How the 49ers Get Their Groove Back: Steps the Team Can Take To Refocus
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The 49ers have dropped back-to-back must-win games against the Eagles and the Dolphins, and the loss to Dolphins was particularly crushing. There is only one thing for a team to do when they lose to an inferior opponent by 26 points on its home field, and that’s burn the tape. There is nothing to be learned from that game film that also cannot be found by looking into a mirror and holding one another accountable.
Unfortunately, there is not a magic bullet-type solution for what ails the 49ers, short of making an-out-of-left-field type trade for a pass rusher, so what can the front office do to get the team back in the groove?
The 49ers came out flat on Sunday against the Dolphins and it looked like they thought they would be able to just show up and get the victory. Last season, the team played with a chip on its shoulder, a chip that was developed by being underestimated (as a team and, in some cases, individually). No longer underestimated, the Niners are now getting everyone’s best shot.
One way to get a bit of that chip back is to start playing the young guys who are eager to make their name in the league, and the 49ers have several such players who are itching to get some playing time.
The front office did everything short of redacting JaMycal Hasty’s name from all communications in order to keep other teams off the scent and then took the extra step of adding Hasty to directly to the 53-man roster even though they could have protected him from being poached, at least for two weeks.
Despite being safely on the roster, Hasty has been seldom used to this point (2 carries, 1 reception), but it is time to give him the carries that were going to Tevin Coleman and see if he can give the team a little spark. Using Hasty in the Coleman role will allow Mostert and McKinnon to have fresher legs throughout the game as well.
In order to run the ball effectively, the offensive line needs to open holes, and the play of the offensive line has been a hotly-debated topic through the first five weeks. No matter which way the debate is sliced, the offensive line needs to play better, and the most consistent weak spot has been right guard. Dan Brunskill played all along the line last season and the hope was that he could solidify the right guard spot despite not having played the position regularly. So far, his play has not lived up to those expectations.
Last season, Brunskill’s roughest outing came against the Rams when he played the guard position across from Aaron Donald (to be fair, blocking Donald is a tough ask for anyone). Starting a rookie like Colton McKivitz against Donald would seem to be a move of last resort, but at this point what do the 49ers have to lose? They need to figure out the right combination along the offensive line and thus far the current alignment is not working. The front office was high on McKivitz throughout the draft process and saw him as a potential replacement for Joe Staley at left tackle but have settled him in at right guard in training camp. McKivitz has the type of athleticism that plays well in small spaces and he has a mean streak that could provide some much needed attitude and energy.
Injuries have forced the defense to go through many different lineup permutations this season and an injury to Kwon Alexander may force yet another lineup combination. Instead of filling Alexander’s role with reserve linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, the 49ers need to get their best eleven defenders on the field by going to a three-safety lineup. By inserting Tarvarius Moore into the starting lineup, the defense becomes more versatile and improves in coverage, which is a much higher priority given the makeshift pass rush.
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