I could easily use this space each week to write solely about the latest injuries to major players, integral pieces to the 49ers success. I did that two weeks ago, but I don’t want this column to become The Injury Report Manager. And while it seems serious injuries were avoided this week, only losing your best offensive player so far for a short time is nothing to celebrate.
At this point, Kyle Shanahan is like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, except instead of losing limbs he keeps losing offensive weapons (but thankfully not The Offensive Weapon... yet).
TRAINER: “We lost McKinnon for the year.”
SHANAHAN: “’Tis only a scratch! Jimmy will just have to throw downfield more!”
TRAINER: “Goodwin is going to miss some time.”
SHANAHAN: “It’s only a flesh wound! Jimmy has other weapons!”
TRAINER: “Garoppolo is out for the year, too.”
SHANAHAN: “My offense is invincible! I’ll make Matt Breida a star!”
TRAINER: “Now Breida’s hurt.”
SHANAHAN: (draws up offensive scheme using Juszczyk as single-wing quarterback)
I could use this space each week to write about the 49ers porous defense — the missed tackles, blown coverages, lack of pass rush. I did that last week, but I don’t want this column to become The Saleh Manager. Again, this week represented an improvement by the defense (only three missed tackles!), but that’s a low bar to clear, and the Cardinals aren’t exactly the Rams.
The point is this: The themes of the 49ers season have become clear. There’s no point in beating you over the head with them. The team is not good right now. The talent accumulating on the IR and injury report is overwhelming. The whole situation is depressing. Depressing enough, certainly, that you don’t need me to bring you further down. Kind of like I just did. I’d rather provide a distraction — for you and me both. But first, this is The Game Manager, so I at least have to discuss the game a little bit.
Cassius Marsh’s sack with 12 seconds left in the first half was as good an example of the 49ers lack of pass rush as you’ll see. First, the shotgun snap was bad, bouncing at Josh Rosen’s feet. Then he couldn’t pick it up cleanly. Against most teams that would be enough to kill the play. But Rosen had time to pick up the ball and survey the field. It was only then, after not finding an open target, that Marsh finally closed in. He tackled Rosen, then jumped up and celebrated like he’d gone full Khalil Mack on someone. It was pretty sad.
All that to get a sack against a team Pro Football Focus ranked dead last in pass protection by a wide margin. Despite the fact Rosen was pressured on 34.6 percent of his 25 drop-backs on Sunday, that lone sack might be the biggest single indictment of the 49ers ability to rush passer thus far. Or maybe this is:
The #49ers are on pace to have 29 sacks, one fewer than 2017.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) October 8, 2018
Fails in comparison
You know when you’re even cursing Robbie Gould, it’s not the 49ers day. He’d made 33 straight field goals before missing in the 4th quarter. That special teams miscue was sandwiched between an offensive pratfall — Kendrick Bourne’s dropped pass on 3rd down — and a defensive mistake: K’Waun Williams roughing the passer penalty on a failed 3rd down pass. Those three plays within two minutes of game time is as good a microcosm of the day as you’ll find.
It’s also a good example of the repeated mistakes the 49ers have made on both sides of the ball all year. Gould has earned a bad day, but the other units make glaring mistakes every week. The 49ers might have a ton of injuries, and they might not be all that talented, but the repeated unforced errors have to be a concern. You don’t need great talent to play well fundamentally, and the 49ers just don’t do that.
Levi’s Stadium’s shortcomings have been well-chronicled. It’s hot. It’s antiseptic. It’s in Santa Clara. It lacks the character and history of Candlestick. But I haven’t seen much written about how the entire 49ers franchise has done a 180 since moving there. The Niners had been to three straight conference championship games heading into 2014. They had a roster full of talent envied by the rest of the league. They had what most thought was the best young coach in the game. They were a model franchise. And on December 23, 2013, they sent out their old home in climactic fashion.
Then on September 14, 2014, the 49ers christened their new home with a horrific loss to the Chicago Bears, blowing a 17-0 lead. They went a very disappointing 8-8 that inaugural season, fired their wildly successful coach, and haven’t had a winning season since. They have employed four different head coaches in five seasons played at Levi’s.
Considering the team started going off the rails the moment they moved there, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask if it was built on a sacred burial ground. Because judging by what the 49ers have been through since, it seems plausible we have a Poltergeist situation. And Jed York seems like just the guy who would cheap out and move the headstones, but leave the bodies buried.
Facts of life
Fun fact: The 49ers have both the records for the most giveaways in a season (63 in 1978) and the least giveaways in a season (10 in 2011, tied with the 2010 Patriots)
Not so fun fact: This year, the 49ers have a chance to also claim ownership for the NFL record for the least takeaways in a full season. They have just three through five games, putting them on pace for nine. Ten if you’re optimistic. The record is 12, by Washington in 2006.
Even less fun fact: The 49ers also have a real shot at crappy history in the interception department. They have just one, putting them on pace for three heading into Week 17. Even if they got another in that game, they would tie the record, held (but then probably dropped) by the 2008 Detroit Lions -- the first 0-16 team in NFL history. The good news: That last game will in all likelihood be mostly against Sean Mannion & Co., since Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and the rest of the Rams A-Team will probably be resting up for a playoff run. So that gives you something to look forward to, right? Right?!
Who’s got it
better worse than us?
I’m a man of words. I love words. I love expressing myself in words. So please know I don’t take it lightly when I say my absolute favorite word is “schadenfreude.”
I love it because only the Germans would come up a word for something like that. I love that it’s a foreign word that made it into Webster’s dictionary. I love that it’s so specific. I love the way it sounds. But mainly, I love it because what it describes is so damn human.
In the spirit of schadenfreude, let’s look at an NFL fanbase who feels worse right now than 49ers fans. I’d like to do this every week — to cheer myself up with tears of unfathomable sadness (yummy!) — but with 11 games left, I fear I might run out. I mean the Bills have more wins than the 49ers. So do the Browns. So get ‘em while they last!
This week, it’s Falcons fans. They’re also 1-4, but had much higher expectations heading into 2018. Not only were they thinking playoffs, Matt Ryan is officially in the Super Bowl-or-bust portion of his career. Ryan will enter every season looking to finally shed that 28-3 hangover and redeem himself. Looks like 2018 is not the year.
Atlanta could’ve won the season opener at Philadelphia, but couldn’t convert in the red zone at the end -- just like last year in the playoffs. They took arch rival New Orleans to OT but lost despite scoring 37. They blew a last minute lead to Cincinnati. Then, facing a do-or-die game this week, they were blown out by the struggling Steelers. In last place of a tough division, and having suffered 49er-like injuries to major contributors -- Deon Jones and Keanu Neal both out for the year — their season is likely already shot.
The few, the healthy, the watchable
In Week 4, C.J. Beathard’s performance allayed concerns the final 13 49ers games of the year might be unwatchable. On the contrary, it was very entertaining. Sunday against Arizona, we saw the flip side of that coin — as ugly as anybody’s worst fears. It’s times like this we need to reminding that the 49ers still have a few healthy players worth watching each week.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo
2. Richard Sherman
3. Solomon Thomas
4. Reuben Foster
5. Jerick McKinnon
6. Arik Armstead
7. Jerry Attaochu
8. Adrian Colbert
9. Kendrick Bourne
10. Joe Williams
Two are out for the year with torn ACL’s. Two others were cut in the pre-season. Five of the six actually playing for the 49ers have been mostly disappointing. Only Sherman has lived up to the billing, and even he missed a game and a half to injury. My only recourse is to wipe the slate clean, and pick 10 more. Wish me luck and say a prayer for each of them.
1. C.J. Beathard
Now that we’ve seen the good and the bad from Beathard, the only question is, which will we get each week. That will make for suspenseful TV.
2. Matt Breida
The highlight on offense this year. So of course, he got hurt. This is why we can’t have nice things. Luckily, it isn’t serious, but every offensive play without Breida is significantly less watchable.
3. George Kittle
Every week it becomes slightly less ridiculous to say that Kittle is the best tight end in the league -- particularly when considering his salary. So, it’s only a matter of time until he hurts his knee. Wait, never mind.
4. Fred Warner
Before the season, I predicted Warner would lead the team in tackles, and so far he has, making 10+ in his first four games. At times, he’s caught the missed tackle bug that’s been going around, but has still been a bright spot.
.@49ers @fred_warner is the new MIKE lber and the best rookie performance I saw in WK #1 wasn’t named Saquon not Sam. It was FRED, as in FRED Warner. Welcome to the @NFL #BaldyBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/RwHU8gaOnQ— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 13, 2018
5. Kyle Juszczyk
Next to Kittle, Juszczyk is probably the 49ers best receiver right now. That’s a sad sentence. I didn’t enjoy writing it anymore than you enjoyed reading it. But that shouldn’t diminish how effective he is.
6. Reuben Foster
Foster hasn’t had a real impact so far, which is disappointing. But I believe in his talent and don’t see any reason why it won’t show up. Well, other than the fact his shoulder’s always hurt.
7. DeForest Buckner
After a dazzling start, Buckner has largely disappeared — I’m sure due to extra attention being paid to him since the 49ers lack a edge rush threat (SPOILER ALERT!). But I’m hoping to see more of an impact moving forward since he’s the team’s best shot at having a true difference-making defender already on the roster.
8. Mike McGlinchey
Frankly, I’m jealous of some of the impact rookies taken behind McGlinchey, but that shouldn’t detract from his performance. The 49ers have been a much better running team this year, and McGlinchey is a big part of that.
9. Adrian Colbert
File this one under “morbid curiosity”. I mentioned his lack of interceptions in my preseason rankings, and that doesn’t appear to be a fluke. He’s rarely near any balls in the air, and when he is, he doesn’t seem to have any ball hawk in him. Still, I’ll keep watching, hoping for improvement.
10. Ahkello Witherspoon
I’m certainly not watching Witherspoon for entertainment right now. Just hoping to see signs he’s not another one-year wonder, like Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson before him.
That’s not a knock on Sherman — quite the opposite. Opponents literally won’t let him participate. And why would they? They always have better options to attack. Still, if Sherman got beat with any regularity, I’m sure his receiver would put up numbers. They are not putting up numbers.
Good luck completing passes on Richard Sherman this season: pic.twitter.com/71a0EOprKX— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 8, 2018
It’s to the point I actually try to search Sherman out on TV, just to make sure he’s playing. On Sunday he got beat and was chasing down a receiver. I was shocked. Then the flag came out. Offensive pass interference. I should’ve known — Richard Sherman doesn’t get beat.
What are you looking for out of the rest of the season?
This poll is closed