• Bret Rumbeck

What’s in the Box? Expectations for the Last Seven Games

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

In a general psychology class a long time ago, I once read that it takes 15 to 20 minutes for anger to leave the body.

That fact does not reflect the general rage of the typical San Francisco 49er fan following Monday night’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Those with long memories and a nasty streak for the Seahawks were aware that was the 49ers’ thirteenth loss the last 15 meetings to our hated neighbors to the north.

I’d gather the anger hangover is still lingering around, and will until this Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

The 49ers have a steep climb over the next seven weeks of football. As of writing, the remaining 49er opponents have a combined 40 wins, 1,668 points for and 1,617 points against. Three of the seven teams have a defense ranked in the top half of the NFL, and the NFL’s leading receiver is ready to find the weak points in the 49ers’ secondary.

I refuse to state whether or not the 49ers will win or lose these contests; speculative football is one of the lowest forms of sports conversation. However, there are two areas the 49ers can adjust to win at least five of its last seven games.

Fire Up the Jugs Machine and Hire a Therapist

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas leads the NFL with 86 catches.

The 49ers’ leading wide receiver is rookie Deebo Samuel, with 30 catches.

The world seemed to realize the 49ers had a receiver problem going into the 2019 season, but maybe a bit of blind faith had some thinking the receiver corps would be the NFL’s dark horse.

Hope and faith are not the rocks to build a critical position group upon and don’t result in more receptions.

It’s unclear to me what the issue is among Kyle Shanahan, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the wide receivers. Shanahan is clearly frustrated his young receivers have not taken advantage of opportunities, and Garoppolo looked visibly annoyed with the drops against Seattle.

No, Dear Friends, the receivers do not have a problem getting separation on a route. They do not have a problem getting open or working in space.

These men cannot catch a football, and it appears Garoppolo’s lack of trust in the group is growing.

49er wide receivers have caught 80 passes this year on 128 targets. Pro Football Focus noted the receivers dropped 13 footballs, but that number feels artificially low.

The late Bill Walsh demanded his quarterbacks put the football at an exact location for the receiver to catch it. Walsh felt that if the ball was off by an inch, it would force the receiver to slow down and not gain necessary yardage after the catch.

Walsh had a sound coaching theory, but even he knew that was an impossible task. Nobody puts a 15-ounce leather spheroid in the exact spot on every throw.

This Sunday, the 49ers’ receivers must exploit the soft Arizona secondary. Arizona’s cover men have allowed 263 completions, 2,865 yards in the air, 25 touchdowns, and 153 passing first downs, all-league highs. Further, Arizona has only generated four interceptions.

Green Bay is another team the 49ers’ offense needs to exploit on the ground and in the air. As usual, the Packers’ defense is near the bottom of the league in total yards allowed, yards per play and first downs allowed. The 49ers cannot go into that game, or the one against New Orleans, with the hope that the run will save them from the pass.

Offensive Line Adjustment

I do not remember the last time I watched a 49ers’ offensive line have such a poor showing, especially from veteran tackle Joe Staley. Second-year tackle Mike McGlinchey added another rough outing to his sophomore season, allowing one sack, one hit, three hurries, five pressures, and one penalty for good measure.

Of course, the choir can all sing that both men were coming back from injury, and we shouldn’t have expected a stellar performance from either.

If another week of recovery would have helped both men, then Shanahan should have kept reserve tackles Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule in the line-up.

Brunskill has allowed one sack, three hurries, and four pressures over 284 snaps this year. And he didn’t commit a penalty.

Seattle also keyed on the weak interior of the 49ers’ line. The guards and center allowed a combined 13 pressures, hits, and hurries. Center Weston Richburg missed ten plays to get his hand examined, and during that short time, back-up Ben Garland allowed one sack and one pressure.

Double-team blocks do not fix the offensive line’s struggles. If the 49ers decided to double Aaron Donald, for example, they run the risk of allowing Dante Fowler to beat a one-on-one block easily.

The five men up front need to rediscover the communication and bond they built in the offseason. I’d like to see McGlinchey rebound from a dismal year. The 49ers have a stronger offensive line with McGlinchey on the right side, but he needs to find a way to build upon a few good performances in a row.

It’s hard to think an eight-win team needs to adjust to win five or six of its last seven games. But these are small issues the team needs to fix. This season’s 49ers turned the ball over five times against the Pittsburgh Steelers and still found a way to win.

Fortunately, the season will not be perfect for the 49ers. But it is an opportunity for the 53 men on the roster to continue to exceed all expectations.

It’s the same squad that brushed off the L.A. Rams and silenced the Carolina Panthers. Monday night’s loss exposed what had been dormant under the surface.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.

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