones:
John Lynch should use the extra time this week to work the phones. Since the start of the season there have been five player trades in the NFL and there will likely be more before the November 3 trade deadline. There are some big names that are either rumored or explicitly on the trade market who could benefit the 49ers.
Jaguars’ Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey has demanded a trade out of Jacksonville and would certainly be a huge boost to the defense. The asking price for Ramsey is rumored to start at two first round picks, which may be too rich for the 49ers, but in light of the injury to Ahkello Witherspoon and the uncertainty of Jason Verrett it may be worth exploring.
The depth of the offensive line is suspect, especially, with the injury to Joe Staley. Offensive line depth is at a premium across the league, but the Philadelphia Eagles could have a surplus. Halapoulivaati Vaitai (known as “Big V” for obvious reasons) has experience at left tackle, right tackle and at guard. Big V filled in for an injured Jason Peters during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2017, starting throughout the playoffs, and he could provide the 49ers with much needed depth and versatility. The Eagles are unlikely to re-sign him after this season and don’t figure to get much in the way of a compensatory pick in return. A fourth-round pick should get the deal done.
Jets’ safety Jamal Adams has expressed frustration with the organization (but who hasn’t over the last 30 years) and may be available via trade. Adams would be a great fit for the 49ers as an upgrade at either safety position. In addition to his play Adams would bring an alpha dog- type attitude to go with Richard Sherman and Kwon Alexander. If Adams is available, the asking price might not be as high as the one for Ramsey.
Kyle Shanahan told KNBR that he expects many of the players to remain “in town” during the bye week. The atmosphere is a bit different around the 49ers’ facility in Santa Clara this season. and it’s been reflected in the play on the field this season and the way the players have conducted themselves in post-game interviews, its more serious, more focused and hopefully that leads to a productive bye week.
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