The Seahawks have a huge game this weekend and host their most bitter of rivals to the CLink. To give you a scouting report on the state of affairs for the San Francisco 49ers, I talked to David Fucillo of Niners Nation. Here's what he had to say, and make sure you head to Niners Nation for more on the upcoming matchup.
1. Colin Kaepernick decided this week, after facing a lot of flack from the media, to open up a little bit and show a more jovial and personable side to Bay Area reporters. Do you think he decided that it's better for him long-term to take that tack with the media or do you think it'll be short lived? Further, do you think a different outlook in that regard could positively affect his play?
I think we see more of it moving forward, but I'm sure there will be some days when he is a bit shorter in his responses like before. Trent Baalke said he had spoken with Kap, but Baalke couched it in the phrase, "We talk to him, like we talk to all our players". I'm guessing they did specifically speak with him, and that was mostly Baalke just trying not to single him out. But clearly people have talked to him, given how quickly the change was. While I think the whole thing is kind of stupid, I do think it is in his best interests to play the game the media wants. And there really is nothing wrong with being polite and making everybody's life a little easier.
I don't know that I expect a dramatic change, but having a little less stress in his life very well could help him settle down a bit. He does seem a bit tight at times, so maybe removing some of that stress will change that. I don't know that it will necessarily prevent him from throwing to Brandon Lloyd's back shoulder instead of into Richard Sherman's wide open arms, but I can certainly hope for it!
2. How would you evaluate Vernon Davis' play this season? I've heard recently that he wants an expanded role in the offense - why do you think he hasn't he been a bigger factor?
I honestly don't know what to make of Vernon Davis this year. For much of the season, I thought the back injury he suffered early in the season was still an issue. That would explain his lack of involvement to some extent, and he hadn't really complained about it all that much. But this week he mentioned wanting more of a role, and that it was up to the offensive coordinator, which strikes me as kind of a passive aggressive assessment of blame. It could be entirely Greg Roman's fault, but the fact that Vernon came out and said that has me wondering if the back injury is actually the issue at this point.
Suffice to say, Vernon has not been good this year. Roman said he was blocking as well as ever, but PFF grading indicates otherwise. After the season I want to go back and look at Vernon's snaps and just see what it all looked like because every indication is that he is not performing well. And I would argue the lack of tight end production is a big factor in the offense's problems. The 49ers built their offense around two and three tight end packages, and with Vernon struggling, Vance McDonald hurt and now out, and nothing much beyond that, maybe that's one issue with the offense.
3. On defense, who have been the most surprising players, both good and bad?
Cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox have both been really good surprises for the 49ers. The 49ers had significant turnover in the secondary (they lost starters Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, and Donte Whitner), and there were a lot of question marks about the cornerbacks. Add in Tramaine Brock dealing with multiple injuries all season, and it would not have been a surprise to see the unit regress. And yet, Culliver and Cox have both been quite solid all season. Cox was on the national radar early due to an early flurry of interceptions, but Culliver has also stepped up. Of course, both are free agents after this season, so we'll see what happens with them moving forward.
Ahmad Brooks has probably been the only really "bad" surprise on defense. He reported to training camp overweight, and was slow out of the gates when the regular season got started. He was benched in one game for yelling at the defensive line coach, and then was benched this past week for missing a Tuesday meeting, and then being 20 minutes late to a Wednesday meeting. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Brooks was getting back in his good graces, so he would seem to be out of the dog house for now.
4. What's the injury situation looking like for the Niners right now?
It is fairly extensive, but seems to be improving. Right tackle Anthony Davis has missed the last three games due to a concussion, but he was back on the practice field in limited fashion this week. He seems to be progressing through the final stages of the concussion protocol, so there is a decent chance he plays on Sunday. Cornerback Tramaine Brock is dealing with a hamstring injury, but was back on the practice field. My guess is he does not play on Sunday as this week is the first time he has practiced since before the bye.
NaVorro Bowman was activated off the PUP list this week, but he is still just doing rehab work, and won't play. Glenn Dorsey was activated off the short term a few weeks back, and is back to practicing. I don't think we see him play either.
Last week, Marcus Martin and Chris Culliver suffered knee injuries. Culliver has been limited in practice, but looks like he will play on Sunday. Martin sat out Wednesday's practice, but was limited on Thursday. I think he'll play, but he might be more of a game-time decision.
5. I think the feeling for many Seahawks this week is that with the Niners' backs up against the Playoffs wall, and with the familiarity between the two teams, that San Francisco is a dangerous team to play right now, regardless of what has happened this season. What's your sense as to the mentality and morale of the 49ers right now?
Given all the drama swirling around this team, it's hard to tell exactly what morale is like. There has been a lot of talk about Jim Harbaugh losing the locker room, so it is possible morale is incredibly low at this point. In watching this team the last two weeks, there has been this feeling they are running on fumes, and just playing out the string. Of course, this could also just be my fan mentality that I am projecting onto them.
While the drama has to be somewhat distracting, I don't necessarily buy into the notion that they are quitting on the coach, or anything like that. The reason this team is not playing well is because the offense is abysmal. If the offense was even just a little bit more effective, this team probably could be at nine or ten wins. They have a championship caliber defense, but it is held back by what seems like a "lottery pick" offense. As complicated as the Harbaugh situation is, the 49ers struggles really should just be ascribed to an awful offense.
Big thanks as always to David for taking the time to answer my questions!
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