The San Francisco 49ers return home this week for a Christmas Eve matchup against the Washington Commanders at Levi's® Stadium. The 49ers are looking for their eighth-consecutive victory after winning the NFC West and defeating the Seattle Seahawks last Thursday, 21-13.
"Anyone who plays defense as well as they do and commits to running the ball, usually is a recipe to be in the playoffs," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "They're number one in the league in time of possession. They're top four in yards, third on third down, top five in the least amount of explosives allowed. They're a top five defense and when you have that and you're able to stop the run without always having to play the run, it makes them real tough to go against. They don't give up big plays, they make everyone work for everything."
For this week's Four Downs, 49ers team reporter Lindsey Pallares and 49ers Spanish insider Jesús Zárate have joined me to break down several storylines ahead of the team's Week 16 contest against Washington. We also answer questions directly from the Faithful exclusive for the 49ers Supporters Club. To get your questions answered, sign up for the 49ers Supporters Club here.
1st Down: What are the 49ers Biggest Areas of Improvements?
@LindseyLares: Limiting points per game
It's no secret that the 49ers defense has been performing at an elite level, especially during this seven-game win streak—they wouldn't be the NFL's top ranked defense if that wasn't the case. However, DeMeco Ryans and his crew have collectively said they'd like to take it to the next level for the home stretch of the season and the playoffs. The defense is currently allowing an average of just 15.0 points per game (No. 1 in the NFL), and the unit would like to see that number dip moving forward. It's not exactly an area that needs improvement, but players like Fred Warner, Nick Bosa and others have been pretty vocal about getting the number down as much as they can.
@JesusZarate87: Protecting a young quarterback
The 49ers have been playing so well that they have clinched a playoff spot with three games left in the regular season. However, this is a good moment to try to fix some stuff that will make them even stronger when the playoffs arrive. On the offensive line, they have been doing a good job for the most part, but playing with their third string quarterback, it is extremely important to almost be perfect to avoid any injury to Brock Purdy. Last week he was dealing with oblique and rib issues as a result of taking some big hits, so you want to keep your quarterback as safe as possible to be ready for the playoffs. Also in Purdy's case, this is a valuable time to keep learning from whatever mistakes he notices he made in his previous games. He's shown that he is a good quarterback and he will only get better with playing time.
@BriMcDonaldTV: Cornerback depth
With Emmanuel Moseley and Dontae Johnson out for the season, Charvarius Ward and Samuel Womack III recovering from concussions and Ambry Thomas being limited at practice this week with an ankle injury, depth at cornerback is a concern for San Francisco. Deommodore Lenoir has stepped up for the team, so far notching 32 tackles and an interception this season and Janoris Jenkins made his 49ers debut last week against the Seattle Seahawks. Additionally, the team has signed Tre Swilling to the team's practice squad.
2nd Down: Which Rookie is Primed to Have a Big Game against Washington?
Mason is primed for another game with significant reps this weekend. The running back came in as a closer in the 49ers last four contests, but he may see increased snaps earlier against the Commanders. He's continued to make the most of his opportunities up to this point, most recently, locking up San Francisco's division-clinching win in Seattle with a 55-yard run to get the team a fresh set of downs. Shanahan said earlier in the week the rookie running back's "time is coming," so I'm interested to see how the team spreads out his usage in Week 16.
Mason probably will get more reps and he has shown that every time he touches the ball he is very hard to bring down. Against the Seahawks, he just carried the ball four times but was able to run for 64 yards including a carry for 55 yards that basically secured the win for the 49ers towards the end of the game.
Gray sustained a hamstring injury in last Thursday's win over the Seahawks, however, he's been a full participant in each day of practice this week leading up to the matchup. The rookie should be good to go against the Commanders and I believe he is set up to have a big game on Saturday with veteran receiver Deebo Samuel sidelined with ankle and knee injuries.
3rd Down: Which Commanders Player Must the 49ers Contain?
@LindseyLares: RB Brian Robinson Jr.
The Commanders don't have a high-flying offense, but there are several bright spots on the unit including Robinson Jr. Washington is 11th in the run and first in time of possession, and Robinson Jr. is a significant part of that. He is currently their leading rusher (652 yards on the year) and is averaging 4.5+ yards a carry over the last three games. The 49ers defense is ranked No. 1 against the run, so they just need to keep doing what they've been doing to make sure Washington's offense doesn't get in a groove here in Santa Clara.
@JesusZarate87: Defensive line
The Commanders have a really good defensive line so here I will pick that whole unit for the 49ers to contain. I couldn't choose just one player because when you look at their defensive line, guys like Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and maybe even Chase Young has the chance to make his season debut after he suffered an ACL injury last year. This is a very talented group even without Young, so the 49ers offensive line needs to win that battle in the trenches to have a good chance of being successful.
@BriMcDonaldTV: WR Terry McLaurin
McLaurin is Washington's top target when the team attacks through the air. He's notched 1,015 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 68 receptions so far this season, earning him a spot on the NFC's 2023 Pro Bowl Games roster. A matchup between McLaurin and the 49ers pass defense will be one to watch.
4th Down: What is Your Bold Prediction for the Week 16 Matchup Against the Commanders?
@LindseyLares: The 49ers defense will not allow a touchdown in this weekend's game.
@JesusZarate87: The 49ers offensive line will not allow more than 1.0 sack in this game.
@BriMcDonaldTV: The 49ers will score more receiving touchdowns than rushing touchdowns.