SANTA CLARA — Here comes the heavy-lifting portion of the 49ers’ schedule, all due respect to the second 8-0 start in franchise history.
All three games this month are at Levi’s Stadium – “Homember” – against the Seattle Seahawks (7-2), the Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) and the Green Bay Packers (7-2). Then comes a 10-day trip to the Baltimore Ravens (6-2) and New Orleans Saints (7-1), with an anticipated layover in Florida. The closing hat trick: vs. the Atlanta Falcons (1-7), vs. Los Angeles Rams (5-3), at Seattle Seahawks.
Rather than grade the 49ers’ first half on a curve from A+ to A-, let’s see what’s lurking per position group:
Overview: Jimmy Garoppolo just had the first four-touchdown game of his career, keying a 28-25 Halloween win at Arizona and quelling concern over his aerial ability. More important: Eight games in, zero ACL setbacks.
Top question: How much greater will his rapport grow with Emmanuel Sanders (two TDs in two games, 11 receptions for 137 yards)?
Stat shack: He’s completing a career-high 70.8 percent of his passes. He hasn’t connected on a big-time deep shots, and the season-long 45-yarder was a catch-and-run by George Kittle. None of the remaining pass defenses rank in the top 10.
Overview: The Arizona Cardinals praised the 49ers’ “three-headed monster” even before their Halloween game against Matt Breida (524 yards this year), Tevin Coleman (355) and Raheem Mostert (307). Breida and Coleman are more of a 1-2 rotation, with Mostert a stealth reserve.
Injury alert: Fullback Kyle Juszczyk (knee sprain) looks ready to return from a four-game absence and bolster one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks.
Stat shack: Mostert leads NFL running back in yards-per-carry (5.6), followed by Breida (5.3) and Christian McCaffrey (5.3) of the Carolina Panthers.
Overview: Sanders’ immediate impact since his Oct. 22 trade should benefit the entire receiving corps. Deebo Samuel, Dante Pettis, Richie James Jr. and Kendrick Bourne are maturing and offer different skills. Marquise Goodwin was a healthy scratch last game, so the 49ers likely will pick their spots to deploy the deep-threat specialist.
IR watch: Trent Taylor (foot) and Jalen Hurd (back) recently had setbacks, so if either comes off injured reserve, it likely won’t be when first eligible (Nov. 24 for Taylor, Dec. 1 for Hurd).
Stat shack: Pettis has caught 11 of 21 targets for 109 yards for two touchdowns (and two led to interceptions). In comparison, Sanders, in two games, has caught 11 of 14 for 237 yards and two TDs.
Overview: George Kittle, predictably, is the team’s leading receiver (46-of-57 targets, 541 yards, two touchdowns) and, yet, his blocking is even more impressive. Ross Dwelley, undrafted last year, has become a team favorite for his ability to fill in for Juszczyk at fullback, and, if needed, for Kittle, as he did on a win-clinching third-down conversion at Arizona. Levine Toilolo’s blocking has covered for injuries at offensive tackle and fullback.
Celek Time: Veteran Garrett Celek soon could come off the physically-unable-to-perform list, if his back responds well from offseason surgery. He has 14 receptions in eight career games with Garoppolo.
Stat shack: Kittle has caught 18-of-19 third-down targets, he has zero drops on 57 overall targets, and, he has a 6.11-yard average after the catch that surprisingly would be a career low.
Overview: We’ve seen the 49ers’ best blocking since the 2012 Super Bowl run, even after losing offensive tackles Joe Staley (Week 2 fibula fracture) and Mike McGlinchey (Oct. 9 knee surgery). Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill are proving adept as their temps, and such depth is huge. Center Weston Richburg and guards Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person are excelling, and the “bro-line” cohesion should pay off in the coming gauntlet.
Tackle update: It looks like Staley could return Monday against Seattle. McGlinchey might, too, but another week or two is more likely, because he has yet to practice.
Stat shack: Garoppolo has been sacked 12 times in eight starts; he got sacked 13 times in three starts last season’s before his ACL tear. The run-blocking has been elite, as reflected by the NFL’s second-best rushing average of 171.1 yards per game.
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