49ers' 3 Biggest Concerns Heading into NFL Week 15

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 15, 2021

49ers' 3 Biggest Concerns Heading into NFL Week 15

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers are as comfortable as a 7-6 team could be entering Week 15 of the NFL season.

    Week 14's win over the Cincinnati Bengals gave the 49ers a one-game advantage over five 6-7 teams in the NFC wild-card race. San Francisco is in great shape to land a playoff spot because of its weak closing schedule. 

    San Francisco's biggest concern going into the final four weeks is its health. Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Elijah Mitchell and Jeff Wilson Jr. have all missed time at points of the season. 

    Samuel and Kittle featured in starring roles in Cincinnati, but the 49ers did not have their full complement of running backs available with Mitchell out. 

    The 49ers can get healthy while generating more confidence in their clashes with the Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans

    If they take care of those games, the 49ers may not have to worry about their playoff positioning going into the Week 18 clash with the Los Angeles Rams

Health of Top Players

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    One injury to a star player could derail San Francisco's Super Bowl chase as a wild-card team. 

    The 49ers went 1-2 without George Kittle, lost to the Seattle Seahawks without Deebo Samuel and they are 0-3 when they do not run for 100 yards. 

    If Kittle, Samuel or any of the top running backs are taken out of the postseason equation, the 49ers could have a much harder time earning a victory.

    The potential to rest those important players still exists with a one-game lead in the wild-card race. San Francisco could win its next three games and potentially be two games ahead of everyone by Week 18.

    San Francisco needs to be one game ahead of the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles entering Week 18. The 49ers own head-to-head wins over both teams and would finish above them if they all have the same record. 

    The 49ers can take care of the Atlanta Falcons' potential threat in Week 15, so all they need is for the Washington Football Team to lose another game and that opens up a clear path to clinching the No. 6 seed in Week 17.

    If that happens, the 49ers could avoid any freak injuries and rest up their squad against the Rams in Week 18. That game might not mean anything to the Rams if they can't catch the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West title race. 

Rushing Attack Being Shut Down

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Two of the three NFC division leaders have held the 49ers under 100 rushing yards this season. 

    The Green Bay Packers limited the 49ers to 67 rushing yards in Week 3, and the Arizona Cardinals held them to a season low of 39 rushing yards in Week 9. 

    Seattle also limited the San Francisco ground attack in Week 13 by holding it to 71 yards and forcing three turnovers. 

    All three of those defeats have similar traits. The 49ers were held under 75 rushing yards, committed multiple turnovers and gave up over 30 points. 

    Arizona and Green Bay both have a firsthand game plan that thrived against the 49ers, and the Los Angeles Rams should have enough familiarity with the system to contain the rushing attack. 

    The Micah Parsons-led Dallas Cowboys front seven has the potential to shut down the 49ers ground game, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL.

    Kyle Shanahan is smart enough to tweak the rushing scheme to avoid a low ground total, but if that unit is shut down, the team could be headed for a wild-card round exit. 

High Point Concessions in Losses

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    San Francisco's other concerning season-long trend is a 1-5 record in games in which it gave up 28 or more points. 

    San Francisco's only win in that situation was the 41-33 Week 1 victory over the Detroit Lions. The NFC North side mounted a late comeback in a game that was over before the fourth quarter. 

    Three of the four teams that posted high totals versus San Francisco's defense are likely playoff bound. The Cardinals and Packers both hit the 30-point mark, while the Indianapolis Colts defeated the 49ers 30-18 behind a massive night out of Jonathan Taylor. 

    The 49ers are 6-1 in contests in which they gave up fewer than 28 points. Wins over the Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals are included in that positive trend. 

    San Francisco's defense has played better of late. It held the Jacksonville Jaguars and Rams to 10 points each, and it kept the Bengals in check for three quarters on Sunday. 

    If the defense continues to avoid high concessions, it can flip the field and allow the run-heavy offense to dominate the time of possession battle.

    That is the ideal strategy for the 49ers to follow, and they have a few more opportunities to perfect it before the postseason begins.