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Opponent focus: Matt Barrows, The Athletic

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San Francisco 49ers running back Kendall Hunter (32) runs past Jacksonville Jaguars defenders during the second half of an NFL football game at Wembley Stadium, London, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Matt Barrows of the Athletic on the San Francisco 49ers as they enter Sunday's 2021 Week 11 game against the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

Question: The 49ers are 4-5 entering Week 11, which isn't what they expected entering the season. But they beat the Los Angeles Rams, 31-10, Monday. What's the state of the 49ers entering Sunday?

Answer: It seemed like the playoffs were a pipe dream coming out of a 31-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals [on November 7]. That was their worst game of the season. They didn't play well. They didn't tackle well. The energy was lacking. They were playing a Cardinals team that was without [quarterback] Kyler Murray and [wide receiver] DeAndre Hopkins. It really was a ragtag Cardinals team, and they took it to the 49ers. They [the 49ers] were demoralized after that and certainly the fan base was. But they used the embarrassment of that loss to rally against the Rams. Now, they're only a half a game out of the NFC wild-card hunt. Carolina has the last spot at 5-5 and the 49ers are 4-5 right now.

Q: Is this a difficult 49ers team to figure? There seems an up-and-down nature to them.

A: That only has been happening this year. The previous [down seasons in recent seasons] have been attributable to big injuries to [quarterback] Jimmy Garoppolo and injuries overall. They have been injured this season, for sure – one of the most injured teams in the league. But that really hasn't been a big excuse as it was in recent seasons. They definitely have been Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde throughout the year, looking really good for spurts in maybe one game here or there. But they have been very inconsistent with some disturbing trends … dropping passes, bad tackling. There have been some very rudimentary football things that they haven't been very good.

Q: When they're good why are they good?

A: They can run in this league. If you're not accustomed to playing the outside zone run, which is their bread and butter, it can be hard for a defense to catch up to. Teams that rarely play them sometimes are surprised by that – and the teams that do play them often, teams like Arizona and Seattle, have kind of figured out how to defend that. That will be a real objective for the Jaguars this week – trying to figure out how to practice against that style and how to thwart it.

Q: What's the quarterback situation. Garoppolo remains the starter with Trey Lance – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft – the backup.

A: It's simple right now, because Garoppolo is playing well and [Head Coach] Kyle Shanahan is not even looking in Trey Lance's direction. They began the season with the thought that Lance would come in for a half dozen snaps a game. They started doing that in Week 1 and a little bit in Week 3. Then Garoppolo got hurt in Week 4. Lance took over for a short stint and he got hurt, but we haven't seen hide nor hair of him since then. He's perfectly healthy and he's the No. 2 quarterback if Garoppolo got hurt. But this idea of rotating him in and doing the Tim Tebow thing from years ago … it's just not happening. As long as the 49ers are rolling, based on recent history, it's hard to see Lance getting into the game.

Q: Where are they defensively. Many people think of them as a really good defensive team. Is that the case?

A: They're certainly not as good as they were in 2019, when they probably had the best defensive team in the NFL. [Defensive end] Nick Bosa is as good as advertised. [Linebacker] Fred Warner is very good in the middle and Jimmie Ward is very good at strong safety. There really is no bookend for Bosa on the other side. Dee Ford has been hurt and some guys they brought in to perhaps be that other bookend just have not panned out. Their first-round selection from 2020, [defensive tackle] Javon Kinlaw, is out for the year with a torn [anterior cruciate ligament], so they're a little light in the middle. They have been vulnerable to the run. They're not very good against mobile quarterbacks. It's a very aggressive defense and that can be used against the 49ers. The defensive end will kind of bolt inside. If you get to the outside against him, you've got daylight – a lot of green grass – in front of you. That might be something to watch in this game.

Q: How do you see the next two months. Can the 49ers make a run?

A: They definitely can. The Rams game was their best game of the season. One more win and they're at .500; that's how they're looking at it. They have basically a half a season left with a chance to clear the slate – or at least start even. They see the Jaguars and they have the Texans … some games against teams with poor records remaining on their schedule. They see an avenue to getting into the playoffs. Their issue is they have not been consistent. Sunday will be a nice test for them. They had a very emotional win against the Rams. Now, they have a short week and a 2,500-mile trip – and a very early start for them – against the Jaguars. The Jaguars on paper aren't very good and that probably plays to the Jaguars' advantage. It's a team on could easily overlook and think, "We just beat the Rams. We should have no problem with the Jaguars." But obviously the Jaguars have some wins in them, which we saw two weeks ago against the [Buffalo] Bills.

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