Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The 49ers came in to Sunday’s game against the 10-4 Chicago Bears riding a two-game win streak and stirring up memories of the 2017 squad that ended the year with a five-game win streak, but as Bill Parcells once quipped, “You are what your record says you are.” Right now the 49ers are a 4-11 football team, and many of the factors that have led to that record showed up in the final home game of the year.
Red Means Stop:
The team’s red-zone woes continued on Sunday. The 49ers had nine total drives against the Bears, four of them reaching the red zone. The 49ers drove the ball deep into Bears’ territory getting down as far as the 11-yard line before a penalty pushed them back 10 yards (more on that later). The 12-play, 63-yard drive would culminate in a Robbie Gould 33-yard field goal. Later in the second quarter, the 49ers would again drive the ball deep into Bears territory, getting all the way down to the 12-yard line only to have to settle for another Gould field goal. Surely, the third time would be the charm as the 49ers took the ball all the way down to the Bears’ 5-yard line but again had to settle for a Gould field goal, although the game clock and the end of half were mitigating factors. The inability to score touchdowns in the red zone is the number one issue that the 49ers’ offense needs to correct in 2019. Scoring a touchdown on just 39.13 percent of their red zone trips, the offense ranks dead last in NFL and by a pretty significant margin (the 49ers trail Jacksonville by a little more than 6 percent). For all of the troubles the 2017 49ers had with scoring red zone touchdowns, this year’s team is worse by almost 6 percent. Jimmy Garoppolo’s absence is certainly a factor in the team’s lack of red zone success but so too is the loss of Carlos Hyde; a power back to compliment the speed of Breida and McKinnon should be on John Lynch’s offseason shopping list.
Penalties played a key role in the 49ers’ loss to Chicago on Sunday, even though, they were only penalized six times for 45-yards it was the timing of the penalties that was particularly damning, three in particular, stood out. On second-and-5 from the Bears’ 11-yard line, Trent Taylor was called for an illegal block in the back that pushed the 49ers back to the Bears’ 21; the 49ers would have to settle for a field goal. Later in the second quarter, a K’Waun Williams interception was negated by a defensive holding call on Fred Warner; the Bears would maintain possession of the ball and finish the drive with a touchdown. In the third quarter with the 49ers leading 9-7, DeForest Buckner was called for a facemask penalty on what would have been a tackle for a 4-yard loss, but instead of third-and-5 from their own 15-yard line the Bears had the ball first-and -10 from their own 34-yard line; the drive would eventually end in the game-winning touchdown. At the midway point this season, the 49ers were among the least penalized teams in the NFL with just six penalties per game, 7th fewest in the league. In the last seven games, however, the 49ers have seen their penalties per game go up by 18.3 percent during which time the 49ers have been forced by injuries to shuffle players in and out of the lineup making it difficult to get any sort of continuity.
The injury bug has not only bitten the 49ers this year, it has infested the entire facility at 4949 Centennial Boulevard. Sunday saw two of the 49ers’ biggest playmakers leave with injuries and not return. Matt Breida was limited to just nine snaps against the Bears as he re-aggravated an ankle injury that has plagued him all season. As tough as it was to see Breida go out with an injury it was more difficult to see Dante Pettis be tackled and twisted awkwardly, suffering what looked to be a serious knee injury; thankfully though it was just an MCL sprain that will not require surgery. Pettis had been playing really well in recent weeks and showing the skills that made him a second-round selection in the 2018 draft and taking some of the pressure off of the offense’s primary weapon, tight end George Kittle. Without Breida and Pettis the Bears were able to focus all of their attention on Kittle and as a result the 49ers were able to muster only three Robbie Gould field goals.
One could make the case that this year’s 49ers video yearbook be titled Growing Pains. On Sunday, the 49ers’ starting quarterback, running back, both wide receivers and the starting right tackle are all just 23 years old. At 24.5 years old, the average age of the defensive starters wouldn’t be able to rent a car in most states, but the experience they are gaining this year will payoff going forward. The penalties, inconsistent play and, to some extent, the injuries are the vagaries of youth and losses they cause are the toll that must be paid for experience.
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