In Week 2, the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers, but the score was only 12-9 ... and it required a Russell Wilson to run a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter ... and it was at home ... and the Seahawks had Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Cliff Avril ...
So nothing is guaranteed this Sunday as Seattle goes to San Francisco to face the Niners again.
The 49ers also look significantly different than they did in Week 2, so to get some more info on the team, I sent David Fucillo of Niners Nation some Qs and in kind he gave me the As.
Q: Sounds like C.J. Beathard is getting another start instead of Jimmy Garoppolo, but I'm willing to bet that Kyle Shanahan doesn't mind having Jimmy G by his side the whole game just waiting for the opportunity to find out what his new QB can do. Have you seen anything in the last month that would lead you to believe that Beathard can be an NFL starter long-term, whether it's in San Francisco or somewhere else? What is your official stance on the Garoppolo trade: Good or bad? (without taking into consideration that we have no idea what kind of a starter Garoppolo will turn into.)
A: Since entering the starting lineup midway through the 49ers Week 6 game in Washington, Beathard has shown us a few things. The first is that he can take a beating. The 49ers offensive line has been inconsistent at best, and has had injuries result in some reserves getting playing time. That combined with Beathard's own occasional proclivity to hold onto the ball too long has resulted in him taking a lot of hits. He was only hit twice in the 49ers win over the Giants, and it is not surprising that was also his best game of the season.
The second is an offshoot of that in that he commands the respect of the locker room. He's stepped in and done what he can, and the veterans respect him for that. I think that was actually part of the reason not to switch to Jimmy Garoppolo this week. I don't think there would have been a locker room revolt, but if you want to establish a mentality of some kind of meritocracy, Shanahan almost had to start Beathard this week.
Given the state of quarterbacking the NFL, Beathard could develop into an adequate NFL starter. Like many quarterbacks, he would need to be surrounded by more talent, but with the right talent, I think you're looking at a guy who could make a living as a starter in the NFL. For example, say you swap him in for Matt Ryan last year, I think the Falcons are still a pretty competitive offense. Not nearly as good as they are with Ryan, but I think with some time learning Shanahan's offense, he can make enough plays to not hurt the team. For the time being though, he has shown that he could be a great backup option. If Garoppolo actually emerges as a legitimate starting quarterback, I honestly think the 49ers QB room suddenly turns into one of the better ones in the league. Again, that's if Garoppolo proves worthy.
Like most people, I was stunned by the Garoppolo trade. That being said, I like it. He very well could be a Matt Cassel type (maybe Rob Johnson is a better comparison for that kind of poor play after leaving a backup situation?). But Kyle Shanahan is a proven success as an offensive coordinator. I don't expect big things this year, and even next year will still be part of the building process, but I think this is one of the better situations Garoppolo could have entered. Sure, the talent is lacking around him, but he joins a great offensive mind, and a team with a ton of cap space and high picks to add to the offensive line and skill positions. All things considered, I think he is in a position to succeed.
Q: DeForest Buckner was recently left off of a list of "top 25 under 25" players, including an honorable mentions list with nine more names. Is this outrageous? What's a veteran comp for Buckner now that we've seen him for a couple years?
A: I was not all that surprised he was left of the 25 under 25 list. He had a solid but not spectacular rookie season last year, and he is not piling up traditional counting stats this year. He is among the NFL leaders in pressures from the defensive line, but that can get overlooked for a player who has not yet established a reputation in the NFL. If he was doing what he is currently doing in a few years, I think you'd see much more recognition in these kinds of lists. Like Pete Carroll said on Wednesday when asked by a 49ers writer if Russell Wilson deserved the MVP award, "I don't care." As long as Buckner keeps building on his game, the recognition will come.
A comp coming out of college that I think still sticks is Calais Campbell. This year, it seems like Campbell is getting a lot of end work in the Jaguars 4-3, but in Arizona, he lined up extensively as a 3-4 defensive end. Buckner played 3-4 end last year, and now is playing 4-3 defensive tackle. Buckner can play two or three positions on the 49ers defensive line, offering positional versatility similar in some ways to Campbell. The big comparison is how huge they are. Buckner stands 6'7, while Campbell is 6'8. Defensive lineman generally don't get that tall because of issues gaining leverage. That was a problem for Buckner at times last year, but we're seeing significant progress with that this year.
The big step for Buckner is getting that closing speed and finishing off sacks. He is getting pressure, he is just not closing the deal. And that is sort of indicative of the 49ers defense as a whole. Almost there, but missing that key last step. Buckner and others joined Michael Bennett in Hawaii last year, and I imagine will continue doing such work in the future. If he continues to improve like we saw from year one to year two, he's got the skills to be a perennial All Pro, and a cornerstone for a defense lacking in them.
Q: I don't think there's much point to evaluating coaches after only one season, let alone after 10 games. That being said, I don't think it's too soon to find out what tendencies of a coach or GM tend to excite or worry you. What's something that excites you and something that worries you about these three people: Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch, and Robert Saleh.
A: Kyle Shanahan: For the most part, it's hard to get too down on Kyle Shanahan's work as head coach. Considering how the Super Bowl went earlier this year, it's kind of fitting that the use of the run game at times leaves me worried. It has felt like the 49ers have forced the pass a bit too much, but the Giants game showed an ability to have more balance in that regard. And given the 49ers overall issues, it's not a huge problem.
Occasional play-calling questions aside, you can see this offense making strides under Shanahan compared to the past two years under Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula. This isn't even really a poor man's version of what we saw in Atlanta last year, or even the year before when they were first implementing the scheme. But we are seeing strides. We are seeing the kind of unique play-calling Shanahan brings to the table that can create mismatches. It's something that has me excited for when this team starts to add more talent, and hopefully figures out the QB question with Jimmy Garoppolo.
Robert Saleh: Kyle Shanahan initially pursued Gus Bradley to be his defensive coordinator, so Saleh wasn't even the first choice. And yet, for a first time defensive coordinator, Saleh is showing some impressive play-calling skills. I would say the best and the worst thing about him is his willingness to get aggressive. We see all sorts of blitzes from the front seven and the secondary. For a young unit, that can lead to them getting burned at times, and the biggest concern right now is probably the lack of consistent talent rushing the passer. Elvis Dumervil leads the team with 4.5 sacks, and nobody else has really been able to close the deal with regularity. I don't put the blame too much on Saleh at this point, but next year will be a bigger test for him with another influx of talent.
John Lynch: It's been a fascinating ten months since the 49ers unexpectedly hired John Lynch. The best part of his hiring for now has been his openness with the media. Former GM Trent Baalke was one of many NFL people who acted like he was guarding nuclear secrets when it came to dispensing information. Lynch's experience in the media has made him much more amenable to doing interviews and discussing the team. And what I like is that there appears to be no real BS. He's not going to give up all the details, but he will be honest and open in his responses. That won't make or break this team, but it buys him goodwill in the meantime.
Another exciting thing that could also prove worrisome is his (and Kyle Shanahan's) willingness to turn over the roster. The 49ers needed to make changes, and the front office has been incredibly aggressive in doing so. They have been willing to swing and miss on some signings, and they've been willing to cut bait when it is clear they either have a better option (releasing veterans Jeremy Zuttah and Jeremy Kerley during training camp) or know a player is not part of the long-term plan (releasing NaVorro Bowman). This could also prove worrisome if he remains aggressive and missing in free agency. The 49ers added some useful players this past offseason, but they had several misses. I am curious to see if he starts to pick his spots more, or if we see an overly aggressive approach.
Q: Is there a player on the roster who has completely surprised you, in that it seems he could have a significant amount of long-term value that you did not expect him to have?
A: The biggest surprise is probably defensive back Adrian Colbert. The 49ers spent a seventh round pick on him this past draft, and most figured he'd either be cut or play exclusively on special teams. Colbert was a corner coming out of college, but the team cross-trained him at safety. When Jimmie Ward got hurt and Jaquiski Tartt took over at free safety, Colbert started to earn some safety time. When Tartt then got hurt in Week 9, Colbert moved into the starting lineup. He broke his thumb against the Giants, but played the whole game, and has shown incredible range.
The 49ers are implementing a Seahawks style of defense, and the free safety needs to have significant range. Colbert has shown that, and honestly could push Jimmie Ward for the starting free safety role. I could see Colbert ending up in more of a dime role when Ward and Tartt are healthy, but it is entirely possible the 49ers found their free safety of the future in a seventh round pick. I think that qualifies as completely surprising.
Q: Rather than ask you another question about the 49ers, I want to ask you a question about the Seahawks and Rams. From an outsider's perspective, do you believe that Pete Carroll/Legion of Boom's window has passed? Do you think that this is the end of Seattle's run as an NFC power unless they can reboot next year? And do you expect the Rams to rule the NFC West for the next few years?
A: I don't think the Seahawks window has entirely passed, but they are at a crossroads. The Rams are approaching legitimate contender status, but even with the Seahawks injuries, I am not ready to completely hand them the NFC West. They won in Jacksonville and Dallas, but lost at home to Seattle and were thumped in Minnesota. They're a playoff team, but have not yet taken that next big step. That being said, for this year, I do think they end up winning the NFC West in part because I don't know that Seattle can overcome all the injuries to its defense.
For the bigger picture, if Chancellor, Sherman, and Avril return to full health next year, I think the defense coupled with Russell Wilson will keep this team in the NFC West picture. But as long as the Seahawks offensive line remains seemingly inconsistent, the Rams have a window of opportunity to take over the division with a strong 2018 offseason. This coming offseason is where the future of the NFC West could be decided. The Rams are looking good right now, but one year does not a divisional dynasty make.