Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Show me that smile again. (Show me that smile)
Don’t waste another minute on your crying
We’re nowhere near the end (nowhere near)
The best is ready to begin
The 49ers in their first two seasons under Kyle Shanahan have had some rough patches. Fans have been pushed to their limits with bad penalties, blown coverages, and overall poor play. But last Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, all that changed. How much of that can we chalk up to the opponent and how much of that are simply errors that will be corrected over time? We’ll take a look at some problems that have plagued the Niners during the season and if the Raiders game was a turning point for the team.
The 49ers have made a habit of killing their own drives with ill-timed penalties. Holding calls in the red zone, offensive pass interference in the end zone, illegal formation on a third down conversion; they haven’t been shy in forcing the refs to throw their yellow flags this season. They had four-game stretch earlier this season in which they were averaging nine penalties for 81.75 yards, horrendous numbers that led the league at the time. Those numbers had fans and media alike wondering what Shanahan had to do to instill some discipline and curtail the problem. On Thursday against the Raiders, they committed only three penalties for 23 yards, which seems to be the new trend. Over the last four games the Niners are averaging three penalties for 25.5 yards, a huge improvement over earlier in the season.
The two most egregious plays that will stick in the minds of fans this season will be Adrian Colbert’s poor angle on the deep Christian Kirk touchdown, and Tyvis Powell’s lack of communication after Ahkello Witherspoon handed off Kirk that led to the game-winning touchdown at the end of the second Arizona game. Both of those plays are unforgiveable, Colbert, before his injury, had clearly regressed and Powell’s play is coverage you would learn in high school.
But like the penalties, Thursday was completely different. While Derek Carr completed 16 of 21 passes, he amassed only 171 yards, averaging a paltry 8.14 yards per attempt. The secondary was able to stick on their man and force Carr into check downs to his running backs. Hidden in the improved coverage was an improved pass rush. Over the last two weeks the defense has logged 11 sacks, almost half of their total to date. The more improved the pass rush, the better the coverage will be on the back end. Robert Saleh and Chris Kiffin are experimenting more with stunts and blitz packages and it’s paying off on all three levels of the defense.
It’s easy to be frustrated at the losing that’s been going on. The hard part is contextualizing the factors that are going into it. Over Shanahan’s 25 games as head coach the average age of the team is only 25.12 years old. Because of Baalke’s poor drafts, John Lynch and the front office essentially had to build this team from scratch. Mistakes are bound to happen, but the measure of a coaching staff is identifying those mistakes and working to improve on them, and over the last few weeks it seems like Shanahan and his staff are doing just that. Remember some of the dumb things you were doing at 25? Now imagine doing them in front of a camera.
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