SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The bye week couldn’t be coming at a better time for the 49ers. They are coming off a brutal 42-17 loss to the Broncos. At 4-3, they find themselves 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West, who have a win against San Francisco in their back pocket from Week 3.
The good news for the 49ers? Their schedule eases up significantly going forward. They played all four of the league’s one-loss teams in their first seven games, going 2-2 against Dallas (win), Arizona (loss), Eagles (win), and Broncos (loss). Those teams are a combined 21-4.
San Francisco’s next four games after the bye come against teams with losing records. It hosts the Rams (3-4), travels to New Orleans (2-4), plays at New York (3-4) and returns to Levi’s Stadium to play Washington (2-5).
That’s a favorable stretch, even with two straight road games, before playing Seattle twice in 18 days in late-November and December, sandwiching a trip to Oakland to play the Raiders.
It’s that three-game stretch the 49ers are hoping to be back full strength, which means Thanksgiving could be a realistic target date for NaVorro Bowman’s return to the field.
Let’s go through a bye week checklist for the 49ers:
Here are 49ers dealing with injuries:
CB Tramaine Brock (toe)
CB Chris Cook (hamstring)
CB Chris Culliver (hamstring, shoulder)
TE Vernon Davis (back)
NT Glenn Dorsey (biceps tear)
OL Dillon Farrell (ankle)
LG Mike Iupati (concussion)
C Daniel Kilgore (broken ankle)
RB Marcus Lattimore (knee)
DB Jimmie Ward (quad)
LB Patrick Willis (toe)
Kilgore is the only player that will not play again this season. And with the exception of Lattimore and Dorsey, who are on NFI and PUP, respectively, San Francisco is expecting all the players are this list to be available after the bye.
The 49ers were missing Ward and Brock Sunday against the Broncos. Their absences might have forced Brock into the lineup faster than the team would have hoped. Having been out since Week 1 with turf toe, Brock had a rough night. He allowed completions against Denver on all six of his targets in coverage, including two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. Had either Ward or Culliver been healthy enough to play, the team likely would have kept Brock sidelined allowing him two extra weeks of recovery getting him ready for the final nine games of the season.
Jim Harbaugh said Monday Brock came out of that game “Well, as far as I know,” regarding his toe injury.
Davis has not been himself since coming back from his back injury that caused him to miss Week 5’s win against Kansas City. He dropped three passes in his last two games. It has been a disappointing season riddled by injuries for the team’s talented tight end. He has not caught a touchdown pass since Week 1. It will be important for Davis, and the offense, to get his body right for the remaining two months of the schedule.
Willis has already said he plans to return after the bye week after missing Sunday night’s loss.
With Martin expected to take over for Kilgore at center, the 49ers will need Iupati to return to the lineup to help out the 20-year-old. Iupati wasn’t cleared for Sunday night’s game after leaving the win in St. Louis with a concussion, but he did workout on the field before the game, indicating he should be available to play against the Rams again after the bye.
DEVELOP PLANS FOR PLAYERS ON PUP & NFI
Bowman, currently on the physically unable to perform list, is eligible to begin practicing after the bye week, but the 49ers aren’t going to get him back to the field before he’s 100 percent ready. Michael Wilhoite has played well in his stead, which will allow Bowman to take his time before coming back.
San Francisco can wait until Week 12 before allowing Bowman to practice again. Once he does, he has a three-week window to be added to the 53-man roster or get shut down for the year. Considering he’s roughly nine months removed from his ACL and MCL tears, there’s a chance the 49ers could wait until December to bring him back to the field. They have the option of activating him to the 53-man roster and keeping him inactive if he’s not able to play by Dec. 14 against Seattle, which would be the end of his practice window if they wait until Week 12 to get him back to practice.
The bye week should allow the plan for Bowman to crystalize as he continues the final stages of his rehab.
Dorsey’s rehabilitation from his torn biceps has gone well. He’s eligible to be activated of the injured reserve/designated to return this list next week, which would be right around three months since suffering the injury in early training camp. The originally prognosis for Dorsey was 3 1/2 months, which means the 49ers might wait a week or two before adding him back to the active roster.
The defensive line is deep and has been relatively injury free to this point. Ian Williams has played well in Dorsey’s place, which gives San Francisco flexibility when it comes to Dorsey’s return. When he is back on the 53-man roster, it will be interesting to see how the team utilizes having two nose tackles that deserve snaps. Williams has played 40 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. The nose tackle is replaced by a defensive back in nickel and dime situations, which the 49ers have been in roughly 60 percent of the time.
Harbaugh has already outlined the plan for Lattimore, which is to resume practicing after the bye week to give him three weeks to practice to simulate training camp. Then the team will decide whether or not he deserves a spot on the active roster. A more detailed explanation of Lattimore’s situation can be found here.
Harbaugh said the coaching staff will work during the bye while the non-rehabbing players will not return to the team’s Santa Clara facility until next Monday.
Much of that work, Harbaugh said, will be devoted to self scouting. A large part of that will be going back and looking at what has worked and what hasn’t in the team’s first seven games.
One area that’s sure to get long look: offensive game planning.
The use of fullback Bruce Miller has been an indicator of the team’s successes in their first seven games. In each of the three games he played less than 40 percent of the snaps, the 49ers lost. In those games against Chicago (36 percent), Arizona (14 percent) and Denver (16 percent), coordinator Greg Roman developed pass-heavy game plans to combat defenses stacking the box and selling out against the run.
Each game featured different reasons for electing to go that route. The Broncos entered last week’s game with the league’s fourth-ranked run defense. Plus, it was more likely San Francisco would have to win a shootout against Peyton Manning than a low-scoring defensive struggle. Arizona had the top run D in 2013 and continued that strong play this year. Frank Gore averaged 2.0 yards per carry in those two losses (15 carries, 30 yards).
Roman and Harbaugh like to say they want to be balanced and multiple, meaning they can win a game by passing 40 times one week and running 40 times the next. That sounds good in theory, but even the players will acknowledge they're at their best when they’re running the ball effectively.
Food for thought: the 49ers have gotten 64 percent or more of their offensive production from their passing game in four games this season. They are 1-3 in those games.
That’s a broad stat that doesn’t factor in match ups, injuries to the offensive line and tight end groups, but it’s certainly something the 49ers coaches will look at during the bye. Their most balanced games when it came to run and pass production were their wins against the Eagles and Chiefs.
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