If there was a good time for the 49ers to be injured, now is the time.
The San Francisco 49ers (0-1) hobble — literally and figuratively — into Week 2 against the New York Jets (0-1).
After losing their 2020 season opener at home against the up-and-coming Arizona Cardinals (1-0), the 49ers travel to New York to face their first of two New York teams in Week 2.
Battling the injury bug
The 49ers began the season banged up, and it just got worse after their Week 1 loss. Losing two of their most important players in George Kittle and Richard Sherman to injury, the 49ers could be vulnerable at each position on Sunday.
This surprised everyone. There was no indication in or after Sunday’s game that Sherman injured himself. Fortunately for the 49ers, his calf strain should be a short-term injury, and the team expects their star cornerback to return when eligible in Week 5.
49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh discussed if losing Sherman changes the defenses approach in the secondary:
“From a leadership standpoint, for sure. Just having him out there, his communication skills and all the things that he does, locker room adjustments on the field, communicating on the sideline. All those different things. That’s where he’s better than anybody in football. Obviously, there’s going to be some things that possibly can change. There might not be any changes. So, I’ll kind of leave the game plan part in my back pocket, but losing someone like Sherm, obviously it is a very big deal.”
There was hope that Kittle would be able to play through his knee sprain on Sunday, but ultimately the team decided to rest their star tight end against the Jets. Kittle is no stranger to knee injuries, he battled a similar injury last season, missing two weeks.
Without Kittle, the 49ers will likely turn to former pro-bowl tight end Jordan Reed, who they signed late in the offseason to compliment Kittle and offer a one-two punch at the position.
49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan discussed their comfort level increasing Reed’s role on Sunday even though they are slowly working him back from an injured season in 2019:
“Yeah, we do. I think it’s been like that really each week for him. I think he ended up getting about ten plays last week and that was about how much we planned on. If you go back to the practice weeks and stuff, it’s been about that. We’ve been building up to ten plays and we were going to build up a little bit more this week. It doesn’t change much with George out. I can give him a couple more opportunities, but we still have our other two tight ends out there. We’ll still carry three. Last week we were able to carry four, which is why we went short at receiver. I feel good with him and he’s getting better each week at it, getting healthier and getting more confident in what he’s doing in our offense.”
The 49ers will be without their starting cornerback and their all-pro tight end, Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target in the passing game.
In addition to those two, defensive end Dee Ford found himself on the injury report with a neck injury that has kept him out of practice for a couple of days.
Shanahan provided more information regarding Ford’s injury on Friday:
“No, yesterday was just neck spasms and stuff. So, we rested him. I know today he came in with some, so I know he’s meeting with guys and trying to make sure it’s safe and everything. So that’s why it’s questionable. Don’t have much more than that, but it’s Friday, so we’re just trying to play it slow here and see how it goes for the next two days.”
Take a deep breath, it’s the Jets
You know the saying “on any given Sunday?” Yeah, that still applies. This is not a guaranteed victory by any means. Having said that, the Jets are a bad football team. The 49ers, even without a few key players, are still a good football team. This is a very favorable matchup for the 49ers,
Offensively the Jets have struggled for years. The franchise has yet to supply quarterback Sam Darnold with enough viable weapons on offense. Really their only two decent weapons were Le’Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder, who will be inactive on Sunday. Darnold should have a tough time connecting with any of his remaining weapons on Sunday against this 49ers defense.
Defensively, the Jets don’t bring much to the table other than second-year defensive lineman Quinnen Williams and maybe safety Bradley McDougald. It’s a good defense to go up against when you’re missing your two best pass-catchers in Kittle and Deebo Samuel.
49ers gameplan on offense
There is some good news on the injury front. Last week the 49ers were without rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and starting center Ben Garland, two important pieces to the offense. Both players are off the injury list and will return in Week 2.
In Week 1, Garoppolo struggled to get the ball to his wide receivers, and the addition of Aiyuk will provide him with another dynamic playmaker.
Even with the depleted passing game, the 49ers should be able to do what they want offensively against the Jets defense. The game plan could consist of a heavy run attack, but i could see a pretty even balance between the ground and through the air. After a rough second half in Week 1, this could be a nice bounce-back game for Garoppolo.
There might be another wide receiver joining the 49ers offense this Sunday. On Tuesday, the 49ers signed veteran receiver Mohamed Sanu, who played for Shanahan on the Falcons. There is familiarity between the two, and he could play a role in the offense while Samuel is out until Week 4.
Shanahan was asked about Sanu’s role this week, and had this to say:
“If we have five receivers up, he’ll be up. We still haven’t decided that yet with everything going on. I know we had four last week, but we’ll see how it balances out this weekend. He’s been in the zoom meetings, watching all the installs and stuff, and we threw him out there today and he didn’t make any mistakes, was able to line up with confidence and Mo’s a pro. Mo works at it and it was good to see him today. I haven’t seen him for a while and I’m glad to have him here. I know if we go with five, we won’t hesitate to have him out there and I know he’ll be ready.”
Don’t be surprised if this game gets ugly early on. Despite the injuries, the 49ers are coming off a loss in a game they should have won, and they will be fired up.
Because the Jets lack both an offense and a defense, I predict this to be a lopsided game: 49ers 34, Jets: 14
Offensive prediction: Garoppolo throws three touchdowns, one to Aiyuk in his NFL debut.
Defensive prediction: Nick Bosa will sack Sam Darnold twice. Overall I think the 49ers defense gets to Darnold at least four times in this game. The Jets offensive line is not very good, even with rookie Mekhi Becton who they drafted in the first round this year.
- The Jets are without Le’Veon Bell at running back, which paves the way for a familiar face to start against the 49ers defense. Former 49er, and future Hall of Famer Frank Gore will start at running back for the Jets in Bell’s absence. Gore isn’t much of a threat for the 49ers defense at the age of 37, but it should be fun for him to play against his former team.