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The Game Manager, Week 12: Reheating leftovers

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Wherein the author tries to forget there was even a Sunday this week.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Might be time for the 49ers to just take a knee and run out the clock on this season.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

I usually enjoy the back end of Thanksgiving weekend more than I do Thanksgiving Day itself. There’s more, and often better, football, with both very meaningful college football Saturday along with a late November NFL Sunday. But that’s just part of it. The real reason I enjoy it so much is my favorite element of Thanksgiving: leftovers.

For some reason turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes all taste better to me the second time around. There’s a reason why so many delis and restaurants have some version of “The Pilgrim” sandwich (or “The Gobbler,” or “The Mayflower,” or “The Cornucopia”). Playing mad food scientist and mashing up whatever you can find is a post-Thanksgiving as American as, well... Thanksgiving. This year, I got freaky and scrambled up stuffing with my eggs and poured gravy on the whole thing. God bless America! I’ll take that over whatever fresh options are available any day and twice on Sunday (literally!).

The only downside to Thanksgiving weekend: the Sunday after Thanksgiving is often the worst football week of the year. With three games on Thursday and teams still on byes, you get a reduced slate of games, and what seems like less great play overall. I’ve always held that it can add up to the least enjoyable Sundays on the season.

The San Francisco 49ers took that to a ridiculous extreme, both on field and off.

The entire day was so bad I don’t even want to talk about it. If you know me, you know that’s a rare occurrence. If you’ve ever read this column, you’re likely surprised not to see 1,500 words on what happened before I even got to the opening kickoff. But I’d rather not write any words at all.

Why not? 1) There are plenty of places you can read all about it, both on this site and elsewhere. 2) I’m honestly afraid of what I might say — even more so after this development — especially since it’s a situation where you’re supposed to throw out lots of qualifiers like “alleged” and “reported,” which isn’t my strong suit.

I’d prefer to give people a place to go to not read about that. I’d like to provide a distraction. Unfortunately, the 49ers could not do the same vs. the Bucs on Sunday after the kickoff, really tying a bow on a complete turd of a day following a football franchise. I don’t really want to talk about that either. In fact, I can sum it all up in three words:

Okay, full disclosure: I didn’t write that. It was Fooch. Or Pat. Or... Look, I’ll be honest, I have no idea how the Niners Nation twitter feed works. I just know it feeds me 49er content, which for some reason I still hunger for (SPOILER ALERT: It’s self-loathing). But that doesn’t mean I want to talk about it.

I don’t want to talk about Nick Mullens falling back to earth, or the fact he took his first career sack, and second, and third, and fourth. I don’t want to talk about how his less than ideal size and limited arm strength may be paired with a serious inaccuracy issue.

I really don’t want to talk about the 49ers toothless defensive effort, which made Jameis Winston look like Aaron Rodgers. (Check that — much better than Aaron Rodgers!) I don’t want to talk about how they can only come close to sacks and turnovers, but never seem to actually get one of either — even against a quarterback prone to them.

I definitely don’t want to talk about how the referees awarded Jeff Wilson a touchdown when he was clearly short (overturned), but refused to call one on the two following runs when it was pretty clear to the naked eye they did get in, costing the 49ers while it still mattered.

I don’t even want to talk about the bright spots on Sunday, like Breida (another 100 yard game), Wilson (a fairly impressive pro debut), and Dante Pettis (showing flashes of why the 49ers coveted him for the first time since the season opener).

Overall, the game — like the rest of the day — left me feeling... Well...

Right again, Niners Nation twitter. (Lots of other good submissions in that thread if you have some free time and like me are a masochist with an affection for GIFs.)

Mainly, I’m just afraid that if I start talking — really talking — about this game, or this team, or this season, I might not be able to stop. If I open up my gut and speak about where I feel like this franchise is right now -- not where they might be headed, or the guys charged with making that someplace nice, but where they are at exactly this moment -- I might start ranting. And once that happens, I’m likely to go full-on Howard Beale.

No, this past Sunday was no way to end Thanksgiving weekend. So rather than confine ourselves to the hot crap that was cooking on Sunday, let’s warm up some leftover subjects from back when it was just football ugly, and not real world ugly.

(Depressing) Stats of the week

We’re reheating this leftover for the third or fourth time this year. That’s right, it’s the ol’ 49er-can’t-force-turnovers gag.

They forced zero turnovers on Sunday. Again. The seventh game this season they’ve failed to force a takeaway. The 49ers have just two interceptions in 2018. Entering Sunday, there was only one team worse than them at picking off the opposing QB this year, and that was their opponent on Sunday, Tampa Bay, who... picked off Mullens twice. In the same game. I didn’t even know that was within the rules.

For comparison, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard had two interceptions of Andrew Luck in 24 seconds on Sunday. In the span of three plays, and just two defensive snaps, Howard had as many picks as the entire 49ers defense has had in over 700 defensive snaps this season.

In that crazy seven play stretch, there were more points scored than the 49ers have managed in the last game and a half, and more takeaways than the 49ers have managed in the last seven games. That might be the most depressing stat of the year.

But wait, there’s more! The 49ers are now on pace for three interceptions this season (rounding up!), continuing to make them a serious threat to break the record of four by the 0-16 2008 Lions.

The Niners also have just three fumble recoveries on defense (but 11 on offense!), giving them five total takeaways in 11 games. That puts them on pace for just eight (rounding way up!) making them a great bet to break the record of 12 by Washington in 2006). With the injuries piling up, that crap I’m not going to discuss, and more inexperienced youngsters playing as the season progresses, my money is on them to make history.

Speaking of the 49ers “defense”...

Jimmy’s & Joe’s

With the recent midterm elections, you may have noticed how divided people are. Half the folks feel one way about things, while the other half feel the other way. But I’m not talking about democrats and republicans, I’m talking about the #FireSaleh crowd and the #NoDon’t brigade.

Another week giving up 24+ points — the ninth time in 11 games — won’t change that, even if it was to a sneaky-good offense (albeit with a turnover enthusiast at QB).

I mentioned a few weeks back that the question of whether Robert Saleh or the lack of talent should be blamed for the defensive performance was like the age-old nature vs. nurture question. I could’ve just as well used any other of life’s unknowable questions, like “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” or “Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?”

The crowd around here seems pretty well split down the middle. Only one thing can be done in divided times like this. Civil war! Debate!

You know what that means. Wait, you don’t? Then maybe there should’ve been a question mark at the end of that last sentence. Let me try that again...

Who knows what that means? It means we’re reheating leftovers of nobody’s favorite parlor game. That’s right, it’s Hot take/Cold give, back with an all-well-worn-cliche version! Where I get to argue against both sides of the Saleh debate.

Pro Saleh Hot take: People can blame Saleh all they want, but what about the talent? You know what they say, “In the NFL, it’s not the X’s and the O’s, it’s the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s.”

Cold give: So I guess for the 49ers that would be the Jimmie’s and the Akhello’s, right?

That was a joke. Get it?... Is this thing on?... Okay then, I guess we’re not in the mood for joking after Sunday’s performance.

But seriously, folks, you can blame the talent on defense, but isn’t it really about coaching those guys up, or coming up with an inventive play call? Instead we get a zone in the red zone which allows Odell Beckham to be surrounded by defenders who are all actively not covering him.

K’Waun Williams seemed to know right away the ball was going to Beckham, but had to resist covering him due to the patch of ground he was supposed to cover. An example of bad scheme overcoming a player’s good instincts. To say that’s less than ideal is an understatement. And that’s just the glaring flaw in red zone coverage Eli Manning actually took advantage of in that game. There was at least one more he failed to recognize.

One of my favorite coaching cliches is the old Bum Phillips line about Bear Bryant: “He can take his’n and beat your’n, and then take your’n and beat his’n.” Laugh at his grammar if you like, but Phillips was very smart, full of great quotes, and his point is valid — great coaches overcome inferior talent with their coaching of the fundamentals, scheme, playcalling, motivation, etc. Robert Saleh definitely doesn’t do that.

Anti-Saleh Hot take: Saleh may not have great talent, but where’s the improvement? The adjustments? How come the same problems keep repeating no matter who plays? You know what they say, “You’re either coaching it, or you’re allowing it to happen.”

Cold give: It’s true the 49ers have had any number of miscommunications and missed assignments this season, and the problem hasn’t improved much, so at some point that does have to fall on the coaching. But where are the freak athletic plays? In all the 4th quarter collapses they’ve had don’t you think superior, or even adequate, talent would’ve shown up to save the day? Some random sack or turnover based on nothing but great talent or instincts? The defense failing to make one single big play to get a late stop seems more an indictment of the players than the guy telling them where to line up.

What is Saleh supposed to do with Malcolm Smith, for instance? Smith is a veteran with extensive experience in this scheme. He knows his responsibilities, understands the fundamentals and still routinely finds himself in the wrong place.

That’s not on Saleh. Shanahan and Lynch overpaid him and don’t have somebody better on the roster to take his place. Sometimes it’s just the players screwing up, or not being good enough, and not the coaches fault. For instance, every time a WR runs the wrong route, which has led to multiple interceptions this year, we don’t criticize Shanahan — we blame the player. Shouldn’t Saleh get the same benefit?

As you can tell, I’m conflicted. The bottom line is that on offense, we can all believe in Shanahan and a healthy Jimmy G to bring us improved fortune in 2019, but on defense, it’s hard to find much to build around — on the field or sideline. It’s difficult to see how they get better without major changes.

Poll

Who is the most to blame for the problems on defense this year?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    The guy in charge of coaching them (Saleh)
    (98 votes)
  • 14%
    The guys in charge of stocking the roster with talent (Shanahan and Lynch)
    (33 votes)
  • 25%
    The guys in charge of making the plays (players)
    (58 votes)
  • 16%
    Science, for not finding a way to clone Ronnie Lott yet
    (37 votes)
226 votes total Vote Now