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SANTA CLARA – The 49ers likely have to protect Jimmy Garoppolo without right tackle Trent Brown again Sunday and possibly the season’s remainder.
With Brown ailing from a right-shoulder injury, Zane Beadles is slated to again replace him as the 49ers enter a closing stretch against playoff-contending defenses, starting with the Tennessee Titans.
"Zane knows what to do, so there’s no added stress," center Daniel Kilgore said.
Did we mention the Titans’ 22 sacks their past three games are their most in a three-game stretch in their franchise history, including their Oilers days?
The 49ers (3-10) then host the Jacksonville Jaguars – aptly nicknamed "Sacksonville" with a league-high 47 sacks. Finally, the 49ers end on New Year’s Eve at the Los Angeles Rams, whose 40 sacks trail only the Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers (41).
"It’s our chance to prove to ourselves what kind of team we want to be moving forward and really challenge ourselves against some great defenses," left tackle Joe Staley said.
Brown has not practiced this week. He was limited in practice last week before removing himself from the lineup last Sunday before the win at Houston. He also opted to miss the Nov. 26 loss to the Seahawks and an intimidating matchup with Michael Bennett in which rookie Erik Magnuson struggled at right tackle. Last game, Beadles – and others – had their hands full with Texans pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said last Sunday that Brown’s injury was week-to-week but that the 49ers might put him on injured reserve if it showed no improvement.
Brown is in his third season, and although he figured to be poised for a contract extension before his rookie deal expires in 2018, this season hasn’t boosted his stock. Injuries and missed assignments aside, Brown has drawn a team-high six false-start penalties, as well as a holding call deep at the 9-yard line to stall an opening drive at Chicago, his last game. He also missed a Nov. 5 loss at Arizona because of lingering concussion symptoms.
Garoppolo has been sacked only twice in winning each of his two starts. But he endured nine hits Sunday when the 49ers rallied at Houston for a 26-16 win.
WATCH: 49ers’ Shanahan on risk Garoppolo takes and the Titans’ defense (Dec. 12, 2017)
Like almost all teams in today’s NFL, the 49ers offensive line is an easy target for criticism when quarterbacks take frequent hits. Garoppolo, like predecessors Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard, is willing to stick in the pocket and unleash throws at the last-minute in the face of pressure.
The 49ers starting offensive line actually has been arguably their most stable unit, aside from October losses to Philadelphia and Dallas when Staley (orbital fracture) and Brown (concussion) missed time.
Kilgore has started every game at center in the final year of his contract. Left guard Laken Tomlinson and right guard Brandon Fusco have been as durable — Tomlinson replaced Beadles in Week 2 — but they’re possibly expendable if the 49ers find upgrades in the offseason.
When it comes to run blocking, the 49ers actually have the league’s fourth-ranked unit, according to NFL stats measuring yards gained before contact (0.56). The league leaders are the Saints (1.15), Bills (0.75) and Rams (0.59). (Those "NextGen" stats are based off microchips embedded in uniforms.)
Added Staley: "We’ve had two good weeks. We felt like we’ve played well and had some good momentum going."
Staley praised the Titans’ defensive front and noted how it does "many different things" and is "very detailed." Derrick Morgan has a team-high 7 1/2 sacks, Brian Orakpo has six and Jurrell Casey five.
Although the 22 sacks in their past three games is a Titans record, those came against three teams that rank among the league’s most generous for sacks: the Colts, Texans and Cardinals.