Well, faithful, the proverbial three-game gauntlet is complete, and the San Francisco 49ers came out on the plus side as they finished 2-1. The first game vs. the Green Bay Packers was a wash, in a 36-7 win. The second game vs. the Baltimore Ravens was wet and rainy and resulted in a hurtful 20-17 loss.
The third game vs the New Orleans Saints was an instant classic and already a candidate for game of the year thus far, as they 49ers exchanged punches in a slugfest with the Saints, but left the Big Easy with a 48-46 win.
But before we get into that, welcome to (or back to) the Silverado as we make the trip back home to Levi’s Stadium to take on the 4-9 Atlanta Falcons. As always, during the ride, we’ll get to some highlights and storylines from the shootout down in the Bayou with the Saints.
We’ll also discuss the upcoming matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, and most importantly, talk in detail about what Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, General Manager John Lynch, and the 49ers need to do to prepare and cook up yet another win.
Continue to play through key injuries (Next man up)
As you know, I’m all about safety first, which is why I always ask you to put your seatbelt on before we get moving, and I thank you for that. I’m also big on cleanliness. You look confused, but as always, I’ll make it all make sense.
First, though, I’m going to request you put your drink in the cupholder before we get into this next discussion. Yeah, I don’t need you throwing your drink or squeezing it so hard you make a mess that’ll result in you paying for an interior detail of the Silverado. I’m sure you’d rather spend that money elsewhere.
As shocking as this may sound, the 49ers have sustained more key (some season-ending) injuries. At the top of that list starting center Weston Richburg (torn patella tendon). Following him, none other than Mr. A gap, aka Mr. I split double teams, aka Mr. I have a play to make and the road goes through you, DJ Jones is feared to be done for the season with a high ankle sprain. Also, on this new injury list, well just look at the tweet, it actually pains me to talk about it.
Per Maiocco, Richard Sherman (2+ weeks) and Dee Ford (3+ weeks) may both be done for the regular season (to provide maximum/sufficient rehab time), while Jaquiski Tartt (TBD), Jullian Taylor (TBD), and K’waun Williams (TBD) are all expected to be back before seasons end.
Look, I know this is football, a heavy contact sport in which grown men run into, over, and through each other at a high rate of speed, and repeatedly. I’ve even played the sport and have torn ACL’s, a hamstring, and an Achilles, so I’m fully aware injuries will happen, but sheesh. It just seems the 49ers are cursed with them, per se. But as they have all season, they’ll need to and will keep playing, have faith their depth (which is truly being tested) can step up, make plays, and find a way to win. This team is just that special.
On a good note though, some encouraging news in terms of the defensive line depth:
"I could run through a wall right now” — #49ers DL Kentavius Street.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) December 12, 2019
READ: https://t.co/aI2lTDGN7O https://t.co/p0smzFmJhd
Hopefully, Kentavius Street can step in and have an impact. It would be great to see him live up to his nickname of “Baby Hulk” on the field for the remainder of this Super Bowl run.
Have a short memory: Defensive woes
In a game in which it seemed both teams decided to leave their defenses in the locker room (94 total points scored), the 49ers defense looked as vulnerable ever and, just lost in a sense. I’m talking it’s the top of the 3rd inning (they’re on defense), bases loaded, and they called a blitz from the shortstop lost. The defense allowed season highs in total yards (465), passing yards (349), and individual receiving yards (134) to Michael Thomas.
The Saints did a good job attacking the 49ers coverage rules on the first two touchdowns. They ran four verts with a switch release and it threw off SF.— KP (@KP_Show) December 10, 2019
The Niners are usually physical with WRs, but not on these two plays. pic.twitter.com/6RdwVI4WL8
The above clip only showed two of Brees’s five TD passes, but they are the epitome of what plagued the 49ers defenders all game. You want a recipe for giving up big plays on defense? Well, the 49ers defense showed a great one you can use that Saints game. My guy KP did a great job of breaking down the issues in the clip above. These next two, are just terrible technique, soft zones, and then the terrible tackling
Mike's just been waitin' for the right moment.@CantGuardMike | #ProBowlVote | #SAINTS pic.twitter.com/PwJtPLEOrP— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 8, 2019
Here, if you’re going to play outside leverage and press him inside, continue to do so and make it difficult for the receiver to get to the outside, make him have to go through you. I know it’s Thomas, but c’mon, both of you are paid to do your jobs. Unfortunately, as good as Ahkello Witherspoon has been, he didn’t do his as well as Thomas did him, and he just got worked here. And seeing as how he was the boundary player, there was nobody else in the area once he was beaten.
#SFvsNO has been nuts. #SAINTS pic.twitter.com/zVjL8ZGtjF— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 8, 2019
Remember the soft zone I was talking about? The soft zone Brees scrub in like he’s a surgeon and get surgical? Yes, that soft zone. Then it was compiled by poor tackling. The DC in me smooth lost it! On this play, Warner is the MIKE (middle linebacker) and looks as if he starts to carry and react to seam route as he opened his hips to turn and run. It was at that moment he realized he had a crosser in Tre’Quan Smith.
Warner actually recovered and closed fairly well, but speed beats angles nine times out of 10. Not to mention the terrible display of tackling by both Warner and then Spoon, who just kind of lunged vs. trying to run through Smith. It can be argued Spoon was somewhat walled off by Josh Hill, but the diving attempt just looked bad, especially with Smith hitting the circle button on his Xbox controller and spinning away from the lunging attempt.
The majority of I noticed were: lack of fundamentals, in not rerouting your man if he crosses your face to avoid a free release (Jimmy Ward and Azeez Al-Shaair), not carrying a threat (getting depth) when there is no crosser underneath (Fred Warner), and missed tackles (EVERYBODY). Even as a youth defensive coordinator (DC), I promise I lose it every time I see it and scream, “ (site decorum) YOU HAVE TO WRAP, GET YOUR HANDS ON HIM IF HE CROSSES YOUR FACE!”, at the tv. My apologies, certain things just truly rattle my soul, and bad football is in my top 5 as I digress.
The good thing is, all the issues are coachable/fixable. Watch it on film, learn from it and move on. Granted, it was Brees at quarterback, but you have to play better than that. Let’s go defense, pull the lessons from that game, identify and address (fix) the issues, strive to be better. There’s still plenty of football to play. I’m not sure exactly what it was that had the linebackers and secondary looking like they reverted to the last few years (in the first half), but I see it as an isolated incident. Let’s go defense!
Continue offensive balance
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan called an amazing game Sunday vs. the Saints, I mean he was deep into his playbook continuously finding ways to exploit the Saints defense. The beauty of it was, they came out passing, and then, as the defense adjusted, so did he. Once they keyed in on the quick passing game, play-action, you name it. Just say he was definitely dealing, to say the least.
For a in-depth look at exactly how Shanahan worked his magic, our very own Akash Anavarathan did an awesome job breaking down the details in his article: How Kyle Shanahan’s offense adjusted multiple times to defeat the New Orleans Saints With the recently resurgent Atlanta Falcons coming in this week, Shanahan will need to continue to work his magic and keep their defense off balance.
Don’t let the Falcons 4-9 record allow you to fall asleep at the wheel
One would fathom with the Falcons are allowing 26.4 points per game (26th), 366.4 yards per game (21st), 258.4 pass yards per game (24th), and 108 rush yards per game (16th), this game would be a wash. Well, this is the NFL, and any given Sunday is real. So regardless of how this team looks on paper, they do have some playmakers on both sides of the ball, and a guy named Grady Jarrett on defense that can be a problem.
On offense, though three of their top offensive weapons and one of their lineman have appeared on the injury report: Calvin Ridley (out for season), Julio Jones (shoulder), Devonte Freeman (knee), Wes Schweitzer (shoulder), James Carpenter (concussion), the 49ers cannot look past this game. And though the Falcons are 4-9, they played some pretty good football last week vs. the Carolina Panthers and served up a 40 burger.
So if you think for one minute, this Falcons team doesn’t want to walk into Levi’s Stadium and embarrass their former Offensive Coordinator and hand him his third loss, playing the most inspired football of the season, you’re sadly mistaken. Let’s play this game like the must-win because it is!
Oh, one more thing. You know how some were upset because the Minnesota Vikings failed to beat the Seattle Seahawks a few weeks back and realized the 49ers couldn’t depend on anyone else and have to do it themselves? Well, keep that same energy when thinking that his Falcons game isn’t a must-win. The 49ers need to win out because they can’t count on Seattle losing. LET’S GO GET IT!
We have arrived
Okay, faithful, we’re back at Levi’s. As always, I thank you for taking the time to ride and talk football 49ers football with me. Now I know this 49ers team is banged up, but they’ve found a way to play through injuries and win 11 of their 13 games thus far. So long as the offensive line holds up for Jimmy, the pass rush gets after Ryan either limiting his time to throw with pressures or preventing him from throwing at all with sacks; this should be win number 12. Let’s go Niners, 4-9 Falcons or not; it has to be ALL GAS, NO BRAKE! DON’T FALL ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL!