Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The worst loss of the Kyle Shanahan era is now behind the 49ers. Their next matchup is effectively a must-win game against the Los Angeles Rams at home, on Sunday night. They hoped Richard Sherman would return by then, but that dream appears to be dashed.
Injuries: Richard Sherman setback, Kwon Alexander ankle sprain
Kyle Shanahan said he thought Richard Sherman (calf) could return to practice for the 49ers this week from injured reserve. That won’t be happening. Shanahan said Sherman suffered “some setbacks last week” and is unlikely to return to practice this week.
“The healing hasn’t gone the way we wanted,” Shanahan said. He’ll receive, “…some shots that he thinks can help in his leg… see if they can take the inflammation down.”
Emmanuel Moseley is still in concussion protocol, but Shanahan said last week they had him see a specialist and on Monday was “getting a lot more optimistic” about him returning this week.
Kwon Alexander suffered a possible high ankle sprain. It’s a confirmed ankle sprain, but the extent of the injury isn’t yet clear.
Jimmy Garoppolo was as sore in his ankle and the rest of his body as Shanahan expected, but feels positive, currently, about his status for Sunday. Wednesday will be more indicative of where he’s at.
D.J. Jones, who suffered an eye injury, is expected to return to practice on Wednesday.
Behind the decisions on Ahkello Witherspoon, Jimmy Garoppolo
Why didn’t Ahkello Witherspoon start? If he was healthy enough to play in relief, the logic goes, he should have been healthy enough to start. Shanahan explained the process that went into Witherspoon’s bizarre relief appearance for the expectedly hapless Brian Allen, who was torched to the tune of 139 receiving yards, 31 penalty yards and a touchdown.
The basic idea was that Witherspoon did not look healthy in practice and confirmed as much in talking to Shanahan, but volunteered himself to be active in case of emergency. Quickly, it became an emergency, and as Shanahan revealed, Ken Webster, the other available corner, was also dealing with hamstring tightness.
Shanahan said his process of player health evaluation is threefold. He starts by consulting the medical staff, then watching players in practice, “… and then if I see something that doesn’t match what I’m hearing, then it’s just me personally talking to the player.”
“Ahkello worded that he was ready to go and wanted to get in,” Shanahan said. “So that was all I needed to hear.”
When asked about former 49ers safety and NBC Sports Bay Area correspondent Donte Whitner’s comments that Witherspoon is “soft,” Shanahan said he made his decision based off of Witherspoon’s practices and the conversations he had with him.
“Every guy’s situation is different,” Shanahan said. “Every injury is different. And every person you deal with is different. I know I was expecting him to go that week. And I think he was too. But it didn’t look that way at all in practice the way he was moving. And when I talked to him, the way he described it, how tight it felt, that’s what he said. So I mean, I never question guys what they tell me when you ask them and they speak what is in their heart. So that’s what he told me and that’s what I can go off of.
What I was happy with on Saturday that him knowing our situation, at least he told me that he could dress and be used in case of an emergency, which I thought would only be after two injuries and after we were struggling, though, I was glad he felt good enough to where we didn’t have to wait for that emergency and he told us he was good to go there in the second quarter.”
As far as Garoppolo, who needed to prove he could get into uncomfortable situations in practice in order to play (how you do that without full contact seems confusing), Shanahan said he liked what he saw.
“He started out Wednesday, like they all do coming off a high ankle, looked a lot better Thursday, no soreness from it,” Shanahan said. “Looked good on Friday, looked good in pregame warmups. So there was nothing that you saw in practice that would have kept him out. If the game was going a little bit differently, I would have kept them in that game also.”
He said while he could have continued to play, the ankle “was definitely prohibiting him” and intimated that when he spoke to Garoppolo on the sideline, the quarterback confirmed that he “echoes the same stuff” Shanahan saw, that he was limiting him.
What about Tarvarius Moore?
The other lingering question is why Tarvarius Moore, who began his NFL career as a corner, wasn’t given the chance to play there. It seemed to boil down to there not being enough time to practice him at the position.
If there had been two weeks to prepare knowing about the injuries, Shanahan said he would’ve been repped at corner.
“Tarvarius, we haven’t put out a corner for two years,” Shanahan said. “So he’s gotten two straight years of reps at safety. Putting him out to corner would be very similar right now to putting the people out to corner that we did go with, they haven’t been in enough, it wouldn’t be fair to him. If I knew that a week in advance, two weeks in advance, we’d get him ready to do that.”
What’s gone wrong with 49ers’ offense
There are myriad issues with San Francisco right now, but on offense, Shanahan sees the main issue as playing from behind. Most of last year featured games in which the 49ers stomped their opponents or were in close games. Running the ball was almost always an option. Last year, Shanahan said, they “never got down a bunch of scores.”
But when you fall into a 30-7 deficit, the rushing attack becomes nonviable.
That puts more pressure on the offensive line, who struggled coming into Sunday’s game, and who either missed protections on their own, or the quarterbacks failed to identify them. Shanahan said three of the five sacks committed were from missed protections, there were six dropped passes and mentioned the team being 2-of-10 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
“We had five five sacks, I think three of them, we had busts on protections,” Shanahan said. “That’s guys communicating at the line, playing faster, going through all the looks and not making a mistake. I mean, those guys switch up fronts and their numbers all the time. When they do that, it puts a lot of pressure on an offense and you got to be on it. When you end up throwing the ball a lot more than you anticipate and a lot more than you ever want to, those things are what come up… I think we’re throwing the ball too much. That’s a situation that I’ve got to try to control better.”