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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Kurtenbach: 49ers have three big questions to answer at stretch

The 49ers have four games left. Two wins and they are in the playoffs. Anyone can get it done.

But only making the playoffs isn’t the goal, is it?

No, if this team makes the tournament, they should by all means try to go.

And that will only be possible if this team starts playing its best football against the Falcons from Sunday.

A few spots on the 49ers’ roster look up to the challenge.

Others, not so much.

The Niners will define their season over the next few weeks. I have three biggest questions about these important games:


Can the Niners Reset the Run Game Without Elijah Mitchell?

(Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

The 49ers’ top run this season is out for Sunday’s big game against Atlanta and possibly a Thursday night affair with the Titans on December 23.

If the Niners win those two games, they are in the playoffs – no questions asked.

If they lose both games, the final two weeks of the season get hairy.

The preferred method of offense in San Francisco is to run the ball. The ideal back would be Raheem Mostart, but he has missed the entire season. With Mitchell, a rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette, and Deebo Samuel, they are able to build a proper replica of Mostart—powerful runs and big-play ability—and have established a run game that can beat those defenses. Those who sell out stop it.

A quarter of Samuel’s runs are explosive – more than 10 yards. Michelle’s percentage is almost the same.

Wilson has scored two explosive runs in 44 carries this year.

Without an explosive run, the run game stalls and the Niners have to pass. This could be a big problem. (More on that later.)

Over the past three weeks, we’ve seen the opposing defenses completely sold out to stop the Niners’ run game.

With Michelle in the competition, it didn’t work out. But in the second half of the Seattle and Bengals game, the Niners had to throw – there was no juice in the run game.

It’s actually quite simple: You can’t run substitutes — three yards and a cloud of dust — at the NFL level. To break the will of defense you need to do some spring and also take some first lows.

The Niners have found success this season with a long opening drive, but this is not a sustainable model for success.

Can Wilson and Samuel repeat the Niners’ success from Weeks 10 and 11 – their two best offensive weeks of the season?

If they can, the Niners will beat Atlanta, give Tennessee a game, and they’ll reach the playoffs, arguably playing their best football in December—as do the true contenders.

If they can’t, the offense of the Niners will be looking for answers at the end of the regular season. They can make it to the playoffs anyway. They might not. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for San Francisco.


Can the Niners’ defensive line cover for the corners of San Francisco?

Kurtenbach: 49ers have three big questions to answer at stretch
(Nhat v. Meyer/Bay Area Newsgroup)

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