Our Interview with the Enemy series continues this week with Tyler Austin from Niners Nation. Tyler joins us to answer a few quick questions before the San Francisco 49ers face the New Orleans Saints in Levi’s Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
TH: Just a few months ago, it looked like Jimmy Garoppolo’s time was officially done in San Fran but then in Week 2, Trey Lance gets hurt and is out for the season. Now the 49ers are sitting at 6-4 and 1st in their division, if Jimmy continues his success, is there any chance that you could see him back next season or will he finally move on?
TA: You hit upon the million-dollar question for the future 49ers. I think the key here is “continued success.” It’s no longer up for debate, Jimmy Garoppolo has played better this season than any other time in his career, and you could make the argument that he’s looked like a top 10-12 quarterback in the league during their most recent run of wins. It’s honestly a stunning development for a guy a lot of fans were accustomed to being the weak link on a championship-level roster. How did someone entering year six of his time in a system make such a leap? Well, most importantly, he’s limited his mistakes, rocking a career-low 1.5% interception percentage and riding the first three-game interception free streak during his time in San Francisco. By the way, the Niners are 14-0 when he doesn’t throw a pick. Furthermore, he’s commanded the offense confidently, distributed the ball to his array of weapons consistently, and turned out of structure plays into positive results more regularly. With all that in mind, let’s return to the idea of “continued success.” I believe no matter how well Jimmy plays from now until February, the team wouldn’t entertain attempting to re-sign him unless the season results in a Super Bowl victory. Anything short of that would make for too clean a break on both sides. Obviously, last season ended in the NFC Championship game and yet Jimmy remained, but the situation heading into the off-season looked radically different. His contract ran through 2022 and his shoulder surgery cratered his trade market. The Niners hate giving up something for nothing and knew they could get value for him one way or another. It just so happened they didn’t get draft capital, but instead a re-worked one year deal that turned out to save the season. However, with his new contract, Jimmy can leave to pursue the biggest deal anyone’s willing to cut him and the Niners can feel good about banking a compensation pick. Even in the case of a Super Bowl ring and a willingness on the part of the Niners’ front office, I’d be surprised if the feeling was reciprocated. Jimmy essentially bet on himself with this contract, deciding to take less money to test the free agent waters after backing up Lance, hoping he could garner a decent contract based on past results. Well, considering his current level of player, it worked out better than he could’ve ever imagined. The Niners might not be able to afford what another QB-needy team will shell out for his services, even if they really wanted him.
Would his exit go down easily amongst the fan base? Probably not. Would Jimmy even want to return to a team that already drafted his successor and took the team away from him once? I doubt it. Would I guarantee Jimmy won’t be on the Niners next year? To channel my inner Kyle Shanahan, I can’t guarantee anyone in the world will be alive on Monday, so anything’s possible.
TH: The Niners offense had been struggling to score in the red zone, whether it was drops or simple miscommunication. After crushing the Cardinals on Monday night, do you think this was the week everything finally clicked?
TA: Immediately after trading for Christian McCaffrey, the Niners hit their season nadir when the Chiefs came to town and dusted the team in all three phases of the game. Since that point, they’ve reeled off a three-game winning streak, the offense gaining more traction and momentum with each successive ballgame. The flashes were there when CMC almost single-handedly took down the Rams or when the return of Elijah Mitchell spurred a 40+ carry performance.
But, to answer your question directly, yes. On Monday night against the Cardinals, the Niners showcased the offense that they’ve been promising us. Everything clicked into place and what a place to be! Kyle Shanahan has so much talent with such diverse skill sets that the Niners can put a defense into conflict with itself in any number of ways and take advantage to the tune of 38 points.
TH: What is the biggest obstacle that the 49ers will have to face in order defeat the Saints on Sunday?
TA: The biggest obstacle facing the Niners seems to be one they’ve consistently dealt with during the Shanahan/Jimmy era. Can they play their style of football and avoid falling to a less-talented team’s level? Based on the matchup with the Cardinals that shouldn’t be a concern, but old habits can be hard to break. If the Niners pound the football, Jimmy avoids mistakes, the defense continues playing like a pack of wild banshees, and they don’t get in their own way, they should clear the bar necessary to beat most teams.
TH: Is there a Niners player who was not on many people’s radars, that has really stood out to you so far this season and why?
TA: I will say that Christian McCaffrey had been nowhere near anyone’s radar before the season started and now, I can’t believe this is my life!!!!
More seriously, I’ll have to point out the inside of the Niners’ offensive line. The three players between the tackles are all first-year starters; one a rookie, another a second-year player with a few stray snaps in 2021, and the last an undrafted free agent who bounced around four other teams’ practice squads in his short career. Undoubtedly, this was the biggest point of concern heading into the season and they’ve all played at an incredibly high level. The three of them have yet to allow a sack, which might account for some of Jimmy’s newfound success, and their athleticism in run blocking cannot be overstated. Take for example, Deebo Samuel’s touchdown run featured the center Jake Brendel pancaking safety Budda Baker nearly 40 yards downfield. You can watch his little #64 moving like a dot possessed in the graphic below.
Deebo Samuel was expected to gain 22 rush yards when he received the toss on his 39-yard TD run.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 22, 2022
Samuel had an 86.8% chance of gaining a first down thanks to four blockers for two defenders on the left side of the field.#SFvsAZ | Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/Eor7z4d1XB
TH: According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the 49ers are currently 8.5-point favorites. Do you think they cover the spread and what is your final score prediction?
TA: Given recency bias, I am more than willing to take the Niners against the spread coming into this game. The Saints have had some shuffling in the trenches and Andy Dalton isn’t the kind of quarterback who makes aggressively pursuing defensive linemen miss and pay by scampering for a chunk gain. Not to mention, they haven’t allowed a second half point during their three-game winning streak. Shout out DeMeco Ryans the God! On the other side of the ball, I do like Dennis Allen as a coach, but his defense has not remained at the elite level like in the earlier years of his tenure in New Orleans. With the Niners’ offense looking ready to scorch and salt the NFL Earth, I’m willing to bet on them winning by two scores. Final Score: 49ers 27 - Saints 13
Thank you again to Tyler for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out his work @NinersNation
Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles and subscribe to our YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @TheNolaGirl