The San Francisco 49ers and general manager John Lynch made it very apparent the team was going all in when they swooped in like savages and traded for the services of All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey a few days prior to Week 7.
At the time, the level of talent and impressive depth of the defensive side of the ball was never a concern and still isn’t. However, the offense was in need of some fine-tuning with injured starting running back Elijah Mitchell still working his way back from a bad Week 1 knee injury.
Now, with McCaffrey prominently in the mix and Mitchell having made his return in grand fashion on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, the 49ers’ souped-up “pick your poison” offense has great potential to be one of the most potent in football.
With San Francisco having won two in a row and seeing an increasingly healthier roster on the field, there are several key players on both sides of the ball that will need to contribute in order to keep up the team’s winning ways.
Below are the five most important 49ers players who are most crucial in doing that very thing in the second half of the season.
Nick Bosa needs to stay healthy and productive
Defensive end Nick Bosa has been a one-man wrecking crew since the moment he entered the league as the No. 2 overall pick taken by the 49ers in the 2019 NFL draft, winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. In his second season, however, Bosa played just two games after tearing the ACL in his left knee against the New York Jets in Week 2.
But last season he came back like a hurricane, with Bosa staying healthy throughout and delivering a stellar performance with 15.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles.
The relentless 6-foot-4 monster on the edge is back at it again in 2022, but he has dealt with a groin injury that ended up forcing him to miss Week 6 in Atlanta. Since returning, he’s recorded 3.5 sacks in three games. Although it’s been much more than that, as Bosa’s mere presence on the field and constant disruptive nature in both the running game and the passing game allows for so many others to prosper.
In short, he’s the straw that stirs the drink on the defensive line. While it’s a frighteningly deep group, even with the injuries the team has been dealing with, Bosa remaining healthy for the second half of the season is of utmost importance to the 49ers’ success on the defensive side of the ball.
Talanoa Hufanga keeps up his stellar play
San Francisco 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga’s exceptional playmaking ability was most recently on full display in front of a national audience for NBC’s Sunday Night Football, finishing off the Los Angeles Chargers with an outstanding interception of Justin Herbert.
After taking a look at this play, you could probably count on one hand the number of defensive backs who could even make this catch, let alone make it a no-doubter.
The 22-year-old has had a nose for the ball right from the jump, and in just his second season, Hufanga is already one of the most present, emotional leaders of the 49ers’ defense.
There’s a reason he’s so often compared to Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu. He’s a disruptor in all phases, much like Polamalu was, and along the same lines as previously mentioned about how Bosa operates up front.
As we head into Week 11, Hufanga is currently tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions. While San Francisco’s secondary will continue to require significant contributions — and consistent health — from key players like Jimmie Ward and Charvarius Ward, it certainly seems as Hufanga goes, the Niners go.
Getting George Kittle more involved
In the 49ers’ 22-16 win over the Chargers on Sunday night, tight end George Kittle caught one pass for 21 yards on two targets. In a word, inexcusable.
The yardage on that lone catch should have been more than enough to begin setting off alarm bells inside Shanahan’s offensive-leaning brain to ensure the diversely skilled Kittle started seeing more targets. While it’s a great problem to have talent all over the field at every skill position and even more of it on the sideline patiently waiting to partake in the fireworks, there’s a reason “Kittle Over The Middle” has become such a familiar expression to NFL fans. The countless t-shirt designs using that very phrase serve as some of the hard evidence.
To further cement the importance of getting Kittle his share of targets, throwing between the tackles has always been Jimmy Garoppolo‘s most comfortable area to throw. So it’s hardly a wild demand that Kittle should begin to see more targets because the majority of his routes and areas he looks to create space are right in Jimmy G’s sweet spot, making this a true no-brainer.
The one massive positive that offsets the veteran tight end not seeing enough opportunities in the passing game is obviously his all-world ability and genuine love for blocking in the run game.
The extra cherry on top — which kind of feels greatly underscored — is that you will never hear Kittle complaining about not getting the ball enough. It’s just not in his “football DNA” and never will be.
Brandon Aiyuk continues his recent success
Seeing wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk’s name may come as somewhat of a surprise. One might typically expect to see Christian McCaffrey or Deebo Samuel’s name here. Sure, those two players are clearly vital pieces to the offensive puzzle, especially given that there’s very little these “Swiss Army Knife” type players can’t do on the field. They both create mismatches, confusion, and warrant a whole lot of attention.
That’s why Aiyuk is so important. Over the last four games, including the three McCaffrey has played in since the 49ers acquired him, Aiyuk has 27 catches for 330 yards and three touchdowns, with one of those TD passes coming from CMC himself. As we often heard in ‘NBA Jam,'” he’s heating up!
With so much focus being paid to where McCaffrey and Deebo are lining up, which could really be anywhere, Aiyuk serves as the 49ers’ true constant at wide receiver. The third-year pro out of Arizona St. has taken full advantage of that opportunity to shine and has clearly become a frequent, favorite target of Garoppolo’s.
Should Aiyuk continue to raise his game as he has of late, the 49ers’ offense will be hitting a different kind of gear that opposing defenses just haven’t seen from San Francisco in recent years and will not be able to handle on a consistent basis.
Jimmy Garoppolo brings it all together
With all the talent on the 49ers’ offense, it won’t really matter all that much if Jimmy Garoppolo veers off course.
But he happens to be playing some of the best football of his career, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. For reasons unknown, fans and media members seem to be having trouble digesting this very fact.
Because it is a fact. The numbers never lie.
So here’s a double dose of those numbers to throw down the hatch and stomach like a champ.
This could very well be Jimmy G’s last ride with the 49ers and also his best chance to win a Super Bowl.
If he keeps up this type of play, there’s no reason not to think this team won’t be there at the end.