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Chargers vs. 49ers Game Preview: 5 Questions w/ Niners Nation

Can the depleted Bolts even stand a chance against the run-heavy 49ers?

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

We were joined by our friends at SB Nation’s Niners Nation to help us preview this weekend’s matchup between the 5-3 Chargers and the 4-4 49ers.

The Niners are currently seven-point favorites over the Bolts, per DraftKings Sportsbook, and they look like the better team on paper heading into Sunday due to the sheer amount of healthy players they’re getting back compared to the laundry list of injured Bolts still trying to get healthy.

But what do those who cover the team think about this matchup? Let’s go ahead and take look, shall we?

1.) The 49ers made a blockbuster trade during the season to land running back Christian McCaffrey from the Panthers. How did the fan base react to the move initially? Do you believe this move was in the best interest of the team going forward?

The consensus reaction to the Christian McCaffrey trade by the Niners’ fanbase seemed to be utter shock. For the last few years, we’ve watched and watched and watched again as the Rams went ahead and torched the draft pick factory to obtain superstars, players who would’ve also greatly benefitted the 49ers, and it just didn’t seem possible that the franchise would be willing to make a similar move to their division rivals. However, this one for a myriad of reasons just made too much sense and the front office finally decided to pull the trigger.The last big trade for an impact player that San Francisco made mid-season was Emmanuel Sanders, and neither the return nor the price tag came anywhere near to this deal. Once the surprise wore off and the reality set in, everyone became enamored by the idea of CMC in Shanahan’s offense. Kyle already does so much with a multi-dimensional weapon like Deebo Samuel, just imagine what’s possible when you add a similarly gifted player to the mix!Based on the first half of the season, the team’s rushing attack, its calling card, struggled mightily to hit a groove, partly due to injury, lack of high end speed, and defensive adjustments. Simultaneously, McCaffrey provides an answer to all those questions, and, as evidenced by his performance against the Rams, he should prove to be a game changing talent that should allow the offense to reach new heights.

2.) We were all THIS close to finally seeing the start of the Trey Lance era in San Francisco. Tragedy struck, however, and it’s been another year of Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. How has he performed this season compared to expectations? Have the 49ers underwhelmed sitting at 4-4? Have they overachieved or is this where you expected the team to be at the halfway point of the season?

To be honest, outside one dud of a game in Denver, Jimmy Garoppolo has played at a career best level this season, in which he’s limited interceptions and maximized big time throws. Would I trade all of that for a half season of Trey Lance’s development and off the charts athletic ability? 100%, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be watching Brock Purdy or Nate Sudfeld trying to run the show.Jimmy G represents the platonic ideal of a competent and capable quarterback that can deliver catchable balls to his playmakers when called upon, but he will never be a guy who can create something from nothing, elevate his supporting cast, or signify the difference between victory or defeat. The ultimate question, the one that’s dogged Niners’ fans since the Super Bowl run, is can the talent and coaching around a slightly above average quarterback be enough to overcome a team with an upper echelon quarterback when the chips are down in the postseason? Hopefully, we get the chance to find out.As for over/underachieving, you can’t help but feel like, given the caliber of player across the board, that the team hasn’t quite lived up to its potential. Besides the embarrassment against the Chiefs, all their losses were close, competitive games, and, surely, one or two of those should’ve fallen their way. Sitting at 6-2 would feel a lot better, but I believe there’s a good reason for those losses.While the change from Lance back to Garoppolo should seem seamless, that’s still a monumental shift requiring the entire offense to adjust to a very different style of play. Not to mention, Jimmy G didn’t throw a ball the entire offseason as he rehabbed his shoulder and didn’t take a snap during training camp while he waited to be traded. So, considering that plus the usual bad injury luck and some miscellaneous sloppiness, I’d say a 4-4 record in an underperforming division in a wide open conference is just about where this team should be at the moment.

3.) If you were Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, how would you go about game-planning for this 49ers defense? Which matchups would you attempt to exploit? What concepts/play calls have you noticed work well against this unit?

First of all, if I was Joe Lombardi, I’d start by letting Justin Herbert cook. This man has got what appears to be some sort of designed-in-a-lab quarterback who can make every throw known to man and a couple others on a weekly basis and he’s committed to running on early downs. Unless he’s really confident that Austin Ekeler can get the team out of an obvious passing situation on third down (read: exactly what the Niners defensive line dreams about), I’d recommend not doing that.Draw up some quick hitters for whichever wide receiver lines up against the Niners’ number two corner, who won’t be the more dependable Emmanuel Moseley after he tore his ACL against the Panthers. It also officially won’t be Jason Verrett after the oft-injured vet tore his Achilles in practice on Monday. If there’s any weak point to put pressure on that’s probably it.A concept that’s proven particularly damaging in recent weeks was the screen. This defense loves to pressure the quarterback, aggressively. However, aggression without discipline can expose you to big gains in the screen game, and that’s exactly what happened against the Chiefs and in the first half against the Rams in Week 8. The D tightened things up and managed to contain further attempts in that second half, but I’d say it’s still a viable point of attack.

4.) Now switching to the other side of the ball. If you’re Brandon Staley, how would you plan to stop this 49ers offense? Which players are you worried about the most? Are there any players you believe are worth noting that causal fans may not necessarily know about?

Well, I’d be worried about the guy who ran, caught, and threw a touchdown in the previous game (Christian McCaffrey). I’d also be really worried about the guy who could line up in the backfield or out wide in equal measure and seems just as likely to burst free for a touchdown from either place (Deebo Samuel). And I’d be really worried about both of them being on the field together at the same time. The recipe for slowing them down, of course, begins and ends at Jimmy Garoppolo. Can the Chargers disrupt the quarterback to keep him from getting the ball out on time and on target? If so, that’s been more than enough to stymy the Niners’ offense on multiple occasions and that would certainly go a long way here.I’d also prepare for a hefty dose of the run. Kyle Shanahan really likes his new toy CMC and he should see the return of his former number one back Elijah Mitchell this week too. Given the Chargers’ penchant for allowing yards on the ground and Shanahan’s proclivity for running the ball, I’d expect a heavy dose of pounding the rock. So, I don’t think there’s any level to which selling out to stop it could be considered too much.

5.) DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the Chargers as seven-point underdogs on the road with the over/under currently set at 45.5. Go ahead and give us a few lines on how you see this game shaking out, a final score prediction, and then whether or not you’re taking the over or under in this one.

If the Niners can pick up where they left off against the Rams, I completely understand where this line came from and I don’t think it’ll be far off. Looking at the Chargers’ lack of success stopping the run makes me think Kyle Shanahan is somewhere licking his chops. With the recent influx of talent, the team should be able to win the time of possession battle and control the game’s pace with ease. Meanwhile, if Joe Lombardi wants to keep squandering early downs on run plays that set up the Niners to stunt and twist and send the house at Herbert on third down, then I can’t imagine much sustained success for the Los Angeles offense.I’ll predict a final score of 49ers 27 Chargers 20. While I could easily see this game going under, I loathe having to root for one and thus this game will just click into over territory.