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Five thoughts from the 49ers win over Washington

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From a team perspective, this win said a lot about San Francisco.

San Francisco 49ers v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

After a 9-0 win over Washington, the San Francisco 49ers’ identity is apparent. They are a team that is going to win with their defense and chew up the clock when they have the ball. Weather limited the Niners’ ability to be effective on Sunday, but they still were able to muster up their usual chunk plays on offense. In those conditions, Kyle Shanahan will take 4.6 yards per play, and 7-16 on third down Washington barely went over 150 yards and were 3-9 on third down. Here are a handful of thoughts from the Niners win.

Bend until they break

The first two drives for the defense the last two weeks have gone similarly. Washington ran the ball 11 times to start the game, and the 12th play was a shovel pass. Like the Rams, they had success. Like the Rams, there is no way that is a sustainable way to move the ball in this league. Even in the worst possible conditions.

The 49ers defense will bend until you break. You can run it all you want, but, eventually, one of the many talented defenders are going to make a play. It may not always show up on the stat sheet as a tackle for loss, but holding calls and false starts are detrimental. Washington had a holding call that stalled their first drive. On the next drive, Nick Bosa had a tackle for loss, and when you have to throw on the next two downs in long-distance situations, you’re not going to move the ball. You’re just not. Washington made it to 49ers territory in the second quarter but was stopped on a short fourth-down conversion.

The Niners didn’t have a turnover in the stat sheet during the first half, but a missed field goal and a stop on fourth down are all but turnovers in the box score. The defense has consistently played like this in six games. You may hit them with a few jabs early on, but the 49ers hit you with body blows that take too much out of your offense, and that’s how they’ve held teams to ten points in three games.

Team unity

Lost in all the numbers and stats we talk about is the emotional part of the game. When I’ve been at practice or games, the support between the 49ers’ teammates is obvious, and their genuine care for each other is palpable. In postgame interviews, players are always quick to point out one of their running mates doing well. During the game, you see defensive players jumping up and down when there is a big play on offense. If a receiver catches a pass and goes out of bounds, guys rush over to help him up. You can see everyone celebrating, but the details that the TV doesn’t show have helped mold this team into one of the best in the league.

After Nick Bosa’s sack to end the game, the announcer said: “a talented team that enjoys being around each other and they’re having a lot of fun.” Watch Arik Armstead’s sack. The entire front seven is running behind and dancing with him. The chemistry on and off the field is showing on Sunday’s for the 49ers, and they’ve benefitted from that immensely.

Jimmy’s legs

I’m far from a Garoppolo apologist, but there just wasn’t much to take away from Sunday’s game. He had a few poor decisions, which has been consistent this season. Playing in the rain with a waterlogged ball will make 90% of quarterbacks in this league look bad. The added weight makes it tough to put zip on your passes. On his interception and the throw before it, you can see there is no zip on the ball. That’s not usually the case with him. That happened on a few throws, and that’s why I’m not going to kill Jimmy G for his day. If he were to play like that in 70-degree weather in Santa Clara, then I’d understand bringing the pitchforks out.

His worst play came on the fumbled snap that ended a drive, and Robbie Gould missed a field goal. His best plays came where Garoppolo was forced to scramble. Jimmy looks like a player that trusts his knee. Nobody is going to confuse Garoppolo with Lamar Jackson. Jimmy G running for 20 yards may not seem like much, but each of those runs kept the 49ers out of a loss. He did a nice job avoiding sacks against the Rams last week, as well. This part of Garoppolo’s game, keeping the 49ers ahead of the chains, will be a big reason for the offenses continued success.

Hidden yardage

Richie James had two punt returns Sunday. They went for 17 and 13 yards. James has quietly been one of the better punt returners in the league this season. It’s hidden yardage that comes from these returns that is the reason the offense has been able to move the ball in tough spots.

After punting on their first possession of the second half, James returns the ball 17 yards to San Francisco’s 23-yard line. Let’s say he doesn’t field the ball, and Washington gets a nice bounce. Do you think Shanahan throws a pass on third down? I don’t. Coincidentally, James found himself wide open over the middle for a 40-yard gain on third down. A drive that probably doesn’t cross midfield and gifts Washington strong field position ends up with a score because James not only fielded a punt but slipped a tackle to get the 49ers out of their end zone. James did the same thing on Washington’s final punt of the game, which put the offense in a position to do what they do best.

Body blows

The 49ers offense has been impressive during their 4-minute offense this season. Those are the drives where they’re leading and need to ice the game. The defense knows the offense will run the ball, but that hasn’t stopped the Niners. A 6-0 lead felt like 21-0 in this one. San Francisco took over with 6:42 left, and Washington didn’t touch the ball until there were 23 seconds left.

Having George Kittle to rely on for these situations is nice. Kittle came up with a big conversion for 16 yards on a 3rd & 4. Tevin Coleman had a few nice cuts on the drive, and the 49ers hit Washington with body blow after body blow to eventually ice the game. It says a lot about your team when you can continually convert in your 4-minute offense. Add this to a long list of areas where the 49ers excel at.