The 49ers looked great on Sunday. Way better than the Rams. No seriously -- those uniforms were snazzy! It’s actually a good thing Jimmy G is hurt, because just the thought of him in one of those throwbacks the 49ers wore on Sunday got a few women pregnant. If he had actually played in that uniform, the Bay Area would have a serious population problem in nine months.
Meanwhile, the Rams looked terrible. Sure they won the game by a lot. Sure, they’re now 7-0, the only undefeated team in the league, and running away with the division. But they looked like the whole team dressed as Walter White for Halloween. They may win the trophy, but we looked better on the red carpet.
Looking forward though, the 49ers have a chance to look good in the normal football way, where you score more points than the other team. Speaking of the red carpet, it’s about to be rolled out in front of the 49ers, as they face their easiest stretch of the year. Three teams, three wins between them. Victory will be there for the taking. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. In either case, it’s going to be interesting.
At home on the road
It’s hard to judge C.J. Beathard or the 49ers offense too much for their performance Sunday in light of the fact they faced the best team in football and had to contend with Aaron Donald, destroyer of worlds. Donald was an absolute beast, sacking Beathard four times, blowing up multiple plays in the backfield and snatching the ball from Matt Breida with one arm just because he felt like it. It’s impossible to convey the havoc he wreaked at the line of scrimmage in a single clip, but this one comes close:
Hard to ask any Person to block that, Mike or otherwise. So it’s easy write off the ugly display from the Niner offense on Donald and the Rams. But, it’s interesting to note it’s the second straight poor performance for Beathard and the offense at home, where they’ve put up an average of 15 points while turning the ball over nine times. Meanwhile, Beathard and the offense have played very well in both their two road games since Jimmy G went down, putting up an average of 28.5 points, and seriously challenging two playoff contenders.
Or perhaps it’s less about home vs. the road, and more of an every other week thing -- one week they play well, the next they don’t. In any case, the good news is that this week the 49ers are both on the road and coming off a poor performance, so things may be looking up. The fact they’ll face an Arizona team with just win (ahem, never mind who it was against) that just fired its offensive coordinator and is going with a guy who’s never called plays before (but has been carried down the field by his offensive line) might help as well.
Party like it’s 2010
It feels weird to say it now, but there was a lot of optimism during the Mike Singletary era, especially entering 2010. He took over a 2-5 team midway through 2008, and went 5-4 down the stretch, losing three heart-breakers to playoff teams. In 2009, they went 8-8. He had turned around the culture of the team (HE WANTED WINNERS!). The talent level was rapidly improving. Many believed a breakthrough was around the corner.
The 49ers were beaten in Seattle on opening day, then alternated between close losses and blowout losses as they slid to 1-6. That sounds more than a little like the 49ers situation from this year.
Not that it’s necessarily instructive, but they won their next game and alternated wins and losses the rest of the way, ending at 6-10.
One major difference: that team was so stocked with talent they would go to the next three NFC championship games — after firing Mike Singletary and hiring Jim Harbaugh. I don’t think this team has that kind of talent, but it shows what one key change can do. (Hint: I’m talking about getting Jimmy Garoppolo back.)
Turnover tally update:
Takeways -- 3 (0 on Sunday), last in the league
Giveaways -- 18 (4 on Sunday), first in the league
The turnovers on offense are the headline. I get that. It’s sexy. The 49ers turn the ball over a lot. But I can’t get over the lack of turnovers on defense. You watch the games on Sunday, and it’s happening all the time. A random fumble here, a cheap interception there. A muffed handoff. A tipped pass*. Hell, you see it in the 49ers game if you watch long enough.
But this is historic. That seems all but assured now. It was one thing when the 49ers had only three takeaways in four weeks -- which was still on pace for a record -- but at three through seven weeks it appears they could set a record that no team can touch. At this rate, they would blow away the previous record of 11 -- and that was in a nine-game, strike-shortened season. The 16-game season record is 12, by Washington in 2006. The 49ers are on pace for roughly half that.
Unless something changes drastically (please), this is a year we’ll always remember. 2018 won’t just be “The year Jimmy G got hurt,” it will be “Remember that year when the 49ers couldn’t get any turnovers, like, at all?” At this point, I’m not sure the defense is fully familiar with the concept of a turnover. I honestly think if you walked up to a 49ers defender and said “turnover”. They might say “Those are delicious. Apple is my favorite.”
Apart from the turnover issue, Sunday had to represent a step forward for the defense. We didn’t see the numerous missed tackles or wide-open blown coverages which had become commonplace this season, which is somewhat of a surprise considering the competition (the best team in the league) and the injuries running rampant in the secondary. But at this point saying “other than the turnover issue” is a bit like the old line, “Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln?”
The giveaways made the Rams appear dominant, but despite the 22-7 score at halftime, the 49ers only had 19 fewer yards than LA. For the entire game, 24 of the Ram’s 39 points came off of turnovers. Another two came on a blocked punt, and another seven came after a long punt return gave them the ball on the 49ers 13-yard line. That only leaves six the 49ers allowed on what could be considered “normal” possessions. They held potential MVP Todd Gurley to fairly pedestrian numbers in a season in which he’s challenging multiple league records (though they did nothing to slow down his touchdown output, allowing him to score three).
That’s not to pretend the 49ers would’ve won the game 10-6 had they not committed any turnovers, but the game could’ve at least been competitive. That’s the best thing you could say about the 49ers defense since ... well, the Arizona game two weeks ago, when the overwhelmingly favorable yardage and time of possession statistics were rendered irrelevant by the 0-5 turnover disparity -- against a rookie QB no less. Throw in the 0-3 turnover ratio in the close Green Bay loss, and the game-deciding INT at the end of the tight Charger loss, and one could argue the turnover issue has kept the 49ers from multiple wins, and is the top issue they must fix.
I’m not sure if the problem reflects more poorly on Saleh or the talent -- which promises to be the “chicken or the egg”/”nurture vs. nature” debate to rage on for the remainder of this 49ers season. One could make the argument that even with substandard talent, a good defensive coordinator could force at least a few takeaways with a great scheme and creative defensive playcalling. But you could also argue that even with a terrible scheme and bad playcalling, good defenders would force turnovers with their pure talent from time to time. Which leads me to a new, and much more terrifying possibility: Maybe it’s both — lackluster talent and mediocre coaching.
*And how come the 49ers never tip any passes? They have two defensive lineman who are 6’7” and 6’8”.
I’m going to keep saying it: George Kittle gets closer every day to be the league’s top TE.
After yesterday’s performance, George Kittle is now PFF’s top graded tight end with an 86.5 overall grade. #49ers— PFF SF 49ers (@PFF_49ers) October 22, 2018
See, that’s just what I was saying. It’s a shame the 49ers can’t use his production to accomplish more, but I think one on the things you have to hope for in a lost season such as this is the development of younger players. On Sunday, he had 98 of the 49ers 228 total yards on offense, and their only TD. Their dependance on him is not good, but the fact he keeps producing despite the lack of other productive options certainly is.
(Depressing) stat of the week
There were a lot to choose from on Sunday, but the nod goes to one which is not about that game, or even this season:
Last 49ers win in October: 2015
That’s 0-13 over a three year stretch. None in 2016. None in 2017. None so far in 2018. And the streak will last until at least 2019 unless the 49ers win at Arizona on Sunday.
Speaking of which...
Who’s got it
better worse approximately as bad as us?
Whether you embrace tanking or despise it, the 49ers now find themselves in the “race” for the No. 1 overall draft pick. They are in a three-way tie for the top (or really bottom) spot, with the Cardinals and Giants -- the 1-5 Raiders only “behind” them due to already having a bye week. Interestingly enough, the 49ers find themselves in a position to potentially control their own fate. You might think that’s inherent -- they just need to lose all their games. But that’s not always enough -- other teams can lose all theirs as well. What’s different this year is that the 49ers play all three of those one-win teams -- in the next three consecutive weeks, as it happens -- giving them a chance to gift them each a win.
They’ve already done that against Arizona -- if five turnovers aren’t a gift, I don’t know what is -- and they can complete the “sweep” in Week 8. The draft tiebreaker is strength of schedule, but if the 49ers lose games to bad teams, the tiebreaker won’t matter.
Losing each of the next three games would not guarantee the top draft pick, but it would put them in strong position for it. Of course, the team could go all Chip Kelly and beat one of those teams, potentially ceding the top pick and costing the 49ers the best player available. And while I am personally not a tanking enthusiast or advocate, I recognize as well as anyone the difference between Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas, and that one meaningless win can subtract that kind of game-changing talent from the 49ers rosters of the future.
What will be the 49ers record over the next three games?
This poll is closed
Don’t you know this is the year of the tie? The 49ers are due!