6 Burning Questions Facing the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2015

6 Burning Questions Facing the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8

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    Burning question No. 1: Will the San Francisco 49ers start slow on the road again Week 8 when they face the St. Louis Rams?

    So far this season, San Francisco has played on the road three times and has been outscored 73-16 during the first half of those games. And each time, the Niners came out sluggish and flat and then played better in the second half.

    Playing hard after halftime isn’t good enough. Bare minimum, we expect teams to play hard for 60 minutes, even on the road.

    Can the 49ers do the bare minimum?

    Here are five more burning questions facing the Niners in Week 8.

Can Jimmie Ward Cover Tavon Austin Man-to-Man?

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    Former 2013 first-round pick Tavon Austin is the Rams’ best receiver. He leads the team in catches with 20 and, when targeted by quarterback Nick Foles this season, Foles’ passer rating is 108.0, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Austin has been lining up all over formations this season, not just in the slot as he used to the first two seasons of his career. But when he does line up in the slot, he will face Niners’ nickelback Jimmie Ward, who struggles in pass coverage.

    This season, Ward has allowed a completion percentage of 74.1 and a passer rating 112.6, per Pro Football Focus. The Niners probably will have to double-cover Austin over the middle.

Will Jaquiski Tartt Bite on Another Play-Action Fake?

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The very first play after veteran safety Antoine Bethea injured his shoulder in Week 7, the Seattle Seahawks attacked Bethea’s replacement, rookie Jaquiski Tartt, with a play-action pass.

    Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson faked a handoff, and Tartt bit. So, Wilson threw over Tartt’s head to wide receiver Tyler Lockett for an easy touchdown before halftime.

    This week, the 49ers placed Bethea on the injured reserve list, which means Tartt is now the Niners starting strong safety.

    The Rams probably will attack Tartt just like the Seahawks did. St. Louis has a good running back—Todd Gurley—and the league's lowest-ranked passing game. So, they need play action to move the ball through the air.

    Can the Rams make Tartt bite?

Will Colin Kaepernick Continue to Play Well Against the Rams?

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    Billy Hurst/Associated Press

    It doesn’t seem Colin Kaepernick ever will figure out the Seahawks’ defense, but at least he owns the Rams.

    In six career games against St. Louis, Kaepernick has posted a passer rating of 102.7 and thrown zero interceptions. The Rams cornerbacks—Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson—never have been able to cover the Niners receivers, whether it has been Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree or Brandon Lloyd.

    Both Jenkins and Johnson are aggressive—bordering on overly aggressive—and struggle covering double moves. So, expect the Niners to call a lot of those on Sunday.

    Will Kaepernick hit the open receivers, or will he hold the ball and get sacked?

Will Offensive Coordinator Geep Chryst Stick with the Under-Center Passing Game?

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    Colin Kaepernick is a better quarterback when he’s under center than when he’s in the shotgun or the pistol.

    His career passer rating under center is 96.7, while his career passer rating not under center is 85.3. And the difference is even more dramatic this season—91.3 under center; 79.7 in the shotgun or pistol.

    Play action is a bigger threat when the quarterback is under center, and Kaepernick depends on play action. Also, the quarterback doesn’t have to take his eyes off the defense when he drops straight back from under center. When he’s in the shotgun, he must look down for a split second to catch the ball.

    Kaepernick needs as much time as he can get to survey the defense. Will offensive coordinator Geep Chryst give Kaepernick that time? Will Chryst stick to the under-center passing game?

Will Colin Kaepernick Get Benched at Halftime If He Plays Poorly?

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    What will happen if offensive coordinator Geep Chryst scraps the shotgun plays, keeps Kaepernick under center and Kaepernick still plays poorly?

    Kaepernick could be playing for his job on Sunday. He didn’t lose it last week, even though he played terribly against the Seahawks. But he usually plays terribly against them. No one expected Kaepernick to be great.

    This week, Kaepernick will play a team he normally dominates. The Niners probably expect Kaepernick to play well. If he doesn’t play well and the Niners are losing big at halftime yet again, will the coaching staff finally bench Kaepernick?

    They may have to.

    Stats are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise. 

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