49ers Week 16 primer: Playing for pride

It will be interesting to see how the San Francisco 49ers respond to playing the first meaningless game in the Jim Harbaugh era.

Now that the team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, all eyes will shift to Harbaugh, and what his future (or lack there of) will be with the franchise.

All signs point to a messy divorce coming sooner than later, but there are still two more games that need to be played before any of that comes to fruition.

The 49ers will be tested in Week 16, as they will face off against a San Diego Chargers team that is still very much alive for a playoff spot in the AFC.

Recent History

The 49ers have lost their last three meetings with the Chargers, and haven’t beaten them since 2000.

Most recently the teams squared off in Week 15 of the 2010 season, with San Diego dominating the game 34-7. Philip Rivers threw for 273 yards and three scores (all to Vincent Jackson).

Alex Smith was sacked six times by six different defenders, as San Francisco struggled to get anything going on either side of the ball. One bright spot was the play of wide receiver Josh Morgan, who caught seven passes for 106 yards.

Players to watch

If you’re searching for a bright spot on offense for the 49ers, you could always look Anquan Boldin‘s way.

While the veteran wideout has struggled at times with drops this year, he is still on pace to become the first 49er to gain 1,000 yards receiving in back-to-back seasons since Terrell Owens.

Boldin will enter Week 16 with 980 yards through the air, which would put him on pace for 1,120. He gained 1,179 in his first year with the team last season.

Philip Rivers continues to quietly be one of the best quarterbacks the league has to offer, and he’s seemed¬†to only get better since Mike McCoy took over in 2013. Rivers has completed 67.6 percent of his passes this season, and is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards for the sixth time in his career. His 27 touchdown passes puts him on pace for 31, which would be the fourth time he’s broken 30. Rivers is 87-55 as starter.

Game changing factor

Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Chris Borland, Jimmie Ward, Chris Culliver, Tramaine Brock, Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams…did I miss anyone? It’s easy to do when your dealing with an injury list to your defense that is so long it’s bordering on comical.

Vic Fangio may be the coordinator of the year for what he’s done with his mash unit this season (the 49ers are third overall in total defense), but it has to catch up with them sooner or later. That’s not to say the defense will play poorly, but they have very little margin for error as it is with an offense that can’t score.

Stats to know

The struggles of the offensive line and quarterback have had a ripple effect throughout the offense, and you don’t need to look any further than subpar numbers of some of the team’s biggest stars for proof.

Vernon Davis, who scored 13 touchdown last year, has been non-existent. It’s possible that he’s still suffering the effects of an early season back injury, but his lack of production is a big reason why San Francisco can’t generate any explosive plays.

Davis is only averaging two receptions a game and 9.4 yards per catch. He averaged 16.3 yards a grab last year.

While he’s fared better than Davis, Michael Crabtree has also been underwhelming for most of the season. Many expected Crabtree to be the receiver that gained 1,105 yards in 2012, before an Achilles’ injury cost him much of 2013. Instead, he’s gone back to being a middling wideout.

Crabtree is on pace for 72 receptions and 746 yards. That isn’t exactly prolific, but it’s in line with the production the team got from him early in his career. Crabtree averaged 58 catches for 747 yards from 2009-2011.

Bottom line

At 8-6, the Chargers must have this game to keep pace with rest of teams in the AFC that are still alive for a Wild Card spot. Since San Francisco has shown no signs of breaking out of its offensive malaise, there’s little reason to think they will suddenly flip the switch and keep up with a team that averages 22 points a game.

The 49ers’ collapse will continue, as they ensure at least their first non-winning season under Harbaugh.

Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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