49ers offense will be fine after Deebo Samuel’s foot injury
By Peter Panacy
Losing Deebo Samuel hurts, but the 49ers offense should get by early in 2020 without him.
Make no mistake, the San Francisco 49ers are a worse team without wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the lineup than they would be with him available.
Samuel suffered a broken foot, a Jones fracture, during impromptu practices with teammates in Nashville, Tennessee last week. And the initial prognosis was he’d miss roughly 10 weeks of offseason time. Later analysis suggested it could be as much as 16 weeks, which would put Samuel in jeopardy of missing out all of September when the regular season is set to kick off.
To make things worse, fellow wide receiver Richie James suffered a broken wrist and could be out two months, too.
But Samuel is the offensive linchpin here, and he is expected to fill a crucial role in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, especially after the team was unable to re-sign veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders during the offseason.
Worry not, San Francisco fans. Shanahan’s offense will be just fine without Samuel.
This isn’t a long-term prognosis, of course. Rather it’s a proverbial “weathering of the storm” where the Niners have to get through, perhaps, four weeks’ action while Samuel is rehabilitating and getting his “football legs” back underneath him.
Shanahan will want his top wide receiver back. No questioning that. But the head coach will be able to navigate that storm fairly effectively.
September schedule is beneficial to 49ers
San Francisco opens up its 2020 campaign against the following squads:
- Week 1 vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Week 2 @ New York Jets
- Week 3 @ New York Giants
- Week 4 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Granted, back-to-back road games on the East Coast aren’t preferable. But they’re both at the same facility, MetLife Stadium, making any inter-game travel arrangements unnecessary.
But let’s look at the teams. A year ago, the Cardinals went 5-10-1 and boasted the league’s 24th-ranked rush defense. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s defenses, over the past four years as both a head coach and coordinator, have ranked 30th, fifth, 21st and 24th between 2016 and 2019, respectively. Sure, Arizona brought aboard some defensive reinforcements, including Clemson linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons. But Simmons is going to be tasked with covering the 49ers’ best player, tight end George Kittle, not focusing as much on stopping the run.
And the more the Niners run the ball against Arizona, the less Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be on the field. They can’t beat San Francisco from the sidelines.
The Jets were good against the run last year, ranking second at 3.3 yards allowed per carry. But they have a putrid offensive line, which ranked in the bottom three in both pass protection and run blocking last year, according to Football Outsiders. Rookie tackle Mekhi Becton can’t solve all those issues.
Simply put, San Francisco’s defensive front will win this game, wearing the Jets — sorry, Frank Gore — down when they’re on offense.
The Giants O-line wasn’t much better last season either, meaning the Niners defense won’t have too many problems getting the ball back to Shanahan’s offense. And while the going on the ground might be tougher against the Jets, the G-Men surrendered an average of 113.3 yards on the ground per game last year.
San Francisco will get some stats there.
The Eagles, meanwhile, could be a run-stopping threat to the 49ers. While they don’t have the immovable defense made famous during their Super Bowl win a few years ago, head coach Doug Pederson’s squad should give the Niners a tough time at home in Week 4.
That’s the challenge. But even if things go poorly for Shanahan and Co., a 3-1 start to the season wouldn’t be bad at all.
49ers were here before back in 2019
Fans seem to forget the Niners wide receiver corps wasn’t particularly great early last season. At least not before the Sanders trade from the Denver Broncos, which paralleled Samuel’s explosive second half.
Over San Francisco’s first four games, Shanahan’s offense boasted more than 300 receiving net receiving yards just once, the 49ers’ Week 2 drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals. And during that four-game stretch, not one of the Niners receivers went over 100 yards. The closest was Samuel in that same game in Cincinnati, which was defined far more by the 259 rush yards on the ground than by what Samuel or the receiving game did through the air.
The 49ers dominated three of those four games, the only close contest being Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It took some time for San Francisco’s receiving corps to get up to speed, then it was put to rest again during the playoffs.
So while it’s going to be necessary for the Niners to get Samuel back and healthy at some point, it’s not quite as critical for him to be back on the field right away in Week 1.
The 49ers have done fine without him before. They can do so again.