Deebo Samuel has been the 49ers' MVP this season.
He makes magic happen anytime he touches the ball. It is because of that magic that makes him a threat even without the ball in his hands. Defenses are now forced to skew their attention toward him, which can allow George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk some freedom to get open.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, Samuel's electric season has endured a hiccup. The star wideout left Sunday's win over the Vikings in the fourth quarter with a groin injury. There is optimism that the injury is not significant, but Samuel is likely going to miss time. That means the 49ers won't have him for their upcoming matchup with the Seahawks. Losing Samuel is a blow to the offense and will force the 49ers to get back to the drawing board.
Here is how the 49ers can adjust if Samuel misses time:
For starters, they need to stick to what is working. Continuing to run the football has clearly garnered impressive results for the 49ers and has been a driving force for why they are turning their season around. That part of the offense should not change with Samuel out. Elijah Mitchell is an impact player who can keep the 49ers clicking. It is just going to sting when Kyle Shanahan can't call those stretch runs to the outside with Samuel. That is arguably where losing Samuel will hurt the most as he has been a game changer in the backfield.
As for the passing game, the 49ers need to get back to their roots in that sense. Shanahan doesn't call much of any bootlegs or play-action passes anymore. A lot of that derives from the fact that anytime Jimmy Garoppolo is under center, he isn't as efficient. He performs much better when he can keep the play in front of him out of the shotgun than when he has to turn his back and be forced to speed up his processing.
But still, the 49ers might have to journey down that pathway to get defenses to bite and free up open throwing zones for Garoppolo. Simply calling straight drop back passes isn't a strong suit of the 49ers. And now that Samuel is out, attention will be easier to consolidate for a defense on Aiyuk and Kittle. Luckily for the 49ers, they are facing the Seahawks next week who are an atrocious defense. Familiarities with them should make it a fairly easy plan to concoct even without Samuel.
Where Samuel's absence starts to become worrisome is if he has to miss the Bengals game on Dec. 12 following Seattle. The Bengals are not an easy outing and will make it tough on the 49ers, especially being that it is a road game with a 10 A.M. body clock. After Cincinnati, the 49ers will head back home to face the Falcons. So really the Bengals game will be the most challenging if Samuel is out for that long.
Ultimately, the 49ers will need other plays to step up.
There is no way to platoon what Samuel did because he is truly a unique player. But the 49ers will need to explore other ways of advancement with the football aside from giving it to Mitchell. Kyle Juszczyk, and Jauan Jennings who has been ascending, need to answer the call here. To keep Aiyuk and Kittle effective, the ball will need to be shared. And if a defense remains steadfast on those two, then the others will have to be ready. Trent Sherfield stepped in for a nice catch on a slant when Samuel was sidelined on Sunday, so there is hope there.
You just have to wonder if the 49ers are good enough to work around his absence. Being that they have clearly proven how serious of a playoff contender that they are, I am willing to bet that they will not experience too much of a drop off in their upcoming Seattle game at least.