This week begins a perilous stretch for the 49ers against three of the NFL’s top five teams: the Green Bay Packers (8-2), Baltimore Ravens (8-2) and New Orleans Saints (8-2). With the Packers, Saints, Seattle Seahawks (8-2) and Minnesota Vikings (8-3) all at eight wins, there is no comfort for the 49ers (9-1) atop the National Football League. At the start of that stretch, they will lack certainty for a host of injured players.
At least seven 49ers will be game-time decisions
Head coach Kyle Shanahan said that six 49ers players would not participate in Wednesday’s practice and would all be game-time decisions this Sunday. There were another two players who were limited. This list for Wednesday’s practice is as follows:
Out: Dee Ford (hamstring), Joe Staley (finger), George Kittle (knee, ankle), Robbie Gould (quad), Matt Breida (ankle) Deebo Samuel (shoulder), Emmanuel Sanders (rib)
Limited: Raheem Mostert (knee), D.J. Jones (groin) – “He’s right on track”
That means that Ford, Staley, Kittle, Gould, Breida and Samuel are all game-time calls. Ford and Staley seem highly unlikely to play, while Samuel and Sanders might be the only members of that group that can be categorized as likely to play.
Here is what Shanahan said about Kittle: ““Better than last week, but not good enough to practice today. It’s going to come down to the wire again and hopefully it will work out.”
Shanahan said the 49ers would get back to real practice on Wednesday, and with Ahkello Witherspoon not limited on the practice report, it’s a good sign he’s likely to reclaim his starting job from Emmanuel Moseley this week.
Also practicing on Wednesday was Azeez Al-Shaair, who had been wearing a blue, non-contact jersey last week while remaining in concussion protocol. Al-Shaair is out of the protocol and was back to practice as normal, as Shanahan said he hoped would be the case on Monday.
D.J. Jones expects to play
Jones has been a revelation for the 49ers at nose tackle, and has been sorely missed for most of the past, dealing with a groin injury. It’s the same groin problem which caused him to miss the 49ers’ Week 7 game against the Washington Redskins. After sacking Russell Wilson, he exited the Week 10 game against the Seahawks, and missed last week’s 36-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Shanahan said that he’s seen progress from Jones, but that there’s a sense of caution about getting him back to action.
“He’s about right on track. He’s going to be right down to it this week and we’ll see how it goes,” Shanahan said. “He’s limited so he’ll get out there and be able to do a little bit, but we’ve still got to ease him back in and be careful.”
Jones told KNBR he expects to play against the Packers.
“I expect to play this week, yessir,” Jones said. “I’m just working with the medical team, our training staff, day by day trying to get better.”
While he only played eight snaps against the Seahawks, Jones looked like arguably the best player on the field. He sacked Russell Wilson once after throwing Seahawks center Joey Hunt aside, seemingly with ease. And in a one-on-one situation with Wilson outside of the pocket, he kept pace and forced a shovel pass incompletion from Wilson.
Jones acknowledged he may have surprised people with his play, but his focus is on getting back to fully healthy.
“I guess I surprised some people, but I’ve got to finish the season.” Jones said. “I want to surprise people by finishing the season healthy and dominating and helping my team get as many wins as possible.”
NT DJ Jones played 8 Snaps before leaving the game with a groin injury Week 10. Look at the bull rush, power & speed. For me his speed was something that stuck out his rookie season & ability to shed blocks. NT don’t normally run sideline to sideline or chase like a LB… pic.twitter.com/xOaSCkNQsg
— 49er_Edits (@49er_edits) November 17, 2019
Mike McGlinchey takes ownership for 49ers’ struggle in run game
For the first half of the season, the 49ers were the NFL’s most dominant rushing team. After rushing for 232 yards against the Carolina Panthers in Week 8, however, that number has steadily declined, from 101 yards against the Cardinals in Week 9, 87 yards (then a season-low) against the Seahawks, and a dismal 34 yards against the Cardinals on Sunday.
Both Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey returned to face the Seahawks in Week 10, without Kittle in the lineup. They were, however, joined by Kyle Juszczyk. Staley fractured/dislocated a finger in that game, and was absent in that season-worst rushing performance against the Cardinals in Week 11, and Matt Breida was also sidelined with an ankle sprain.
Despite those caveats, McGlinchey told KNBR the onus was on him to improve, even declining to blame any rust from his four-week absence as the root cause, saying: “I just have to play better.” He said he and the offensive line have failed to execute in the way they previously have.
“I think it’s just execution,” McGlinchey said. “I think we’re put in great places to succeed starting with me, personally, I have to block better. I let a couple of opportunities slip past me in the run game against Arizona that probably could have sparked a hole for us, or provided something to open a door for our run game to get going early in the game.
And we have to block better as a unit up front, and across the board, we need to execute better. I think that it’s going to be a point of emphasis moving forward because we do that well normally, and we just have to get back on track.”