Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
There has been some panic about the 49ers chances of making a Super Bowl run with all of the injuries the team has sustained throughout the year and especially down the stretch. Although their record of 2-1 in the most difficult three game stretch any team has ever played (Weeks 12 through 14 against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and New Orleans Saints) shows that they came out on top, the amount of injuries that came out of that stretch would have any general manager running for cover. Losing nose tackle D.J. Jones was a huge loss and center Weston Richburg going to IR for the season may change the course of the offensive output for the remainder of the regular season and the postseason.
The injury that is most worrisome is the hamstring of cornerback Richard Sherman. Without any other CB on the roster who has proven himself over the whole of a season, it is understandable why fans would be concerned with how the team’s secondary would be able to continue on without its vocal and emotional leader.
Against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan was held to only 210 yards and two touchdowns,with the second one with two seconds remaining and after being reviewed in New York, shown to be a TD by the most minuscule of distances. This was after the 49ers’ secondary was beaten to the tune of five passing touchdowns against Drew Brees and the Saints. Detractors will point out that Julio Jones roasted both Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon to the tune of 13 catches for 134 yards and that game winning touchdown, but it is easy to see that these numbers are almost identical to what the Saints’ Michael Thomas did the week prior (11/134/1).
That Saints game was with Sherman in for the majority of it. It’s also hard to look at one player’s impact in this situation because nobody can talk about a defense missing just one player due to injury. Against the Saints, the 49ers were missing safety Jaquiski Tartt (cracked rib) for the whole game and nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams (concussion) for part of the game. Against Atlanta, all three – Sherman, Tartt, and Williams – all missed the entire game. Sherman and Williams have both been deemed good to go for this Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, but everyone knows how a hamstring issue like Sherman’s can linger, or become a problem again (just look at Dee Ford), so the question of whether the secondary can survive without Sherman is relevant.
Some journalists and fans alike have pointed to the weakening of the team’s pass defense, even though they are still only allowing an average of 154 yards passing per game.In recent weeks, the team has given up 210 yards and two touchdowns to the Falcons’ Ryan and 349 yards with five touchdowns to the Saints’ Brees, but less than 150 yards for several weeks before that, including games against Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, and Russell Wilson.
The bigger concern that fans should be worried about is the lack of sacks over the last month and a half. This has put a lot more pressure on the secondary, with opposing QBs having plenty of time to find targets. Moseley and Witherspoon have the ability and athleticism to compete with the top WRs in the NFL, and nobody on the Rams roster should be invoking great fear in this secondary. Moseley showed he can shut down the Seahawks’ now-WR1 DK Metcalf back in Week 10, effectively shutting down his long-ball game. The real question is: will the secondary be able to survive without a fully healthy defensive line group? That will have the biggest impact on whether the defense can help lead the team to a first-round playoff bye.
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