RebuildWatch2018: Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
As any avid consumer of home-renovation programming knows, a house can be in a great location and need some basic fixes like new carpet or paint in order to look nice, but it is sometimes difficult to tell how sound the house is until you open up a wall or go underneath to look at the foundation. For all intents and purposes, the 49ers were forced to take a look inside the walls of their house on that fateful afternoon in Kansas City when Jimmy Garoppolo’s ACL snapped. At first the 49ers looked for a temporary fix to get through the season, but after going 1-3 against the Cardinals, Raiders, Giants, and the Buccaneers, we have reached the point in the season when Kyle Shanahan has set aside the pretense of finding a temporary fix for the reality of developing for 2019 season and making sure the team is structurally sound going forward.
Following a post-bye week performance that saw the team come out flat against Tampa Bay, the team traveled to Seattle to face a much tougher opponent in a more hostile environment. Here are some things to take away from an ugly loss against the Seahawks for the rebuild watch:
After recording zero receptions in four straight games and being practically invisible against the Giants, many of the keyboard general managers on 49ers Twitter have been pretty vocal in calling second round pick Dante Pettis a bust. After a 4-catch, 77-yard, and 1-touchdown performance against the Bucs, Pettis had a career-high 5 catches for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns versus the Seahawks. Pettis showed the ability to diagnose coverage pre-snap and adjust his route to take advantage as he did on his 75-yard touchdown. Pettis also showed off his unique run-after-catch skills when he took a short pass and looped around a Kyle Juszczyk block and tip-toed into the end zone. Pettis appears to be healthy after a minor knee injury and is benefitting from the playing time that he is getting as the 49ers look to the future at the expense of Pierre Garçon’s playing time. Pettis also showed his inexperience in the first quarter Sunday when he caught a pass on third down and ran parallel and failed to pick up the yardage needed for the first down; every snap he gets the rest of the season will shorten his learning curve for 2019.
After leading the 49ers offense to their first single-digit point performance the year against the Bucs, Nick Mullens needed to show he could rebound, and rebound he did. On Sunday, Mullens became the first 49ers quarterback to throw for 400 yards since Colin Kaepernick did it in 2013. Even though the effort did not result in a win, Mullens showed moxie and toughness in attempting to come back from a 20-3 halftime deficit. If it wasn’t before, this season has shown the importance have having a competent backup signal caller. Whether Nick Mullens is that remains an open question; a question that the 49ers need answered. Mullens will be the starter for the rest of the season and will have the chance to continue making his case as the full-time backup to Jimmy Garoppolo.
Jeff Wilson, Jr:
In a lost season, finding players for the team to build around becomes paramount and in that search, frontline players get all the attention but finding depth is important, too. Matt Breida has shown that he could be a great compliment to Jerick McKinnon next year; Matt Breida has also shown he has trouble staying healthy. Jeff Wilson, Jr. stepped in on Sunday, when Breida aggravated an ankle injury in pre-game warmups, with 134 total yards. Wilson, who was slowed by his own leg injury, showed toughness in heart and running style and put his name squarely in the mix for more snaps the remainder of the season. How Wilson performs in these final four weeks will be worth keeping an eye on as the team looks to improve the roster from 1 through 53.
Playing the majority of the season without the two biggest pieces of the offense has highlighted the weak points of the entire roster, and as a result, the 49ers have been forced to take a much deeper look at themselves; the result will be a much stronger team going forward.
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