COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers head into their Week 11 matchup with a 7-2 New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in pretty much must-win mode. They have fallen 2.5 games behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West and are only one game up on a plethora of teams for the final playoff spot.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, they will be taking on a hot Saints team, that put up 49 points and 40 first downs against the Dallas Cowboys last week. Let's take a look at some key injuries heading into this all-important game.Vernon Davis
This star tight end suffered his second concussion in as many seasons against the Carolina Panthers last week. Davis was practicing on Wednesday and will need to pass more tests before he's cleared to go on Sunday. Unlike Eric Reid's injury, which seemed a tad more serious, Davis was up and walking around after he suffered the concussion. He was said to be feeling fine in a non-contact jersey during practice.
It goes without saying that Davis is instrumental to San Francisco's success through the air. Colin Kaepernick has struggled a great deal when his No. 1 tight end hasn't been on the field thus far this season. If Davis is unable to go, the 49ers are going to be in a precarious situation come game time. Backup tight end Garrett Celek was also injured in their Week 10 loss to the Panthers and didn't practice on Wednesday. If both are unable to go, the No. 1 tight end duties will be left to rookie Vance McDonald, who had an important drop in the fourth quarter last week. McDonald is as athletic as they come, but has struggled with drops thus far this season.Eric Reid
According to Bill Williamson of ESPN, Reid is on pace to go in front of his hometown crowd on Sunday.
"Coach Jim Harbaugh said both players were symptom-free and cleared for non-contact work Wednesday. As long as they continue to pass NFL protocol tests, they should be cleared to play Sunday."
This is rather surprising considering that Reid's concussion was the second one he has suffered during what has been a rather impressive rookie campaign. Again, we won't know whether Reid will suit up until Saturday or Sunday.
If Reid isn't able to go, the 49ers defense is going to be in trouble against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Veteran Craig Dahl would take over the starting free safety job, which wouldn't inspire a whole heck of a lot of confidence in San Francisco's ability to stop one of the best pass-catching tight ends of the modern era. For his part, Dahl was absolutely horrid in coverage in his last full-time starting gig with the St. Louis Rams last season. According to Pro Football Focus, the veteran graded out as the 11th-worst safety in the NFL in 2012.
Even with Reid on the field, San Francisco would be forced to double him with coverage both underneath and over the top. Those assignments, while very much the same if Dahl starts, doesn't give me much confidence in the 49ers ability to stop Graham. This means that Patrick Willis and/or NaVorro Bowman would have to be at the top of their games in coverage. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus also grades Bowman out as the No. 1 overall inside linebacker in the NFL.Ray McDonald
Yes, San Francisco's injury list is rather lengthy at this point. Unfortunately for the team, McDonald's status isn't anywhere near as positive as Reid and Davis.
According to 49ers beat writer Matt Barrows, McDonald is pessimistic about being able to go on Sunday with a high-ankle sprain.
"The injury typically requires multiple weeks of rehabilitation and McDonald said he probably wouldn't play Sunday against the Saints. He was wearing a walking boot on Wednesday."
As one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the entire NFL, losing McDonald against a high-octane Saints offense would be bad news for the 49ers. Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs would likely see extended playing time if McDonald is unable to go. In addition, rookie second-round pick Tank Carradine would likely be active for the first time in his career. In terms of pure talent, the Florida State product may be San Francisco's best option in terms of getting into the offensive backfield from the front three. As it is, we really can't expect much from a player seeing his first action since tearing up his ACL with Florida State a year ago this month.Quick Notes
Rookie fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore will begin practicing with the 49ers next week , per Matt Maiocco. The talented young running back tore up his knee at South Carolina last season and isn't expected to play at all in 2013. This doesn't change with the recent news that he's going to be suiting up in practice. Instead, San Francisco is taking advantage of a three-week window that enables him to practice before it likely places him on season-ending injured reserve. Barring an injury to Frank Gore or Kendall Hunter, it appears that the first time we will see Lattimore is when San Francisco breaks in its new stadium in Santa Clara next season.
Rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton suffered a fracture right foot back in September and hasn't been on the field since. While he was able to do away with a walking boot earlier this week, it appears that the talented youngster is still a couple weeks away. Patton was extremely impressive during the preseason and brings a ton to the table in terms of talent. With that said, it's hard to envision him being able to make a huge impact when he does return. After all, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham will all be ahead of him on the depth chart.
Speaking of Crabtree, he's a good bet to return within the next couple weeks. According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, San Francisco isn't willing to rule Crabtree out for its Week 11 matchup with the saints.
That could be nothing more than gamesmanship from the 49ers as they prepare to travel to New Orleans. It's hard to believe that they would let Crabtree test his Achilles on the turf at the Superdome. It's more likely that he returns either next week against the Washington Redskins or at home against the St. Louis Rams the following week.
In any event, San Francisco needs all hands on deck when it takes on the Saints Sunday. The possibility of having Davis and Reid on the field should help the 49ers overcome what was a disastrous showing last week. In the off chance that Crabtree does return, Kaepernick will be getting his favorite target from a season ago back. That's absolutely huge as San Francisco make a run for a third consecutive playoff berth.
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.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- San Francisco
- New Orleans Saints