Hang Overtime: No Gas, All Airbag
Image Credit: 49ers
The 49ers appeared to be in prime midseason form.
That is to say, the offense lacked any rhythm, the defense was miscommunication and lacking fundamentals, and head coach Kyle Shanahan had this gaze in his eye like he’d gotten 3 hours of sleep total over the course of the previous week.
The 49ers theme this offseason has been unity and cohesion following their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. The roster stayed largely intact and the chemistry they had developed over the course of last season would seem to give them an advantage over other teams who didn’t have that kind of luxury due to the truncated offseason. The 49ers seemed primed to open their season with a bang against an incredibly young and growing Arizona Cardinals squad.
So what happened?
“We had a number of chances to win that game” Kyle Shanahan said following the game. “You know, I thought we started out very well, um, you know I thought we had a chance to run away with it a little in the first half. Any time you’re averaging eight yards a play and you’re holding them pretty good on the other side of the ball. I thought we would have more points to show for it than what we did. I know why we didn’t. I know we didn’t convert one third-down in the first half, we didn’t convert one fourth-down and we didn’t convert in the red zone.”
“No matter how well you’re doing on first and second down, you’re not going to get any points when you’re 0-for-all other situational areas.”
That may be the biggest takeaway from this game is the 49ers seemed to have it in hand. Not even “missed opportunities” as Shanahan seemed to elude to, but rather opportunities that the team had in hand and threw away due to shoddy performance.
The 49ers were missing their starting center as well as their first and second wide receiver on the depth chart, and still led 13-10 heading into the half, averaging 6.9 yards per play while holding the Cardinals to 5.0 yards per play.
It became clear once the second half started, that Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins flat out gassed the defense.
If you’ve ever seen cats play with kittens with much more energy, you can see that for a time their size and experience keep them in any game they find themselves in, but as their energy wanes, the kittens excitement and energy take over.
Kyler Murray, at 23 years old, just looked too spry for a 49ers defense that had been struggling in an environment with visible ash and particulates in the air. He and Hopkins wore down a 49ers defense that was first in the league in pass protection last season until they were nothing more than a group of cats who seemed to lack the ability to wrap up their tackles. By the time Kyler Murray ran 22-yards in the fourth quarter for a touchdown, the 49ers defense could do nothing but look onin awe.
Shortly after that play and after the 49ers scored a touchdown on a five-yard pass to RB Jerick McKinnon (and his first touchdown since 2017), Murray and the Cardinals were moving down the field at will. On third-and-six from the SF 34, he found an entirely-too-open Hopkins who scuttled down to the one-yard line.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah there was a miscommunication on both sides” Richard Sherman said following the game. “You know it’s just one of those things we have to address.The calls didn’t get all the way through to everyone. We had two sides playing two different coverages so anytime you have something like that there’s gong to be a hole.”
The offense was not without it’s own issues. Jimmy Garoppolo was 19-33 for 259 yards, but when you remove Raheem Mostert’s 76-yard touchdown catch early in the game, The numbers show how poor Garoppolo’s performance was and how badly the team missed wide receivers Deebo Samuel and first round pick Brandon Aiyuk.
“We had an idea all week. We were holding out hope for [WR] Deebo [Samuel] at the beginning of the week.” Shanahan said. "That changed towards the end of the week completely, as you guys saw when we put him on IR. [WR Brandon] Aiyuk we were holding out hope for and there was a small glimmer of hope towards the end of the week, but with it being his first week and stuff, we were a little more conservative with that. So, we went into the game knowing there was going to be a good chance that it was going to be like today with the lack of receivers and stuff, but yeah, that's it. Hopefully he’ll be there next week.”
Even with the depth issues at wide receiver, Garoppolo was not doing the best he could with what he had. While he didn’t turn the ball over, (there was an interception along the sideline when Garoppolo threw to a triple-teamed McKinnon that was called back due to a pass interference play) Garoppolo seemed skittish in the pocket, ducking pressure that wasn’t there and running into pressure he didn’t see. Garoppolo threw a high pass to Kittle that resulted in a low hit by Budda Baker that hyper-extended Kittle’s knee and limited him through the rest of the game. He also overthrew wide receivers’ Trent Taylor and Dante Pettis in key moments and also seemed to under throw a touchdown throw to Kendrick Bourne at the end of the game and made a late throw to Taylor on fourth down that would’ve given them a shot at winning the game.
“Yeah, I think personally just the consistency, making every drive as perfect as we possibly can.” Garoppolo said following the game. "You just want to eliminate errors, really, is what it comes down to. Just everyone being on the same page, seeing the same picture and I think we'll be good from there, but I think it's just when it comes to third down, red zone, things like that, we just have to execute at the end of the day.”
There’s no secret that the team seemed out of sync, and having much less offseason work due to the pandemic likely kept the team from getting important work in that would’ve eliminated these mistakes. This game was a wake up call though. The 49ers know there are no gimmes, especially not with a quarterback as talented as Kyler Murray. If they want to have a different outcome the next time these two meet, everyone needs to do their job.
We’ve all got to play better on offense, especially,” Shanahan said near the end of his press conference.
"and it starts with me.”
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