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Special teams adds itself to a growing list of problems

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Overshadowed by the offense, our special teams unit has likewise been problematic.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After last night's game, there is a lot to complain about. Jed York is doing it; Trent Baalke's daughter is doing it; pretty much every fan is doing it. And they should. Last night saw pretty much everything that could go wrong for the 49ers go wrong. And, when things were going wrong, it was usually the 49ers' own fault.

It's been so bad that what otherwise might be considered a huge problem is getting ignored. I'm talking about our special teams play over the last few weeks. Recently, it's been covered up by the offense, which is bound to draw more attention. But, it's well worth noticing how abysmal our special teams play has been - and I hope that the 49ers are noticing too.

Let's look at some brief numbers first: over at Football Outsiders, there is a statistic that we see pop up all the time: DVOA. It's an attempt to show, in a percentage form, how good one team is in comparison to the rest of the league. The 49ers' special teams DVOA is currently -5.0%, which is good for 30th in the league. Only Chicago and Detroit are worse. And, this was last updated on 11/25. That means that the Seahawks game (which included some piss poor special teams play) is not included. I've got to imagine that we aren't going to be climbing the rankings this week. The metric includes field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, and punt returns, so that's pretty much everything. You might be able to quibble with the statistic a bit, but it sure seems to be passing the eye test right now.

This is a problem. Since Harbaugh took over, this is the team's worst showing (last year they were 7th in the league, in 2012 they were 20th, and in 2011 they were 2nd), and it needs to change. For one thing, we should probably try to hold on to faster runners for kick returns. I like Carlos Hyde as much as the next guys, and he has been adequate, but we never seem to break down the field with pure speed. Running into people at the fifteen yard line and then lumbering to the nineteen is not an effective strategy. Holes need to be opened, and a returner with some pure speed needs to burst through them.

Similar criticisms can be levied against Perrish Cox on the punt return unit, though I think he decision making is the biggest culprit. How many times now has the offense started on the thirteen yard line simply because Cox makes the wrong decision? It's innumerable. He isn't helped by a unit that seems incapable of blocking for him. Moreover, I think it is a bit worrying to have a defensive player in a position that requires a great degree of effective ball handling. He fumbled on a particularly jarring hit last night, but one that might not have generated a fumble had an offensive player been carrying the ball. Of course, that is pure speculation. But, it really strikes me as a problem: this team seems ineffective at special teams.

There's a lot of talk about mixing up the offense today; and, frankly, I think something needs to be done (though I won't get into that here). But, the special teams unit is similarly worrying. We may need to do some shakeups there too.