Rams vs. 49ers: Top Takeaways from San Francisco’s Week 17 Effort
By Jerod Brown
The San Francisco 49ers won their final game of the season on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. The team finished the season at home in Levi’s Stadium for a crowd expecting changes. What did the 49ers play on the field tell us for 2016?
The dust of Sunday’s win against the St. Louis Rams has settled, and now fans are trying to digest the firing of head coach Jim Tomsula and the direction of the franchise moving forward. The San Francisco 49ers won their final game of the season to finish 2015 with a measly 5-11 record, contributing to the list of reasons for Tomsula’s dismissal.
In the coming weeks, the 49ers coaching situation will clear up as general manager Trent Baalke picks the next man to be compared to former head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Regardless of the choice that Baalke makes, the 49ers players gave the next man up a glimpse into the future with their play on Sunday. Here are the top takeaways from the 49ers 19-16 win in overtime versus the Rams.
Bruce Ellington Deserves a Real Opportunity on Offense
Wide receiver Bruce Ellington has been inconsistent, if nothing else, in his time as a 49er. The team drafted Ellington out of the University of South Carolina in the 2014 NFL draft. Ellington was a fourth-round pick and has primarily played a role on special teams.
“Coming in I thought I was young and thought I don’t need to stretch and I could just go out there and run but I realize that I can’t. I have to take care of my body.” – Bruce Ellington
This year, Ellington has been viewed as the man keeping Australian sensation Jarryd Hayne off of the playing field. Ellington has been the 49ers primary return specialist this season and held the role for stints in his rookie season.
Ellington has been successful when on the field, but has routinely been injured or inactive as he recovers from injuries. Whether he plays or not, Ellington manages to find a way to end up on injury reports.
In the beginning of the season, Ellington spoke with media members and explained that he hadn’t learned how to properly take care of his body. He also noted that Tomsula had intervened to encourage the young receiver to apply himself to the profession and his health. David Fuccillo of Niners Nation added some commentary in the preseason as the 49ers worked to determine who would be the primary punt returner.
Fortunately, Ellington admitted his mistake in preparation and may have turned the page on a young career filled with injuries.
Ellington’s skills as a punt returner are developing and have left some fans wondering why he remained the primary return man ahead of Hayne in an uneventful 2015 season. However, Ellington’s explosive ability is evident on offense and the 49ers new coaching staff would be wise to find a way to utilize him moving forward.
Against the Rams, Ellington had one catch and managed to make the most of it. The play showed an ability to separate as a receiver and also be an elusive runner to gain yards after the catch.
Ellington initially makes an impact in the passing game but often gets erased once the second half begins. NFL.com lists the 49ers receivers’ splits and the difference between halves is striking.
In the first half of games, Ellington caught eight passes for 101 yards this season. However, after halftime, he only has five receptions for 52 yards and one of those receptions was his 44-yard catch against the Rams.
If his catch against the Rams is dismissed, Ellington caught four catches for eight total yards in the second half of games this season. A majority of that disappearance can be attributed to offensive coordinator Geep Chryst but the trend isn’t encouraging.
Ellington is still young and has shown an ability to make plays when given the opportunity. The 49ers new coach should focus less on Ellington as a return man and more as a moveable piece to exploit holes in a defense.
The 49ers and Baalke will have to decide whether to keep Ellington on the roster for his third season in 2016. He deserves an opportunity as a complimentary piece that can adjust the formations of the offense.
His 2016 audition, which came in the form of a 44-yard catch, should be enough to warrant the chance for more playing time.
Eric Reid played like someone who may not play much longer
What I’m about to say may be slightly blasphemous and I understand that it will draw immediate reaction from fans of the 49ers. So, if you’re not sitting, you might want to.
49ers free safety Eric Reid played very hard on Sunday against the Rams. And that might be because it was the last game of a terrible season in front of fans who have had to watch the team fail faster than anyone thought possible.
But it may also be because he isn’t sure how much longer he will play.
Reid, who is now considered a seasoned veteran on this 49ers defense, has played well since being drafted with the 18th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. He earned a trip to Hawaii to represent the 49ers in the Pro Bowl in his rookie season and has generally impressed as an upgrade over former 49ers safety Dashon Goldson. Goldson is remembered for hard hits but often missed tackles in an attempt to blow guys up.
Reid’s job may be on the line for reasons entirely different than one might expect.
The 49ers talented safety has had concussion concerns for the majority of his career and could see his career cut short because of the violent nature of the game.
As we’ve seen from the recent retirement of former 49er Chris Borland and the hiatus of Anthony Davis, stepping away from the game to preserve his overall health is a reasonable discussion for Reid to have with his family and doctors.
Players are gaining access to more information about the trauma associated with playing in the NFL, or football in general, and Reid is no different. Having already suffered three concussions in a limited career, Reid could soon be another 49er that steps away to heal.
No fan would advocate that a high-quality player like Reid retire prematurely but Reid’s health comes far before football. Whether Reid eventually takes time away from the sport or not, his performance on Sunday was a strong end to the season.
The 49ers have two safeties in Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt that could effectively be the starters in the event Reid decides not to play anymore. Ward, drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft as a strong safety from Northern Illinois, has played primarily as a nickel corner for the 49ers in his two seasons.
After having a rough rookie season, Ward has bounced back and played very well down the stretch this year.
Regardless of how the 49ers decide to use Ward, the 49ers have invested three picks in the first or second round on safeties since Reid’s selection. With only two true safeties lining up in the 49ers defense, the team may be preparing themselves in the event Reid hangs up his cleats. In Sunday’s game against the Rams, Reid played aggressively and seemed intent on getting big hits throughout the game.
Jokes aside, every Reid tackle looked to be an attempted knockout. As a result, he missed a couple of easy ones.
Reid’s play could’ve been indicative of a player committing to play hard despite a lost season.
However, with his concussion history, and the increase in information for players, I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if Reid’s time with the 49ers, and football in general, is over much sooner than fans hoped.
Next: Tomsula Firing Gives Fans Reason for Hope
The win against the Rams on Sunday was a nice momentum boost into an offseason that will see another coaching change. The 49ers will undoubtedly lose players in free agency, but will gain new pieces for the coming season. With a top-10 pick and a new head coach, the 49ers will enter the 2016 season looking to erase the woes of the previous regime.
The play of the 49ers, particularly Bruce Ellington and Eric Reid, may be a sign of things to come in sunny Santa Clara.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.