COMMENTARY | When Ray McDonald exited the San Francisco 49ers lopsided 34-3 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday night, there were concerns that his injury was major. He was replaced by Tony Jerod-Eddie, who recorded an interception, in the second half. This injury came just a few weeks after starting nose tackle Ian Williams went down with a season-ending ankle injury.
San Francisco received some good news when McDonald decided that he was going to play through the injury (partially torn biceps) and have surgery following the season, per the Sacramento Bee. With rookie Cornellius Carradine still at least a week or two away from seeing the field for the first time, the 49ers were are extremely thin along the defensive line. If McDonald had to miss significant time due to this injury, Demarcus Dobbs would have been the only reserve defensive linemen on the active 53-man roster.
Despite the announcement that he will be playing through the injury, San Francisco will have to plan for McDonald to take more time off than usual. This is where the imminent return of rookie second-round pick Cornellius Carradine comes into play. While the 49ers have been somewhat hesitant to play rookies during the Jim Harbaugh era, the Florida State product will be a great addition as a depth player. Reports from Santa Clara also indicate that "Tank," as he is called, is 100 percent and ready to go. This is stunning considering that Carradine tore his ACL in his final game with the Seminoles last season.
Looking over San Francisco's next few games, it should be in good shape with a limited McDonald. He'll be going up against Arizona Cardinals right tackle Eric Winston, who Pro Football Focus grades out as the 55th-best pass protecting tackle in the NFL through five weeks. Interestingly enough, this should help Ahmad Brooks in the pass-rushing aspect of the game. If McDonald is able to fill the gaps inside against less-than-stellar competition, Brooks will find open lanes to rush through on the outside and get to Cardinals' quarterback Carson Palmer.
San Francisco then takes on a Tennessee Titans offense that ranks in the bottom 10 of the NFL in pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus, before taking on a Jacksonville Jaguars team that traded away Eugene Monroe last month and lost rookie right tackle Luke Joeckel to a season-ending injury last week. Needless to say, that matchup in London heavily favors a streaking 49ers' team.
If the 49ers can get out of the next three weeks without any more significant injuries to the defensive line, they will be able to rely more on Carradine and fellow rookie Quinton Dial, who is also set to return to practice next week. That will give them much more depth along the defensive line for the stretch run. It will also enable them to rest McDonald so that he's ready to make an impact late in the season. None of this would have been the case if the underrated defensive lineman had opted for surgery.
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Niners Nation and was a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. His work has been published on CNN, Pro Football Focus and BR, among other sites.
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- Cornellius Carradine
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