49ers injuries piling up along with wins
SANTA CLARA – Every 49ers win seems to come with a significant loss.
The 49ers have won all the games they’ve played this season. They’re 4-0. But they’ve lost important players along the way.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk will miss four to six weeks with a sprained left MCL. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey will miss four to six weeks with cartilage damage in his right knee. Left tackle Joe Staley will miss another three to five weeks with a broken fibula. And cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon will miss at least another week with a foot sprain.
The next month will be tough for the 49ers, no matter whom they play. The 49ers can’t take any team for granted while they’re injured and depleted.
Here are the five biggest challenges the 49ers face, ranked from least difficult to most difficult.
5. Replacing cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
Witherspoon had been by far the 49ers’ best cornerback before he injured his foot Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had played even better than Richard Sherman, a future Hall of Famer, who’s 31 and slowing down.
Witherspoon’s replacement, Emmanuel Moseley, had never started a game in the NFL before Monday night against the Browns. And he was surprisingly fantastic in his starting debut. He guarded All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and gave up just one catch for seven yards. Moseley also broke up a potential touchdown pass in the end zone.
“I told you guys he’s going to be fine,” Sherman said Wednesday in the locker room. “If our fans knew who he was, they wouldn’t have been as nervous going into the game. He’s a really good player.”
The Browns seemed to respect Moseley, considering how infrequently they challenged him. They were more much aggressive challenging Sherman. They targeted him eight times and completed four passes for 75 yards. Sherman also intercepted a pass.
“I don’t know the last time I had eight targets,” Sherman said. “It’s fun to get involved. But when I get targeted like that, I usually get the ball. I appreciate it both ways.”
It seems there are no weak links in the 49ers’ secondary, partially because the pass rush has been so good. Opposing wide receivers haven’t had time to get open.
“It makes it so much easier,” Sherman said.
As long as the pass rushers stay healthy, Moseley should hold his own. He’s no liability.
4. Replacing left tackle Joe Staley.
Staley went down Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Since then, Justin Skule has made two starts at left tackle and faced two good pass rushers — Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.
Skule, a rookie sixth-round pick who less than a year ago was taking classes at Vanderbilt, gave up no sacks in either game.
“We lost one of the best left tackles in football, and nobody even notices he’s gone,” Sherman said. “That’s a testament to the scheme, to Skule and how well he’s playing.”
At first, the 49ers worried Skule would lack the strength to hold up against NFL pass rushers. So far, Skule has been strong enough. “He has been real good in his two starts,” Shanahan said. “I know our first drive of the third quarter versus Cleveland was probably our best drive of the day. It was eight plays.