49ers still have significant concerns despite recent hot streak

Kyle Pitts #8 of the Atlanta Falcons completes a catch over Ambry Thomas #20 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Kyle Pitts #8 of the Atlanta Falcons completes a catch over Ambry Thomas #20 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have been playing much better football as of late, winning five of six, but there are still potentially dangerous problems.

As we turn the page on another week of NFL action, we’ll reflect on the San Francisco 49ers impressive victory over the visiting Atlanta Falcons with the hope that kind of victory can be replicated in Week 16 on Thursday Night Football against the Tennessee Titans, and then again beyond over the remaining games through Week 18.

Despite the huge 31-13 win over Atlanta, along with the recent streak of five wins in six games, the Niners still have areas of concern that need to be addressed.

49ers running game must be hot, not cold

During San Francisco’s three-game win streak between Weeks 10 through 12, the team dominated the trenches and controlled the clock behind a pulverizing rushing attack. The 49ers were averaging over 150 yards per game with rookie running back Elijah Mitchell being responsible for most of that production.

Since Mitchell suffered a concussion, shoulder and knee injuries that kept him out of the lineup for two games, including Week 16 at Tennessee, the Niners struggled to find sustainability on the ground until third-year running back Jeff Wilson Jr. was thrust into the starting lineup and racked up 110 yards on 21 carries versus the Falcons.

This was a significant piece to the puzzle because it allowed San Francisco to fluidly execute its offense. Wilson, who’ll again be called upon to start with Mitchell out versus the Titans, has to maintain the same level of prowess shown last Sunday, which won’t be easy against a Tennessee defense allowing just 3.9 yards per rush attempt this season.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had another solid outing versus Atlanta, as he threw for 235 yards, a touchdown and finished with a final passer rating of 123.7.  The eight-year vet displayed his fearless gunslinger’s mentality while delivering pinpoint accurate passes.

With question marks surrounding the running back position, due to numerous injuries, the 49ers will need Garoppolo to stay on his current hot streak while continuing to evolve this intricate offense into a complete masterpiece.

Through Weeks 1 and 7, Garoppolo ranked 28th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks for passer rating during that span. However, Weeks 8 through 15 has the veteran sitting comfortably in the first place. San Francisco knows it has to find consistency on the ground as it gears up for a playoff run, but if Garoppolo continues his upward trend, perhaps the 49ers may find themselves riding a different wave come tournament time.

49ers biggest issue, and why it’s a problem going forward

The Niners defense is far from elite, but it has been notably good and seems to be trending in the right direction. First-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans doesn’t get enough credit for the job he has done with this unit, as the team suffered major losses on that side of the ball, and yet San Francisco is somehow still a top-10 unit in terms of yards allowed (4,505).

After losing No. 1 cornerback Jason Verrett early in the season to an ACL tear, the hits didn’t stop coming. The 49ers then lost defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, the No. 2 starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw and then their other starting corner, Emmanuel Moseley, for several games with an ankle injury.

It’s no secret how much the Niners are missing their respective services, but in light of their absences, San Francisco has gotten great production from the backups. Guys like Arden Key, Samson Ebukam and third-year linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair have all found ways to contribute throughout the season.

Perhaps the biggest weakness, one still must appreciate the way Ryans stuck with embattled rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas, who has been shoved into a starter’s role because of Moseley’s injury. Due to all of the aforementioned injuries here, the 49ers have to roll with the current stable of players while hiding one of its biggest defensive flaws.

Related Story: 49ers are wise to continue letting Ambry Thomas take his lumps

Looking back on his second career start versus the Falcons, Thomas was in a great position to make plays on the ball when the opportunities presented themselves. Perhaps some nerves and inexperience contribute to his miscues, so hopefully, the game will begin slowing down for him as he continues to adjust to life in the NFL.

We’ll see how much the rookie has learned in four days as the Niners prep for a pivotal Thursday night showdown with the 9-5 Titans.

It’s December, and the 49ers are still playing meaningful football. It’s such an impressive narrative to discuss considering the overwhelming adversity this team has faced all season.

The quest for six is alive and well but the journey is far from complete.

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