The 49ers have some very good players. Their defensive line is stacked with first-round draft picks, many of whom are playing like first-round draft picks.
But I have come to the conclusion over the past year-and-a-half that the best player on the team is tight end George Kittle.
The 49ers will not have the services of their best player on Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks due to knee and ankle issues. And that leads to a lot of questions in the 49ers Mailbag about how they plan to approach this game.
If Kittle doesn't play does WR Goodwin become active and 49ers play more 4 wide type of offense?
— Colin Ashby (@Cashby2233) November 9, 2019
Goodwin had a good week of practice to earn his way back into the picture for the 49ers. He missed one game due to personal reasons, then with a quick turnaround he was a healthy inactive for Week 9 against the Cardinals.
This will be a weekly decision for the 49ers' coaching staff. They do not figure to have all six receivers active, so there will be fierce competition to determine which receivers are active for games. The 49ers' receivers are Goodwin, Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne and Richie James.
There are a lot of different ways the 49ers can go on Monday -- and in subsequent weeks. Goodwin will be active against the Seahawks. That could mean that James sits out, and Pettis will return punts for the first time this season.
Do the 49ers have to change their offensive game plan if Kittle isn't playing? Or will they expect Dwelley and Juice to fill in his role.
— Drew Taylor (@SactownNinerFan) November 9, 2019
Kittle will not play, but I don't know that they have to alter their game plan – other than they will look to spread the ball around a little more. After all, Jimmy Garoppolo will not have the luxury of looking for Kittle on third downs.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk will be back. Ross Dwelley will continue to see significant playing time, as he did in Juszczyk's absence. But Dwelley will be the player primarily responsible to filling in for Kittle. Juszczyk will line up in the backfield as the lead-blocker and could be utilized as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, too.
Is a Garrett Celek return possible with the injury to Kittle?
— Pensanity(8-0) (@BigPapiPena) November 9, 2019
Yes, it certainly looks as if Garrett Celek will be activated for the game after a good week of practice. The 49ers want three tight ends active for the game, and Celek appears ticketed for to be in uniform Monday night, along with fellow tight ends Dwelley and Levine Toilolo.
Celek returned to practice on Tuesday after being on the physically-unable-to-perform list following back surgery in June. He appeared to prove to the coaching staff that he is capable of stepping in immediately and making an impact.
Should the 49ers look for Dez Bryant to get another reliable pass catcher now that Kittle is having troubles with injuries?
— Eddie Juarez (@ejuarezoc) November 9, 2019
Not at all. Bryant, 31, has not played since 2017. He sustained a torn Achilles almost exactly one year ago in his second practice with the New Orleans Saints.
The 49ers have more than enough options at wide receiver, so in the middle of the season, they don't need to add an older player who's coming off a serious injury who has no previous experience in this offense.
With the log jam at receiver is it realistic that the 49ers will bring Jalen Hurd back off IR when he is healthy?
— Chris Ancheta (@Islandsurfah427) November 10, 2019
Jalen Hurd is getting very close to the point where he can return to practice after going on injured reserve with a stress reaction in his back.
The 49ers had hoped to get slot receiver Trent Taylor back this season. He could have been a difference-maker for this offense. But Taylor, at last sight, was using a crutch for support after undergoing another procedure on his right foot. He is likely out for the remainder of the season.
Hurd can return to practice as early as this week. If he shows that he can be an asset to the offense and give the passing game a quality for Shanahan to exploit, the 49ers will activate Hurd for the final stretch of the regular season.
With the troubles we've been having at stopping the run, especially on opening drives, what kind of adjustments can the Niners make to contain a guy like Chris Carson? We know Russell will be a handful already, and it feels like Arizona again, but more challenging for the D.
— Game Agent ET (@GameAgentET) November 10, 2019
This is the one area where the Seahawks appear to have an advantage.
The 49ers' scheme is predicated on being aggressive and getting to the quarterback. That opens the door for opposing offenses to get some yards between the tackles on the ground.
Also, the 49ers could be vulnerable in the middle with rookie Dre Greenlaw taking over at inside linebacker for veteran Kwon Alexander, who is out for the season with a torn pectoral.
The L.A. Rams, Washington and Arizona came out determined to run the ball on the 49ers. Those teams had success before getting away from their running games.
Seahawks running back Chris Carson will provide the 49ers' run defense with a big challenge. Will Seattle be stubborn and stick with the run game? The 49ers' front seven must be disciplined and hold Carson's yards to a minimum on first and second downs in order to get after Russell Wilson on third-and-long situations.
If the 49ers do a decent job against the run, their pass rush should be able to tee off on third downs.
Half way through the season and everything in niner land seems to be all smiles. Was there any substance to the rumors Kyle and John were having a troubled relationship?
— Mark (@LBRpharcyde) November 10, 2019
I did not see or hear anything before that report came out. And I have not seen or heard anything since.
Recently, I asked around about 49ers general manager John Lynch. I wanted to know how much he goes on the road to scout college prospects during the season. My question had nothing to do with his relationship with Shanahan. I was just curious how Lynch manages his time during the season.
What I was told is probably the biggest indication that there is no friction between the men -- just the opposite, in fact.
I was told that Lynch will basically only go to college games in the Bay Area or near wherever the 49ers are playing because Shanahan likes to have Lynch nearby.
As the head coach and engineer of the team's offense, Shanahan leans heavily on Lynch to help him deal with a lot of matters that come across his desk. Shanahan appreciates and values the support he receives from Lynch.
I have seen plenty of coach-GM relationships where the head coach does not want the GM around ... and vice versa. This is not one of those situations. That is probably all you need to know about their relationship.
If either team has a one-game lead going into Week 17, what's the tiebreaker?
— Scott Hansen (@MKEMovieMan) November 10, 2019
The No. 1 tie-breaker among teams in the same division is head-to-head. That's what makes this game so important for the 49ers on Monday night at Levi's Stadium. After all, if the division is unsettled heading into Week 17, the Seahawks have the major advantage of playing that game at home.
This is the order of tie-breakers to determine who wins the NFC West, if two teams finish with the same record:
1, Head to head;
2, Record within the division;
3, Record in common games;
4, Record in games against NFC opponents;
5, Strength of victory;
6, Strength of schedule;
7, Better ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed;
8, Better ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed;
9, Better net points in common games;
10, Better net points in all games;
11, Better net touchdowns in all games;
Then, of course. . .
12, Coin toss.