The Seahawks face off against the 49ers this week so I swapped scouting reports with our friend David Fucillo, editor for Niners Nation. Here's what he had to say about the Seahawks' rival and opponent this week. My questions in italics/bold, his follow.
1. Obviously the big news for San Francisco over the last few weeks is that Colin Kaepernick has been benched and it looks like it will likely end up being permanent. What was your impression of how Blaine Gabbert played in his first start? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Gabbert put together a decent performance against the Falcons. The offense remained fairly simplified, and he executed what he needed to. He primarily hit on shorter throws, but he hit some valuable deeper throws. He threw a pair of interceptions, but one was a perfect throw that Jerome Simpson did not haul in. It was sort of an Alex Smith type of game, where he made some nice plays, but generally was a solid game manager.
Gabbert's strengths are that he seems to be more accurate than Kaepernick. He does a better job in the pocket, where even if there is a little pressure, he makes his reads and quickly gets rid of the ball, rather than bailing on the play. I look at him as sort of Alex Smith lite to some degree, with Alex Smith's 2011 season being Gabbert's ceiling at this point. You can win football games with that, but he's not a guy who will carry the team. His second interception was entirely on him as he underthrew a pass to a covered player. He could stand to make some better decisions. The biggest concern is what will happen when he faces a serious pass rush. The Falcons got pressure, but he was not really under much duress. The Seahawks seem to bring a more significant pass rush, and his struggles in the past have come due to offensive line woes.
2. What is going on with the health of the 49ers running backs? Do you expect Carlos Hyde to play and if he can't, who should get the most action?
Hyde will not play on Sunday. He has not practiced or played since the last game between these two teams. He is dealing with a stress fracture, and rest requires upwards of a month and a half or two of rest. Reggie Bush was expected to get a lot of the carries in Hyde's place, but he tore his meniscus against the Rams. The 49ers signed Shaun Draughn and Pierre Thomas, and then waived Thomas and signed Travaris Cadet, giving them three backs along with Kendall Gaskins. Draughn got the work in Week 9 against the Falcons, rushing for 58 yards. That was actually a career high for him. I would expect him to get the bulk of the work this week.
3. What have you seen this season from the 49ers receiving corps? Do you like the Torrey Smith signing? What's going on with the young group of receivers? How has Anquan Boldin looked?
It's been a tough year for the wide receivers because of the weak quarterback play. Torrey Smith actually leads the NFL in yards per catch (21.4), but the team has not been going to him all that much. Gabbert is not a guy who throws a lot of deep balls, although he did connect with Smith on a great sideline fade. Smith's signing was better suited for Colin Kaepernick's arm, but obviously Kap is out of the picture at the moment (and likely permanently). For this year, it is kind of a busted signing to some degree, but I am still fine with it. Smith is a legit deep threat, and when the 49ers make the move to a younger quarterback, Smith will be a great weapon for him.
Like Carlos Hyde, Anquan Boldin has not played since the Seahawks game. He suffered a hamstring strain, and admits to coming back too quickly from it. He has been limited this week, and is likely a game time decision this week. He remains a solid possession receiver, but I honestly don't know what to expect between him and Gabbert when he gets back on the field.
Quinton Patton led the team with 70 yards against the Falcons, but he has never consistently emerged as a weapon. He is worth watching in this his third season, but he has not shown consistency that would make me think he will suddenly emerge. Jerome Simpson and Bruce Ellington are the other two receivers of note right now. Ellington handles a lot of the return games, and while he is a dynamic play-maker, he does not get much time with the offense. Simpson is a talented receiver with a lot of raw skills. He was suspended for the start of the season, but like everybody else, it is hard to know exactly what his role will be like with Gabbert at quarterback.
4. Is NaVorro Bowman back to full speed? How big of an impact has he had this year?
I don't know that he is quite at 100 percent, but he is making progress every week. Early in the season he was a little slow at times getting to ball carriers and his position. However, against the Falcons, he was all over the place and looking like the Bo of old. He is leading the team in tackles, and is a critical leader for a defense that saw huge turnover. The defense as a whole has started to come around, and Bowman has been a key part of that. The team's ability in pass coverage over the middle of the field remains problematic, but improvement is coming.
5. We're now over half-way through the 2015 season -- is this Jim Tomsula's only year as the head coach, or do you think he'll retain the job after this season (I know it's pretty early to be asking this, but I guess I'd phrase it: Do you think he's always been meant to just be a placeholder?)
I think Jed York and Trent Baalke viewed him as more than a placeholder head coach, but I think most 49ers fans figured he was never more than a short term option. One report said his job was safe if the 49ers were competitive the rest of the way, so you can take from that what you want. If they get blown out in Seattle and again in Arizona, who knows. I think Tomsula gets a second season as head coach, or at least the start of a second season. I think he is in over his head, but I also think York and Baalke went all in with him in their decision to get rid of Jim Harbaugh, so there might be some ego involved in keeping Tomsula around into 2016. Good times to be a 49ers fan!