This season has been pretty simple for the 49ers. When they don’t turn the ball over, they win. When they do, they lose. No, Jared Goff doesn’t count. On KNBR Thursday afternoon, in an interview with general manager John Lynch, they said the Niners turnover margin is -6 in losses and +10 in wins.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan talked about how having the continuity of Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and Raheem Mostert on the field would make life easier for Nick Mullens:
“I know it’s a lot easier for the quarterbacks, too. If I had to give you one thing, just as a whole, as a group I really want to cut down our turnovers. The games that we’ve lost, our turnovers had gotten way carried away and I thought they did last Sunday, too. We were fortunate that our defense had four. That to me is the first thing we’ve got to fix and having guys out there a little bit more, I think, will give us a better chance to do that.”
The Bills rank fifth in the NFL in turnovers per drive, but a lot of that is due to fumble luck. Buffalo ranks 19th in interception rate and third in fumbles per drive. I know Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson’s fumbles are fresh on your mind, but those are not sustainable. San Francisco ranks 17th in turnovers per drive.
Where the offense continues to shoot itself in the foot is by throwing interceptions. The 49ers rank 28th in the NFL in interceptions per drive. Mullens interception percentage is 3.4%, while Jimmy Garoppolo’s is 3.6%. It feels like every batted ball or bad bounce has resulted in a turnover. Take last week, for example, when Colton McKivitz failed to get to Aaron Donald’s hands, he batted the ball in the air, and as soon as you saw that happen, you knew what the result would be.
On Thursday, I asked Mullens what type of coaching he’s received in between series when he turns the ball over and how do the coaches ensure he has the “next play mentality.”
“Yeah, I’m on the sidelines. Mostly I’m dealing with coach [quarterbacks coach] Shane Day our quarterbacks coach and he’s such a positive influence on our room and during the game, as far as you know, when you’re not scoring touchdowns every drive he keeps us patient. You know, don’t press, don’t press, stay in the moment. And so, he does a great job of doing that.
And that was key on Sunday. Took a little while, didn’t finish as many drives with touchdowns as we would’ve liked to, things like that against a good defense. But that’s what you do. You just stay in the moment and just play the next play. That’s really all you can do and I thought we did a good job with that on Sunday.”
Mullens acknowledged the obvious that he could do better, and as he gets more preparation, he doesn’t expect to turn the ball over as much. Mullens said it’s the small details like keeping two hands on the ball when he’s in the pocket while adding being crisp and sharp with his decisions and being strong in the pocket will be critical to avoiding turnovers.
As for finishing drives, settling field goals aren’t going to get the job done against a Bills team that’s averaging over 31 points per game in their past four games. Mullens is going to have to go toe-to-toe with an MVP candidate in Josh Allen. Thankfully, Mullens will have as close to a full disposal of weapons as he’s had this season. That means he just has to play point guard and let his playmakers do the heavy lifting. Take care of the football, and win the game, BDN.