The 49ers eked out the win at Levi’s Stadium this past Sunday against the Lions, but it felt and looked far more disconcerting than reassuring. The early, developing theme of 2018 reinforces the old Bill Parcells adage, “you are what your records says you are.” Despite a win streak to close 2017, San Francisco still finished 6-10, after beginning 0-9. Expectations were wildly inflated as a result of that streak and the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo. After two games in 2018, the 49ers look far more like a team that finished 6-10 than one that won its last five games.
Here’s what stood out to me against Detroit
1. Tackling the worst in recent memory — maybe ever
Did anyone go down on first contact? Harbaugh would have made these guys walk back to their respective homes after a game like that. This one is on defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. He needs to put his foot down this week in practice because it’s clear he’s yet to do that. The technique, effort, and discipline against Detroit on Sunday was downright embarrassing.
2. Offensive line play still needs work
Jimmy Garoppolo was sacked SIX times. On more than a few occasions, these were coverage sacks. Still, the offensive line continues to get pushed around in the middle. They made an Ezekiel Ansah-less Lions defense look like the Vikings at times. To their credit, they did a good job of opening up things in the run game.
3. Wide receivers not getting open
I’m sure many of you were screaming at Garoppolo to throw the ball until the replay angles showed why he didn’t. The tight ends and wide receivers didn’t do many favors for the franchise quarterback in this one. The result was Garoppolo standing in the pocket for far too long, waiting for someone to get separation, and ultimately taking the sack. Marquise Goodwin’s eventual return to the lineup should provide a boost; however, this unit has to step up.
4. Abysmal red-zone play continues
The red zone has become a haunted house for Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers. As soon as they enter, they get nervous, they get scared, and they sheepishly run out before they get to the end. After marching down the field in the first quarter, San Francisco once again came to a dead-stop when it mattered most, forcing the field goal unit to come onto the field. For the life of them, the Niners just can’t seem to put the ball into the end zone inside the 20. They were 2-5 in the red zone against Detroit. One of those touchdowns was the result of D.J. Reed’s 101-yard touchdown called back to the Detroit 26 for a face mask penalty. The other touchdown—a 4-yard pass to Kendrick Bourne—was the only true drive the 49ers had all game. I don’t have an answer for the utter lack of red-zone competence. And despite having a whole offseason to figure it out, neither does the coaching staff.
5. Injuries, injuries, injuries
They’re a part of the game for every team; for the 49ers, they continue to be far too big a part of it. When was the last time you heard of a Week 1 game in which a team had no other offensive linemen to dress?! Kudos to Mike Person for gritting out Week 2 on a bum foot that saw him carted off the field against Minnesota. The Niners desperately miss the likes of Goodwin and Jerick McKinnon so far this season. And just when it looked like they’d escape from Week 2 unscathed, Jaquiski Tartt hit the turf with a shoulder injury. San Francisco can’t afford to lose him for an extended period of time, let alone next week against Patrick Mahomes and the touchdown-machine that is the Kansas City Chiefs.
Side note: Will Malcolm Smith ever play a down in red and gold?
If you have seen Solomon Thomas or Trent Taylor (or have any information regarding their whereabouts) please contact local authorities and the San Francisco 49ers organization immediately.
7. Lions offense charged with aggravated assault against Ahkello Witherspoon
The word on Monday is that Witherspoon was playing with a bum ankle. It’s still no excuse. If you’re on the field, you’re saying you can compete. The second-year corner was continually targeted and absolutely abused by the Lions’ passing attack on Sunday. He gave up three touchdowns, he got duped by double moves, and he got burned by Marvin Jones Jr. Richard Sherman’s advice to the embattled corner? “You’ve got 24 hours to move on.” Tyreek Hill is licking his chops for next week’s match-up.
8. Special teams saves the day
Bradley Pinion booted some big punts to allow the coverage unit time to get down the field and pin Detroit back deep. Robbie Gould was a perfect 3 for 3 including a 45 yarder—if he misses one of those, we could be talking about a loss today. Last but certainly not least, rookie D.J Reed takes the halftime kickoff all the way down the field and into the end zone. Despite being called back for a face mask, this sets up the TD pass to Garrett Celek.
9. Matt Breida
Along with special teams and the Lions’ mistakes, the 49ers can thank Breida for escaping with a win. The second-year undrafted running back out of Georgia Southern currently leads the league in rushing yards, due in large part to a 66-yard scamper into the end zone. He’s made some huge strides in his sophomore season. While he may not have the stature to be the focal point of the 49ers rushing attack, he’s making a strong case for it in every other category.
10. Back to Earth after Garoppolo mania
The 49ers appear humbled and self-conscious to start 2018. During last seasons’ five-game win streak, San Francisco was playing with some serious confidence. They were riding high; they were over-achieving; they were playing well above their talent level. That simply wasn’t realistic or sustainable for this year.
Now, they’ve leveled out. The holes in the roster and the team’s deficiencies are rising to the surface. The 49ers were playing tentatively at several points against Detroit. There’s a feeling of insecurity; they look like they’re no longer buying into their own hype and, instead, realizing, “hey, maybe we’re really not good yet.” Despite a completely different staff and group of players, some of what I saw on Sunday harked back to the days of Mike Nolan. A large part of this is youth. Even I have to remind myself of the top-to-bottom lack of experience within the organization: from a first-time general manager and head coach, right down to the starting lineup.
Apologies for the doom-and-gloom here but Detroit was traveling halfway across the country, on a short week, after getting absolutely battered by the New York Jets. The Lions were playing without their best pass rusher, Ezekiel Ansah. And with a 30-13 lead in the fourth quarter, the 49ers still nearly squandered what should have been a surefire win. They couldn’t deliver the knockout blow. When there was an opportunity to snuff Detroit out, the 49ers let them hang around and gave them every chance to win. What’s more disheartening is that the win came courtesy of crucial penalties, some overthrows by Matthew Stafford, and a couple key drops by the Lions—not from the 49ers’ own volition.
Richard Sherman’s post-game quote sums it up perfectly: “A win is a win but it feels like a loss.”
It looked like one for a while too.
At the end of the season, it doesn’t matter how you got the victory; however, for the here-and-now, Sunday’s performance doesn’t instill confidence as the team heads into a veritable buzzsaw in Arrowhead against the Chiefs next weekend. At the same time, this is the NFL — where the Browns are a couple missed field goals away from beating the Steelers and the Saints to start the season 2-0. So if the 49ers—somehow, some way—pull out an absolutely miraculous win against the red-hot Chiefs, no one will be talking about this Detroit game, including me.
How do you think the 49ers look through 2 games?
This poll is closed
Much better than expected
Better than expected
The same as you expected
Worse than expected
Much worse than expected