SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers marched into the L.A. Coliseum missing both starting tackles, their multidimensional fullback and arguably their best cornerback on Sunday, but still came out with a win to move to 5-0 for the first time since 1990.
The even better news for San Francisco the Monday after their 20-7 win over the Los Angeles Rams is that the team now has a better idea as to when some of those players will be returning.
According to head coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are targeting their Week 8 home game against the Carolina Panthers for cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to return. Four days later on Halloween night, when they travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals, left tackle Joe Staley is expected to be back as well.
“[Witherspoon] is going in the right direction … I expect him to have a chance next week,” Shanahan said. “I’m hoping for Arizona. That’s where we’re looking at [Staley] for. He’ll have a chance for Carolina but I’d consider that very lucky in my mind.”
Before Sunday’s game, Staley was stationed in one end zone, completing some of his rehabilitation work coming off of a fractured left fibula.
Side-shuffling, high-stepping and jogging without hindrance, Staley looked as nimble as he’s been since having to be carted off the field during the 49ers 41-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
With a 6-8 week recovery time given to the 13-year veteran, all signs are pointing to the possibility that he’ll be back for Arizona just six weeks after the initial injury.
In his place, Justin Skule has made the last three starts at left tackle, giving up just one sack, which came Sunday as Rams defensive lineman and 2018 Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald whizzed by the rookie tackle on the edge during the 49ers’ first drive.
“Giving up a sack in a big game like that, especially going up against a player like that, they can kind of melt,” Shanahan said. “But Skule stays the same and went right back out there and did a good job blocking.”
While Skule has filled in almost seamlessly, having a left tackle that’s played in 184 NFL games — including three NFC Championships and a Super Bowl — would be crucial for a playoff push.
As of now, all signs point to San Francisco getting Staley back within the next three weeks.
When it comes to Witherspoon, who has been sidelined for the last two games due to a sprained foot, San Francisco will get him back even sooner, barring a setback over the next two weeks.
After exiting the 49ers’ 24-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, San Francisco was unsure how they’d relace the man who’s been arguably their best corner. With an overall rating of 77.5, Pro Football Focus ranks Witherspoon as the eighth-best cornerback in the NFL, even above teammate Richard Sherman (13th).
To fill the void left by Witherspoon, the 49ers have played Emmanuel Moseley. Over the course of his two games as a starter, Moseley has played very well, giving up just 12 yards per game on average when he’s been targeted.
“He’s a good player,” Sherman said. “He plays confident, as you guys saw. He moves well, and I told you guys he’d be fine.”
Even though Moseley has held up well while Witherspoon has been laid up, getting back one of their most productive defensive backs in the next two weeks should add to the depth of a secondary that already ranks No. 1 in the league in passing yards allowed per game (150.2).
As for the remaining starters who were also absent on Sunday — right tackle Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszczyk — no update has been given as to when the 49ers expect to have them back on the field.
Still, sitting at 5-0 with two starters returning soon isn’t a bad place to be.
“Our guys believe that they can win. They’ve done that so far,” Shanahan said. “We know teams are going to get better as we keep going. The main thing is that we do too.”