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San Francisco 49er games are not easy to watch this season. In between the gaffes and mental errors, there is a global sphincter tightening any time a man in a gold helmet falls to the turf in a heap.
It doesn't take a new set of eardrums to hear the Wilhelm scream from the collective Faithful: Bloody hell! Don't let it be another high ankle!
Despite these struggles, the 49ers are a competitive football team. Keep in mind the 49ers' offense held the ball for 13:39 in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints. The 49ers' defense kept two Saints quarterbacks under 150 yards throwing and the Saints’ rush game to 114 yards.
Unfortunately, the 49ers' offense and defense tend to seize like an engine without oil. Deep in the recesses of the 2020 49ers is ability and fight - but the team lacks the roster talent to finish the job.
A Rebirth of Mike McGlinchey
Years ago, before everyone had access to the all-22 film, if the broadcaster didn't mention an offensive lineman during the game, it was a safe assumption the lineman played well.
Veteran right tackle Mike McGlinchey isn't getting his name said in the live broadcast too often, but his game film shows the reality of his poor season.
Now, the improved play from a right tackle isn't going to result in six straight wins and a born again football team. But, McGlinchey has had a drop in play, one of many galvanized steel anchors hanging on the neck of the offense.
1st Quarter - 2nd and 15 at the SF 46 (3:32)
Quarterback Nick Mullens found wide receiver Richie James on a slant route for 14 yards on the play below - a good thing.
What happened on the right side of the line was entirely different.
"200 Scat" protection is aggressive blocking. The quarterback takes a three-step drop and looks to unload the ball on a slant, quick out, or thunder route. It's a day-one install, high-school type of protection.
And as a third-year professional, this type of protection should be bread and butter for McGlinchey.
Instead, McGlinchey was shoved back onto his heels and found himself standing tall.
This was not a one-play exception for McGlinchey. His fundamentals have taken a severe step back this season, which have caused him to get steamrolled throughout games.
McGlinchey doesn't strike me as a player who is happy with average. He has to be seeing the same errors on the same tape in the team film room and cannot be satisfied with his overall play.
He can help the 49ers stay in games and compete for wins by cleaning up his errors.
Continue to Have Faith in Kyle Shanahan
There's no science or data behind it, but it seems every time the 49ers are not doing well or had a bad game, the finger gets pointed immediately at Shanahan. If success has many fathers, then so does failure. An alarming 2020 season cannot be all on the head coach's shoulders simply because fans find it convenient.
Shanahan is not a perfect coach, nor does he need to be. This season, he's called over 600 offensive plays, and not all of them can be zingers. But he has given his offense plenty of opportunities to move the ball downfield and score points. Here's an example from Week 9.
Week 9: 4th Quarter - 1st and 10 at the SF 20 (6:10)
The 49ers' deep passing game has all but vanished this season, but now and then, we're treated to a deep pass over-the-middle that has everyone put down their drinks and applaud.
Shanahan's four-verticals play, known as "Aggie Now," has come up at least three times this season. "Aggie Now" has the four vertical routes as the primary read for the quarterback. The "now" route is nothing more than an outlet if things get ugly in the pocket. It's nothing exotic, and my high school team ran something similar twenty-three years ago.
Mullens found tight end Ross Dwelley in a wide-open field for a 36-yard gain, making it the fourth-longest offensive play for the 49ers against Green Bay.
Again, this is one pass play out of nearly 350 that Shanahan has called this year. Shanahan has made and will continue to make the right calls, but it comes down to player execution, which has hindered the 49ers' offense this year.
Robert Saleh Can Keep Games Close! With a Roster of Scraps!
It feels like a decade ago, but in Robert Saleh's first year as the 49ers' defensive coordinator, he did not have the players on the roster to make his system look functional.
Last year, with power and speed on the edges and the interior, Saleh's system was almost unbeatable. After a series of injuries to key players in 2020, I was afraid the 49ers' defense would look like it did in 2018.
Fortunately, my fears have gone mainly unproven.
In 2019, Saleh could rely on four men getting enough pressure to result in errant throws, turnovers, or sacks. The combination of Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead was too much for most any offensive line to handle.
This year, Saleh's tried to get pressure from a four-man rush but with limited success. However, he has shown some exciting stunts that open up gaps for the linebackers to hurry a quarterback.
Week 9: 3rd Quarter - 3rd and 3 at the SF 21 (9:32)
The simplicity of football will never cease to amaze me. Among the myriad of confusing blitzes and coverages are still some very basic stunts that prove effective.
Saleh had linebacker Fred Warner align in a 9-technique over the Y-receiver and had defensive lineman Kerry Hyder in a wide 9-technique on the open side of the formation.
When I saw the alignment, I thought the stunt would have sent Warner through the C-gap, with cornerback Emmanuel Moseley looping outside the tight end.
Of course, that's not what happened.
Warner and Moseley dropped into coverage, defensive lineman Kevin Givens shot to the strongside A-gap, and Armstead went through the weakside B-gap.
These designed movements parted the open side A-gap like a fabled ocean for linebacker Dre Greenlaw.
It was an excellent stunt, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers was just too fast. He found Davante Adams for an 11-yard gain.
The 2020 49ers are a shell of what they were in 2019, victims of a thousand uncontrollable papercuts that have them nearly bleeding out on the table. But, the team has shown fight and is not entirely out of the playoff picture yet. The 49ers can remain competitive and hopefully took time to look inward to try and find the spark to close out the year on a high note.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
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