Behind enemy lines: Injuries on 49ers defense could help Bengals get back on track


The Cincinnati Bengals prepare for the San Francisco 49ers in an extremely important game for both teams’ playoff prospects. The last time these teams met it wasn’t close as the 49ers got away with it. Still, these teams are drastically different from those of a few years ago, so we’ve caught up with Tyler Austin of Niners Nation to get his point of view on this game.

Patrick Judis: The quarterback position is really interesting from an outside point of view. Can you sum up what fans are currently thinking about Jimmy Garoppolo playing in front of Trey Lance?

Tyler Austin: Feelings about the San Francisco quarterback’s situation have been and will almost certainly remain mixed until Garoppolo is no longer on the roster. There are certainly those who believe that Jimmy’s experience and comfort in the offense gives the team the best chance of winning games in 2021, so he should remain the starter. Perhaps the most important person to feel this is Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. It all seemed logical when the Niners pulled off their three-game winning streak against the Rams, Jaguars and Vikings.

However, the chorus of defenders were calmed by the eight-year-old vet’s performance last Sunday in Seattle, and his critics are now louder than ever. Obviously, Trey Lance offers dimensions that Garoppolo could never hope to unlock. It can take designed tracks, extend interrupted play, and stretch the pitch vertically. However, during his six quarter time in the NFL, the intricacies of the offense must have been greatly simplified for him, and when they weren’t, things seemed… shaky.

That’s not to say that he still doesn’t represent a rocket of potential and giving him the opportunity to grow this season wouldn’t be positive for his future development. The downside is, in theory, that it could limit the cap on a team that many believed would be able to win NFC West and compete for a super bowl, so Jimmy is it. That’s fine “in theory”, but the reality has painted a different picture.

Everyone agrees that Garoppolo is not in the group of quarterbacks who can elevate an attack or resume games. He’s a game manager and sometimes a pretty good one. But his limits look even worse this year, as the team shelled out three first-round picks to draft their replacement. He hardly ever throws deep passes and somehow tries let alone outside of the numbers.

Living above the middle midfielder is a dangerous game, and Jimmy tends to bet, as with his two most recent interceptions that got out of his mind. So, it feels like staying with Garoppolo limits the team’s overall chances as well, given that he is neutral at best and at worst his mistakes have to be actively overcome in order to win. All of this leaves the 49ers between a rock and a hard place for 2021.

I have given too much thought to this subject.

PJ: The racing game for the 49ers is still one of my personal favorites for their creativity. Can you explain what this team does well in the racing game?

TA: Kyle Shanahan loves to lead football. He may be the only coach, if not no one on planet Earth, to watch the Patriots’ three-pass performance on Monday Night Football and to feel jealousy.

The 49ers rely on the outside zone scheme to soften defenses and tire them out by working plays, as the name suggests, on the outside. It requires a ton of athleticism off the offensive line, which needs to be able to step into the open space and engage the defenders to create great lanes for the full backs to sneak in.

The blocking, by every group of field position, is really the team’s greatest strength. The commitment to win against their man on every down is what separates this racing game. Plus, having players like Trent Williams, George Kittle, and Kyle Juszczyk who are physical monsters who really like to destroy people helps, too.

After playing around with that idea for the past two seasons, they’ve gone full steam ahead this year and relied heavily on Deebo Samuel, a wide receiver by trade, in the running game. Considering the limitations of the quarterback position, this is absolutely the best way to get the ball out of one of the team’s most electric playmakers. During the winning streak, Samuel carried the ball 19 times for 181 yards and 4 touchdowns. This element of creativity was the key to the success of the attack.

PJ: What is the San Francisco defense doing well, and what have the teams done to exploit them?

TA: Hmmm, that’s a great question. What does this defense do well? I’ll say what this defense is trying to do right, and we’ll go from there. They want to lobby using only defensive linemen, expect coverage and support from linebackers, and the secondary not to get grilled on anything deep.

Unfortunately, due to a few injuries and a complete lack of depth, not everything went exactly as planned this year. The teams have always pursued Josh Norman or one of the other rookie / street free agents they signed to replace Jason Verrett. This often led to big plays or passing interference. Good news for you Emmanuel Moseley, the other knowledgeable corner who lined up in front of these guys, also came out this week with a sprained ankle so it could be the open season for Joe Burrow,

Likewise, the team has had issues with the indoor running game because they like to spread things out for better pressure. If you don’t have a large physical presence to eat up space, which is something the Niners lost when Javon Kinlaw had his ACL reconstructive surgery, it can leave some pretty large holes open. They have adjusted slightly, but this can still appear to be a problem on a fairly regular basis.

PJ: Who is the player that you think isn’t getting enough national attention that Bengals fans should know?

There are some good options here. DJ Jones may be one of the best indoor defensive linemen in the game, Kyle Juszcyck got as much press as a fullback which still isn’t much, but I’ll have to go with Azeez Al- Shaair.

Al-Shaair started the season as the team’s third linebacker, who would likely only have seen the pitch about 30 percent of the time. Last Sunday, he replaced Fred Warner as MIKE linebacker, recording 16 (!) Tackles and a key forced fumble in the process. He also narrowly missed an interception.

He got a big role in the second half of Week 1 when WILL team linebacker Dre Greenlaw fell, and he didn’t look back. A match did not go by without him making some kind of extraordinary effort. His speed and instincts jump off the screen, and the guy hits so hard he’s folded his mask against the Rams. Definitely worth looking for on Sunday.

PJ: What is your prediction for Sunday’s game?

I’m torn on this one. This is an Eastern Time Zone road game for a West Coast team, but the Niners are 9-1 in this condition since 2019. Most likely, the rookie running back Elijah Mitchell will be out with a concussion, but Deebo Samuel appears to be on track to play. The defense will be deprived of its first two corners, but Nick Bosa seems genuinely keen on sacking his former college teammate.

This one looks like a total failure, and just depending on how the Niners’ season has gone, like what kind of game they would win after they blew up what should have been easy versus collapse. Seahawks. But I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger feeling lonely, and these Bengals’ wide receivers are scary, so I’ll say …

Bengals 33 – 49ers 31

Thanks again to Tyler Austin for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about his work and coverage of the 49ers by going to Niners Nation.


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