JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
San Francisco 49ers Senior Reporter Joe Fann the 49ers prepare to play the Jaguars at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, Sunday.
Question: The 49ers have won three consecutive games and four of their last five. They beat the Tennessee Titans, 25-23, Sunday. With Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback the last three games, this looks like a team figuring it out. How do the 49ers feel about themselves right now?
Answer: This team feels really good about the direction it's headed. Obviously everyone wants to be fighting for a playoff spot and be playing football in January. That's not in the picture, but the interesting thing about the way the 49ers' schedule is set up – particularly with the team playing well – is these final three weeks are games you treat like playoff games so if you're in contention next season or the season after you know what it feels like to be in a big game. As [49ers Head Coach] Kyle Shanahan is preaching, these last three games against the [Tennessee] Titans, [Jaguars] and [Los Angeles] Rams are against teams that are playing for the playoffs or for seedings. You're not getting teams rolling over at the end of the year; you're getting teams that need to win these games. The Titans were a team desperate for a win and you won with two fourth-quarter, go-ahead drives … those are wins that are tangible, that give you hope about where things are headed.
Q: The fact that the streak is happening with Garoppolo is critical, too …
A: Anyone who follows the league knows the value of the quarterback position, especially when you're not loaded up across the board – a la the Jaguars' defense. But guys have stayed confident on this team all season. The belief never wavered and the sentiment was always, "We're not as far away as our record would suggest." Jimmy Garoppolo has been sensational, to put mildly. Once you have that piece in place, it gives you hope for the offseason. The second you're not looking for a quarterback, you can spend your $100 million in cap space and your draft capital elsewhere. The arrow is certainly pointing up.
Q: You mentioned his team never wavered. That's easier said than done during a long losing streak. How did the 49ers avoid wavering during a 0-9 start?
A: I give Kyle Shanahan a ton of credit. The 49ers have had three head coaches the last three seasons – including Jim Tomsula in 2015 and Chip Kelly in 2016. The belief in Shanahan and the coaching staff here is pretty incredible and it's top to bottom. Veterans like [center] Daniel Kilgore and [offensive tackle] Joe Staley bought in. Young players and rookie bought in. There is a true belief that this is not as far away as some people perceive. If you watch the locker-room celebration after the first win against the Giants, it was like they won the Super Bowl. That's a testament to your hard work paying off, but also these guys are all together. It's very evident that Kyle Shanahan never got close to losing the locker room.
Q: Aside from Garoppolo, how would you assess the offense this season?
A: It has been hit and miss. The biggest downfall of the offense is the inability to score in the red zone – and that's even with Garoppolo. Robbie Gould has kicked 15 field goals during this three-game winning streak. You never want your kicker kicking that many field goals; you want to be in the end zone and have him kicking extra points. They really lack a big-time red-zone target, a go-to guy inside the 20. But wide receiver Marquise Goodwin has been a huge bright spot for this team all year. He was a little inconsistent at the beginning of the season but with Garoppolo the switch has flipped and he's averaging over 100 yards. This guy who came here from Buffalo as a one-trick pony as a deep threat has really been a complete receiver the last three weeks.
*Q:The defense looks like it has taken a step forward since Garoppolo started playing, too. *
A: It has been good against the run, with four straight games allowing less than 100 yards rushing. That's something that was a bugaboo early in the year and especially last year, when it was historically bad against the run. That's also a byproduct of the offense staying on the field. They're converting on third down; they have long drives. Guy are fresher on defense and they've been playing a lot better, for sure. They don't have a game-breaker on defense, a guy who's going to completely switch the momentum of a game with one play. Linebacker Reuben Foster is developing into a guy who might be that. He's not there yet, but overall this defense has played at a pretty high level.
Q: What's the 49ers formula right now? When they're playing well, how do they play?
A:Efficient. Garoppolo has been so good at converting third-and-long. That is what has really helped this team, because it was so dismal on third down, which led to the defense playing so much … you end up playing in a hole and you can't run the football; whether it's successful or not, you end up abandoning it altogether. It all goes hand in hand and it all starts with the quarterback. There's a lot of excitement heading into the offseason, but there's a lot of excitement about these last two games. If you finish winning five of the last seven – meaning you split one of these last two against the Jaguars and Rams – then all of a sudden why wouldn't you believe you can be a contender going into 2018?