Forget every argument about the lack of offensive or defensive strategy drawn up by the coaching staff of this year’s San Francisco 49ers.
Forget the run-pass option, an edge rusher, and quit complaining about Solomon Thomas.
Check your hate or love of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh at the door, and leave the “Kyle Shanahan is a Genius” hat hanging on the hall tree.
Finally, forget quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s ACL.
Through three weeks of the 2018 season, the most significant issues with the 49ers have nothing to do with injuries or scheme.
No, Gentle Reader, for yet another season, what’s stopping the 49ers from taking the step from average to competitive is a breakdown in fundamentals, ongoing mental errors, and a failure to play 60 minutes of consistent football with an offense, defense, and special teams
Sure, the 49ers mounted a small comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. That’s wonderful if you’re a fan of participation and effort ribbons. If that’s the case, then feel free to send 53 of those to 4949 Centennial Boulevard.
Shanahan has a plethora of offensive ingenuity, and Saleh has the intensity to convince a devout Quaker storm a French beachhead with a flamethrower and an M-1.Garand. Unfortunately, both men have failed to install the bricks and mortar that set the foundation of a well-disciplined football team.
Against the Chiefs, the 49ers’ defense missed 17 tackles, giving them a league-leading 43 missed tackles through three weeks of football. If you’re a fan of math, that means the 49ers defense misses 14.3 tackles per game. (Per Jeff Deeney with Pro Football Focus)
Chiefs' head coach Andy Reid and his second-year phenom quarterback Patrick Mahomes shredded the 49ers’ secondary for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Throughout the game, the secondary looked overwhelmed and resorted to two pass interference penalties and one defensive hold to try and stop the Chiefs from completing a pass.
In fact, the 49ers’ secondary ranks dead last in the league with a 35.6 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus. The Saints have the third worst secondary in the NFL and currently have a 50.1 grade.
Last season, the 49ers’ secondary earned a 64.0 coverage grade from PFF, placing them 26th overall in the NFL. Adding All-Pro Richard Sherman has shut down the right side of the field for opposing quarterbacks, but the remainder of the defensive backfield is a complete disaster.
If it’s a moral victory you seek, the 49ers’ run defense held the Chiefs to 77 net rush yards on 28 attempts. I am Jack’s exuberance.
Second-year running back Matt Breida is the shining star of a struggling offense. Currently, his 274 rush yards have him tied for the league lead. He and the offensive line have earned our applause.
The other side of the shiny coin is scarred and ugly. The 49ers' passing attack ranks 24th overall.
The offensive line has limited the number of quarterback sacks and hits but has allowed 35 hurries and 46 pressures. $10 million right guard Laken Tomlinson, rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey, and left-tackle Joe Staley all have allowed nine pressures.
Through three weeks, the 49ers’ offense has had seven three-and-out series. Three-and-outs are confidence killers, and never let the defense reset.
I’ve watched the first two weeks of film and have noticed another frightening trend:
Defense holds Detroit to 3-and-out; Capitalize on momentum!
Again: Momentum shift and a short field.
Dead offensive series. A holding call, sack, two runs on 2nd/3rd-and long.
Fourth series: Here’s where they need to keep the momentum after a forced fumble.
Defense holds MIN to 3-and-out; Now is ANOTHER momentum shift
Momentum back in 49ers’ favor; capitalize!
Between the overthrows, wrong routes, and shoddy pass protection, the offense has been unable to grasp any momentum and keep it for an entire game.
Last season, the team had 123 total penalties – roughly 7.7 per game – which were the fourth most in the NFL. The team gave up 988 yards of field position or about 8 yards per penalty.
The story remains the same in 2018. Against the Chiefs, the 49ers committed 14 penalties for 147 yards. So far, the 49ers have earned 26 penalties this season, resulting in 254 yards of lost field position.
My own math reveals the team is on pace to break last year’s number with 138 penalties, or 8.7 penalties per game.
“Today’s NFL is a very complex world, and great football knowledge alone won’t get your team to the Super Bowl.”
Bill Walsh. “To Build a Winning Team: An Interview With Head Coach Bill Walsh.” Harvard Business Review. January-February 1993.
Ask any 49er fan who the gold standard of football coaching is and you’ll probably hear Bill Walsh. His legacy and influence still echo in Santa Clara and throughout the NFL.
I am not comparing Shanahan to Walsh, which would be pointless, insulting both men and Hub readers. Instead, reread Walsh’s quote and think of the last 19 games under Shanahan.
Indeed, Shanahan and Saleh have had a series of bad luck since taking over coaching duties. Neither has found a way to appease the Football Fates or keep the grizzly reaper away from the 49ers’ sideline.
Both men have failed to find a way to keep the 49ers focused. Calling the right play, at the right time, and against the right formation is a beautiful skill. But even the most brilliant play is worthless if a player holds or jumps offsides.
Ignore any commentary stating the 49ers are at a turning point, are out of playoff contention, or any ridiculous Twitter comment that bangs the drums of doom.
No, the 49ers are at a place where the players and coaches need to forge their destiny. The 53 men on the roster and 27 coaches can control the way they play, the style, the intensity, and the mental sharpness.
Starting tomorrow, it's less about football knowledge. Tomorrow, the 49ers need to start doing executing the small parts of the game or continue hoping sloppy football can grind out a handful of wins.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.
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