The guys who are going to be here are going to be the guys who rise to the occasion when facing adversity. – Kyle Shanahan. October 8, 2016
After five rough games into the 2017 NFL season, it’s hard to weed through the frustration and angst to find a valid argument that the San Francisco 49ers could be a better team. But, there’s always something to discover, and something to build upon that isn’t looking forward to the offseason or draft.
Three. Matt Breida Can Run the Ball.
Veteran running back Carlos Hyde must have left his best game in Santa Clara. At one point, I looked up and saw he had five rushing attempts for 10 yards, and I believe that was in the third quarter.
Head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did what any coach would do: he replaced Hyde with another player.
Undrafted rookie running back Matt Breida took advantage of the opportunity and created some explosion for the 49ers’ offense.
Shanahan: Really, we have three backs that are up. And we try to give them all carries and go with the hot hand. We felt like (Matt) Breida was the hot hand at the time.
And for one drive, Breida did have the hot hand.
With 3:17 left in the third quarter, Shanahan went with Breida at running back. On this drive, the 49ers went 69 yards to kick a field goal; Breida’s five runs totaled 39 yards, over half the offense for the series. He had two explosive runs of 14 and 13 yards, which is what the team needed at that moment.
In the strange, confusing world of the 49ers, Shanahan only went back to Breida four times for the remainder of the game: two run plays and two pass plays. If he had the hot hand, why only four plays that called his number?
The 49ers now have a good problem: How to rotate Hyde and Breida and balance their workload. Quite frankly, Hyde cannot handle the ball 20 times a game for a full NFL season. Breida can be the back to help take the ball 10 to 12 times a game and total 50 to 80 yards on the ground.
Two. Ray-Ray Armstrong Isn’t an Inept Linebacker.
I will freely admit my dislike for linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong. I didn’t like the signing in late 2015, and I didn’t care for his one-year contract extension in March 2016. I thought former general manager Trent Baalke was giving the fan base a one-finger salute when he signed Armstrong to a two-year extension in December 2016.
Keep in mind that Armstrong hadn’t played a down since injuring his pectoral muscle on September 20, 2016.
Armstrong was penciled in as a starter this season, but I was not surprised to see him lose the starting job to rookie Reuben Foster. After Foster’s injury, I thought Armstrong was going to be yet another weak point in the 49ers’ defense.
I was wrong, and I freely admit that to the football world. It’s okay to be a football fan, make a guess and be wrong.
The last two weeks, Armstrong’s played the best football of his career. He’s surpassed his career tackles and come up with crucial interceptions to keep the 49ers in a position to win games. On Sunday, he only allowed two catches for seven yards and notched four tackles.
Armstrong’s earned back-to-back high grades from Pro Football Focus, with an 89.7 grade against Arizona and 83.7 against Indianapolis.
One. There’s Always DeForest Buckner.
Do you ever have that song, moment or person in your life that you can rely on when it feels like a big grizzly bear is going to come out of the closet and eat you whole?
The 49ers have that person, and he’s a second-year defensive lineman. His name is DeForest Buckner. He is the 49ers candy man; he mixes it with love and makes the games much better.
When the chips are down, and the 49ers are struggling, here comes Buckner with pressure on the quarterback. Buckner is the only elite player the 49ers have, and he’s going to be the player general manager John Lynch, Shanahan, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will build around.
So this Sunday, when Washington is driving down the field, look for Buckner to separate your sorrow from five straight losses, even if just for a few fleeting moments.