We spoke with David Fucillo, managing editor at Niners Nation, about the state of affairs for the San Francisco 49ers, the Lions' opponent on Sunday for the final Detroit home game. This has certainly not been a kind year for the Niners, and we tried to cut through all the myriad issues and tidbits in five short questions. Enjoy.
1) Uh...what is...uh...going on with the coaching staff and the front office? Did I see this correctly that general manager Trent Baalke is down there coaching during practices? Who's running this show? Is there much faith among the fanbase that ownership and the front office can get this thing salvaged and turned around quickly?
I'm not entirely sure who is running what! Well, I suppose it's safe to say Trent Baalke is running a lot of things. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said that all his previous GMs had observed practice frequently. He did not specifically say teach technique, but obviously he's not going to call out his GM. It's odd, but the 49ers are an odd team.
There is little faith with the current crew. I do think Trent Baalke can be a capable general manager, but he has had some misses lately. He's looking better in the 2014 and 2015 drafts, but he missed in free agency this year. As for head coach Jim Tomsula, the concerns about him being a yes-man for the front office seem to be true. He comes across as a nice guy people like, but he's not a good head coach. He's a great defensive line coach, but as a head coach he just seems out of his element. The 49ers front office thinks they can win with him, and seem willing to give him more time due in part to all the roster turnover this past year. In reality, more time is not going to help him turn this thing around. Instead, he'll probably get canned midway through next season, and the team will remain sunken. Good times!
2) Blaine Gabbert. Colin Kaepernick. I'm still shocked we're having this conversation about the 49ers quarterback and it's manifested itself like this. What can you tell us about the situation? Who's likely to remain moving forward?
Colin Kaepernick is likely going to be released or traded this offseason. People have mentioned a lot of the usual suspects as potential destinations, including Philadelphia and Cleveland. He did not take the step forward a lot of people wanted, and while blame can be spread far and wide, the 49ers seem content just moving on from him.
Gabbert is not the historically bad QB we saw in Jacksonville, but his ceiling is limited. Think 2011 Alex Smith, give or take. With a great defense, offensive line and run game, you can do things with him, but he is not a guy you want to rely on to carry the team. That being said, I fully expect him to be starting Week 1 of next season. I do think the 49ers draft a quarterback in the spring, but I think it is a draft pick that will sit most of his rookie year behind Gabbert.
3) The 49ers are, by DVOA, the worst offense in terms of efficiency. What do Lions fans need to know about this offense that the numbers don't tell? Are there any weapons the Niners can turn to in order to get up the field reliably?
Anquan Boldin remains a solid threat. He is one catch away from 1,000 for his career, so that's pretty cool. He is showing his age a little bit, but he remains a solid possession receiver. Torrey Smith has the wheels to go over the top, but the 49ers just don't take nearly as many shots downfield as fans would like. Running back Shaun Draughn has been solid off the street after Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush got hurt, but he injured his knee, so the run game is in flux. Tight end Blake Bell is a guy to watch. He ended up with more snaps than starter Vance McDonald this past week, and is a guy to watch.
Other than that, the numbers tell you just about all you need to know. They have yet to score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter of a game. It's not a good offense. Smith and Boldin can still be dangerous, but this offense cannot find anything close to consistency.
4) Jimmie Ward's been very highly rated by Pro Football Focus for the past few weeks. Where do you see him fitting in on Sunday? What does he bring to the table that would allow him to challenge Golden Tate and/or Calvin Johnson?
Ward has been the 49ers nickel back since being drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. A foot injury cost him half of last season, but he's been picking up momentum this year. He primarily covers the slot receiver, and stats indicate Golden Tate is that guy. He is a fairly aggressive player, and a solid tackler. PFF stats indicate Tate is likely to get a decent number of WR screen opportunities. Ward seems suited to contain that from a tackling perspective.
I definitely don't want to see him against Calvin Johnson. Ward's worst game in his rookie season came against Brandon Marshall, who bullied his way to three red zone touchdowns against Ward. I suspect the 49ers put Dontae Johnson or Tramaine Brock on Megatron. Brock is the 49ers' No. 1 cornerback, but Johnson has more length to potentially deal with Megatron.
5) God knows every time I talk to San Francisco Giants fans they brag about the garlic fries at AT&T Park, so what's the best snack at Levi's Stadium? While we're at it, what's your prediction for the game?
The best food is in the Bourbon Steakhouse on the east side of the stadium. The pre-game tailgate is only available to people who paid a pretty penny for season-long access. I had a chance to try it out last Thanksgiving, and it was spectacular. San Francisco-based chef Michael Mina is a long-time 49ers season ticket holder and helped create it for the new stadium. He does some great work.
This is a tough game for prediction purposes. The 49ers have been bad on the road, with their most recent road loss coming against the Cleveland Browns. However, the 49ers have a road win over the Chicago Bears, and a close loss to the New York Giants. I feel like this game could end up like the Bears one, with the 49ers hanging around and potentially getting the outright upset late in the game. The Lions are coming off a big win at New Orleans, and I wonder if they might be a little lackadaisical coming off that plus Christmas. They very well could blow out the 49ers, but I have a feeling the 49ers cover the 9.5-point spread, and maybe even spring the outright upset.