COMMENTARY | When it rains, it pours. Fresh off another late-game collapse and a second consecutive loss, the San Francisco 49ers are sitting at 6-4 and are tied for the final playoff spot in the NFC. The defending conference champions received another bit of bad news as their 23-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints reverberated around 4949 Centennial Boulevard in Santa Clara early this week.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, starting guard Mike Iupati suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee "and is expected to miss some playing time." The fortunate part of this injury is that it will not require surgery and Iupati is expected back prior to the end of the regular season.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, they will be playing for the playoffs over the next couple weeks and likely won't have Iupati in the fold during that span. It is a huge loss because he's been one of the best young interior linemen in the entire National Football League since being selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft.
Iupati turned in a stellar campaign in 2012, earning both Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors. According to Pro Football Focus, the Idaho product was the second-best run-blocking guard in the NFL last season. Iupati has also started 58 consecutive games to begin his career, a streak that will come to an end Monday night against the Washington Redskins. It is believed that nine-year veteran Adam Snyder will start in his stead.
Snyder, a former starter for the 49ers before spending 2012 with the Arizona Cardinals, is a significant downgrade. Pro Football Focus gave him the fourth-lowest grade among all NFL guards last season while with the Cardinals. Snyder became expendable when Alex Boone emerged as a surprise impact player last season.
The good news here is that San Francisco will be taking on a Redskins defense that has been downright atrocious this season. They rank 30th in scoring defense at 31.1 points per game, 28th in overall defense and 26th against the pass. Even with Snyder forced to take the field in lieu of Iupati, there is no reason to believe that the 49ers can't move the ball against this dreadful defense.
Depending on how long Iupati is out, his injury could become a larger issue down the stretch. San Francisco will take on significantly better defenses within the division over the next two weeks when it hosts the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks after taking on Washington this week. If Iupati is unable to go against those two teams, San Francisco's already struggling offense may continue its downward trajectory.
Both St. Louis and Seattle have been good against the pass this season, which indicates that San Francisco will have to run the ball against them. Potentially losing its best run-blocking linemen in what are going to be must-win games simply doesn't bode well for its offense.
With that said, it's going to be one step at a time for the 49ers. Their offense needs to get back on track against a below-average unit this week and put a win on the board prior to worrying about the remaining five regular season games. After all, Iupati's injury really shouldn't impact the 49ers too much against Washington simply because of the level of talent that they have along the rest of the offensive line. If Frank Gore struggles getting it going this week, even without Iupati in the fold, San Francisco has a lot more to worry about than an injury to one player.
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called "Football Debate Central" with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets. He's also been on ESPN Radio, NBC Radio and numerous other radio outlets.
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