We've got a bit of bad news coming from the San Francisco 49ers on Friday. Defensive end Ray McDonald is listed as doubtful on the Friday injury report and is not expected to be available when the team takes on the Washington Redskins. McDonald hasn't practiced all week and left last Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns with a left hamstring strain early on. Ricky Jean Francois took over for McDonald and played well.
Jean Francois is likely to get the start at left defensive end if McDonald can't go, and while the former played well in McDonald's absence, it's a definite blow to the 49ers defense. This is McDonald's first season as a starter and has three sacks on the year, a premium for defensive ends in the 3-4 defense. Some rankings have McDonald as one of the best 3-4 ends in the NFL through the first half of the season. His impact in the run game has been felt, and he's been getting good pressure on the quarterback with regularity.
But McDonald's absence isn't likely to hurt the 49ers defense to such an extent to make them question their ability to stop the struggling Redskins offense. Jean Francois made a couple big plays against the Browns, getting in Colt McCoy's face and forcing an incompletion on one play, and teaming up with Patrick Willis to bring down Greg Little on a screen for an eight-yard loss.
Jean Francois also spent time at nose tackle against the Browns, and started at the position in week five against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Isaac Sopoaga was out.
Demarcus Dobbs will also probably be active if McDonald can't go, and will get some snaps in place of Jean Francois when he needs a break. Dobbs had a nice play against the Browns when he entered in the nickel formation and occupied space, allowing Aldon Smith to get around and get a sack on McCoy. If Dobbs is taking snaps in place of Jean Francois, then that might mean Ian Williams is active to take some snaps in relief of Sopoaga at nose tackle.
So while the 49ers would prefer to have the breakout McDonald active on Sunday, his replacements are capable and they're going up a Redskins team that just gave up nine sacks to the Buffalo Bills in their last outing. Their quarterback situation is not ideal and they've got injured running backs aplenty. The 49ers should probably be cautious and sit McDonald even if they feel as though he can play on Sunday.