49ers Vs. Lions: What Week 16 Told Us About San Francisco in 2016
By Jerod Brown
The San Francisco 49ers loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 16 was not in vain as the coaches and front office were able to evaluate key players heading into the 2016 offseason.
Although the San Francisco 49ers lost this in Week 16, general manager Trent Baalke was able to watch a few key players compete before addressing the roster this offseason.
Whether through injuries, matchup strengths or coaching decisions the coaches used the game against Detroit to alter playing time and give Baalke information for next year. If he was watching the same game as fans, there is little doubt of what Baalke should have learned for 2016 as the season comes to a close.
Ian Williams Needs to Be Re-signed This Offseason
Ian Williams is rapidly ascending into one of the top players on this entire 49er team. The 49ers signed Williams, a nose tackle in their 3-4 defense, as an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame in 2011.
Williams has started all 15 games thus far this season after limited playing time throughout his career due to injuries.
When fully healthy, Williams is one of the best nose tackles in the league, ranking especially high over the last five games. Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus recently tweeted a chart of Williams’ success recently.
The chart Deeney tweeted comes from December 23, prior to the 49ers most recent game in Detroit. However, Deeney shared the continued dominance of Williams in a tweet on Monday following the game and review.
After signing a two-year extension in 2013, Williams will hit the free-agent market this offseason and, as Deeney noted, will likely cash in on his impressive play. The amount of money and flexibility Baalke will have to use in the offseason can change, but Peter Panacy of Bleacher Report and Niner Noise recently discussed the figures moving forward.
Sep 7, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Ian Williams (93) on the field during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. San Francisco beat Dallas 28-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Baalke should have plenty of cap space to re-sign Williams this offseason, regardless of who Baalke targets elsewhere.
The 49ers, for the first time in a few years, have plenty of money to attract multiple big-name free agents but securing Williams should be a priority before looking around the league.
Due to his injuries, Williams should come cheaper than some of the other defensive tackles set to become free agents this offseason. In addition to being relatively cheap for his production, Williams recently said that he is focused on finishing the season strong, according to Chris Biderman of Niner Digest.
Baalke better be listening.
Williams is continuing to entrench himself as a top defensive tackle in the league and leader of this 49er defense. Baalke would be wise to lock him up sooner rather than later.
The Young 49ers Are Aggressive to a Fault
The 49ers may have finally received head coach Jim Tomsula’s message about wanting to attack.
I’m not sure that they understood exactly what he meant-most media members and fans were confused as well-but the team went out and played aggressively.
Unfortunately, that aggression led to seven pre-snap penalties against the defense for “attacking” before the ball had been snapped.
When Tomsula said attack, I hope he meant within the rules of the game. A young and inexperienced defense, full of players wanting to showcase themselves before the offseason, will have these moments of being jacked up to make a play. Fans have become accustomed to outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks committing a pre-snap penalty at least once a game so we will excuse his efforts Sunday.
He was just getting his mistake out of the way early.
While Tomsula will be happy to see his young guys eager to make a play, the penalties were a problem on Sunday and continue to highlight the inexperience of many players. Look at the names of the guys who commited penalties, courtesy of Bay Area Sports Guy Steve Berman:
"Gerald Hodges (NZI – 6:41 first quarter) Jimmie Ward (NZI – 15:00 second quarter) Arik Armstead (NZI – 0:26 second quarter) Tony Jerod-Eddie (NZI – 0:20 second quarter) Aaron Lynch (OS – 0:03 second quarter) Eli Harold threw in another neutral zone infraction in the fourth quarter. It was a true team effort."
Again, we will excuse Brooks — the fact he only committed one is surprising — but the rest of the guys on that list all have something in common. They are all young players on this team or guys that are finally having an opportunity to play meaningful snaps.
Defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie is the most experienced player on that list and he hasn’t started a game all season. In addition to penalties, missed tackles also highlighted the aggressiveness of this defense. Players came in hard and fast but failed to break down and secure tackles on Lions players like wide receiver Golden Tate and running back Theo Riddick.
The 49ers defense should’ve been prepared for Tate’s skill. Pro Football Focus recently tweeted Tate’s impressive ability to make people miss.
Ryan Sakamoto of NinerFans.com counted plenty of missed tackles from the 49ers on Sunday.
Safety Eric Reid and linebacker NaVorro Bowman are veteran players, but the rest of the names are guys wanting to make statements through their play.
Sometimes, the best play is the safe, secured tackle.
The young guys want to make plays, but they are unfortunately making them for the other team. In 2016, if this defense remains aggressive, fans can expect some of these mistakes to clean up. Any chance of a turnaround next season will hinge on whether these young players perform on defense.
The 49ers defense has routinely stood out in games this season. With young guys playing at every level, the inexperience was likely to show in the product on the field. Fortunately for Baalke, he has guys like Ian Williams on this defense to steady the course and provide leadership for young guys.
Baalke, if he remains GM next season, should look to re-sign Williams as soon as the season is over. The man will be valued highly by other teams and the sooner the 49ers sit down with him, the better. While the offense of this team has seemed inept for most of the season, the defense has shown flashes of potential moving into 2016.
The players are aggressive and want to perform well, knowing that there are starting positions available for the guys that produce.
Tomsula’s message to attack reached his team, albeit almost too much, and they will need to ride that aggression in 2016 if they hope to improve. Fans may be watching the beginnings of another impressive defense being built in San Francisco.
Next: San Francisco 49ers: An Autopsy of 2015 Season
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and ESPN Statistics unless otherwise noted.