Brandon Aiyuk has been missing in action all season.
That falls at the feet of Kyle Shanahan, who appears more concerned with proving a point than enhancing his offense. Aiyuk is low on Shanahan's favoritism ladder and there doesn't seem to be a concerted effort to get him involved.
"He's trying to work on being more consistent and it's still a work in progress,” said Shanahan Monday on a conference call. "We're going to keep pushing him hard at that. Not a lack of effort. B.A.'s working at it and I expect him to keep trying to get better here.”
As much as this is Shanahan's fault, this could partly be due to Jimmy Garoppolo. Throughout training camp, Garoppolo's favorite target was Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. He couldn't connect with Aiyuk consistently. The quarterback that connected with Aiyuk the most was Trey Lance who just happens to be starting in Week 5.
Aiyuk can have a breakout game against the Cardinals on Sunday.
He will have a quarterback that he has a connection with. I only attended a handful of training camp practices, but each one I attended it was clear that Aiyuk was a favorite target of Lance. And since this is Lance's first career start, perhaps Shanahan will put his qualms about Aiyuk aside and utilize him to make Lance's debut smoother.
The 49ers need all hands on deck to make it a comfortable start for Lance, especially with George Kittle most likely out. Facing off against an undefeated Cardinals team, there is no room to be worrying about where a player ranks on the favoritism ladder. If Shanahan does limit Aiyuk, then that is an indictment on him.
Another reason Aiyuk can have a breakout game is that the Cardinals are hurting in the secondary. Their cornerbacks are made of duct tape with the injuries they are facing. Byron Murphy, their best cornerback, is out against the 49ers. And they have two cornerbacks, Antonio Hamilton and Marco Wilson, carrying questionable designations that indicate they will not be 100 percent. Aiyuk can feast on these corners easily.
This game is almost perfectly setup for Lance to look smooth as a passer, while giving Aiyuk his first big game of the season. The only two hindrances will be the Cardinals pass rush and Shanahan utilizing Aiyuk. Starting 2-2 in the face makes the panic meter rise and will only ascend if they lose to the Cardinals.
Aiyuk being involved will only increase the 49ers chances of winning.