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49ers are lacking an identity through five games

San Francisco looks out-of-sync, especially on offense.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The three words used most by the San Francisco 49ers after their lifeless 43-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins were: embarrassment, disappointment and improvement.

The Niners came out sluggish, and the Dolphins made them look foolish from the opening kick-off. San Francisco gained 36 yards over its first two drives, while Miami scored on back-to-back possessions, setting the groundwork for the blowout that we saw at Levi’s Stadium.

“There’s no magical thing you can say when you play like that,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “I just try and hold us all accountable. I know it starts with me. I know we went into a tough situation with some of the guys we were missing.”

The 49ers were missing their top three corners. The team hoped Richard Sherman would be back against the Dolphins, while fellow starters Emmanuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams were also unable to play. Backup Ahkello Witherspoon’s hamstring wasn’t 100%, so the Niners had to go with practice squad call-up Brian Allen at corner.

Allen looked like a fish out of water. Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins’ offense picked on Allen throughout the first quarter, and he gave up big play after big play. Shanahan says it was a numbers game that forced the team to start Allen, which resulted in a 14-0 deficit less than 11 minutes after the game.

“We were going to go with [Jason] Webster, but Ahkello went up to the defensive staff, I want to say some time in the second quarter and told them he felt good and he was ready,” Shanahan said. “I know he didn’t feel great, but it definitely helped us.”

The defense couldn’t make a play to change momentum, while the offense couldn’t stay on the field long enough to give the defense a break. The pass-rushing is decimated by the injuries to Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, but the offense has no excuses.

“You play the we did on offense, you turn the ball over three times, you get stopped on two fourth downs, it’s basically five turnovers to me,” Shanahan said. “I don’t care who you play, whether you’re healthy or hurt, it really doesn’t matter, when you play like that, that’s usually going to be the result.”

Shanahan’s vaunted offense has looked like a shell of its former self through five weeks. Starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo struggled in his first game since Week 2, and the entire unit looked out-of-sync. Jimmy G went 7-of-17 for 77 yards and two picks before being replaced by C.J. Beathard.

Garoppolo didn’t use the injury as an excuse for his performance but acknowledged he didn’t feel 100%. The Niners will need him to get back into form if they want any chance of making the playoffs.

“I felt it, I wouldn’t say it affects everything ...” Garoppolo said. “It was a tough one [Sunday], I wanted to be out there with the guys, a lot of things didn’t go well for us.”

Everyone is back and healthy, but the unit has been abysmally protecting the quarterback and creating rushing lanes. The 49ers have given up a league-high 40 QB hits through five games. The offensive line has had communication issues all season, which has resulted in ugly performances in back-to-back games.

Tight end George Kittle says the offense hasn’t been able to help the injury-riddled defense. Part of that is the struggles in the running game that helped keep the defense fresh in 2019.

“We have to put points on the board, we have a great O-line, we have to run the ball well, which we’r not doing right now,” Kittle said. “At the end of the day, if we don’t run the ball well, we are just a passing team and we are just not as a good as we can be.”

Shanahan needs to get back to the drawing board and use his genius to mask some of the team’s deficiencies heading into a brutal seven-game stretch. If not, San Francisco could be looking at a top-10 pick next year, something no one expected coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2019.

“If we play like that, it’s not going to be a very fun month for us,” Kittle said. “We’ve gotta get it turned around quick, and I know we have the guys to do that.”