Myth/Fact: Setting the Record Straight on the 49ers’ Week 1 Loss
The scientists who first linked two computer networks together in October 1969 had no idea what was in store for the internet. Aunt Ginny's conspiracy theory regarding pure adrenochrome has nothing on the wrath of the San Francisco 49ers' fanbase has after a Week 1 loss to a lesser opponent.
Below are a few myths shared among the millions of faithful fans, with clear facts to dismantle each.
Myth: The 49ers made the right moves during the offseason to come in as a top NFL team.
Fact: The 49ers began the 2020 offseason with 22 free agents and the looming retirement of Joe Staley. Over six months, five of these free agents signed with another team, and the 49ers resigned 14 of the players left on the list. Among the re-signings were tackle Shon Coleman and cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson.
Some new free additions were linebacker Joe Walker (who's now on the practice squad), wide receiver River Cracraft (who has one career reception and ended up on the practice squad), cornerback Jamar Taylor (who the 49ers released on September 3) and center Spencer Long (who retired three days after signing with the team).
There's a difference between preparing for training camp - which the 49ers did - and building a roster for the regular season - which the 49ers failed to do.
Essentially, the 49ers started this season with the same roster as they had in 2019. The team made no effort to address the interior offensive line and did not add real talent to the wide receiver position. Rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is an unknown commodity at this moment. Anyone who claims to be confident he is the answer to the 49ers' offensive woes provides nothing more than an empty guess.
While other teams were building, namely the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers remained in cruise control.
Despite the clamoring from Twitter, an NFL team can only afford to sign a handful of quality veterans. But I'd like an explanation as to why Dontae Johnson deserved an extension, or why the team had no idea Long planned to retire three days after inking a one-year deal. Shouldn't one of the free-agent interview questions include: Where do you see yourself contributing to the franchise over the next few weeks and months?
Adding left tackle Trent Williams and signing defensive lineman Arik Armstead to a long-term deal were the only impact moves the 49ers made in the spring and summer. If anything comes back to bite the 49ers this year, it will be the team's complete lack of effort in the offseason.
Myth: Okay, but it's really time to take a good look at Nick Mullens. Maybe let him start and see what happens? How bad can it be?
Fact: O fortune, fortune! All men call thee fickle.
Second-string quarterback Nick Mullens is not the answer for permanent, long-term success.
Indeed, Mullens had a solid stretch of games in 2018, when the 49ers were desperate for someone other than C.J. Beathard to play quarterback. Mullens made a few good throws and was the gritty spark the team needed to snap itself out of a dismal season. These facts do not make him a better quarterback than Garoppolo.
Myth: C'mon. Garoppolo lost that game for the 49ers.
Fact: If you find yourself at the end of each 49er loss blaming the quarterback, I would highly encourage you to start watching the all-22 tape. Nobody is disputing the fact that Garoppolo did not play well. He looked sloppy and indecisive, with off-target throws, lousy footwork, and a frightened look.
However, his receivers dropped at least three catchable footballs that could have kept drives going.
What about wide receiver Dante Pettis' lack of effort on running back Jerick McKinnon's near-score early in the second quarter? Had Pettis made any effort to remove a defender from the play, the 49ers would have been up 17-7 early in the second quarter. Instead, the team ended up in a fourth-and-goal situation and failed to convert.
Further, nobody has mentioned how Arizona Cardinals' quarterback Kyler Murray gashed the 49ers' defense for 91 yards on the ground. In his three career games against the 49ers, Murray has racked up 192 yards on 26 carries. Mobile quarterbacks hang around the 49ers' neck like an 18-pound chunk of kryptonite, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has no answer on how to stop that slow bleed.
And then there's Arizona wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins who had 16 catches for 151 yards. Hopkins is the type of player who will find a small sliver of space in the coverage and be happy with 12- to 20-yard gains all afternoon. There's no real defensive strategy to stop a player like Hopkins, except with a ferocious pass rush.
Arizona had an answer to neutralize the rush: a faster passing attack using short drops and quick reads. Murray completed 22 passes on 26 attempts on throws ten yards or less and gained 173 yards. He only had four completions and 57 yards in the air on throws beyond ten yards.
These are the little things the 49ers did well last year that they did not do on Sunday. So, yes, Garoppolo did not play well, but the Cardinals' offense had a creative strategy that took away Bosa, Armstead, and rookie Javon Kinlaw.
Myth: It's time to move on from Dee Ford/Kwon Alexander.
Fact: There is video evidence of what the 49ers' defense looks like without edge defender Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander; it's the 2018 49ers. Two years ago, the best the 49ers played Cassius Marsh at the edge and relied on Malcolm Smith at linebacker. That 49ers team finished 28th in overall defense.
Both Ford and Alexander could have used two preseason games to get back to game speed. Remember, both are coming off of late-season injuries and might have been slightly more hesitant than usual. I will concede that Ford needs to be on the field for more than 56 percent of the snaps he played Sunday.
Myth: Shanahan's white whale is throwing the ball to win, especially when he doesn't have to.
Fact: This myth isn't too far off from reality. I thought Shanahan would call a run-heavy game with Samuel inactive and use shorter passes and play-action when needed. Keep in mind all four 49er running backs were active on Sunday, so why not use an attack that rotated four backs and keep Arizona guessing?
It's also clear that Sundays' wide receivers strike fear in the hearts of no man. Arizona removed tight end George Kittle from the equation and forced Garoppolo to find other targets. When the final gun sounded, Garoppolo targeted Pettis once and Trent Taylor and Kendrick Bourne five times each.
Shanahan called 24 runs against 33 passes, and it probably would have been a 49er victory if he reversed these numbers. The passing game never got moving, and Shanahan let the run game die an unnecessary death.
Myth: Cold Pizza is good (per Zach Grier)
Fact: Cold pizza is delicious, especially with some Tabasco sauce. Leftover food should never be reheated.
The Cardinals were not the ideal opponent to knock off the rust, but even a hobbled 49er team only lost by four points. It's time to take a breath and allow the team to regroup and prepare for a long trip to lovely East Rutherford, NJ.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
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