The San Francisco 49ers disappointingly finished their season as they fell to the Seahawks after leading all game. There were a few takeaways from the game that have been consistent with the team all season, so let’s get into those.
The offensive line performed better than you thought
Whenever a lineman gets beaten, it’s always easy to say that the 49ers need to upgrade at the position. The guys up front were never as bad as fans thought, and Week 17 was another prime example of the offensive line doing their job. There were three sacks allowed on Sunday and four QB hits. C.J. Beathard’s indecisiveness was responsible for two of those sacks and one of those hits.
When you hold the ball, fail to move around in the pocket, or run into pressure, you’re going to make the defensive line look much better than they are. That was the case Sunday and has been the case all season, no matter who has been under center. Beathard didn’t stand much of a chance on the strip-sack late in the fourth quarter when Justin Skule and Mike McGlinchey were beaten simultaneously, but that’s one play out of 42 dropbacks.
On each of the sacks, C.J. Beathard averaged 3.83 seconds to throw, per PFF. That was the third-highest number in the NFL. If you get sacked after three seconds, that’s not on the offensive line. Finding a quarterback who knows how to manage the pocket should be priority No. 1 this offseason for the Niners.
The 49ers' defense held the Seahawks high-flying offense out of the end zone through three quarters and limited them to just 113 yards of offense. Even after Seattle scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, thanks to the offense giving up a short field, Seattle was held under 300 yards for the game and averaged 4.3 yards per play. The Seahawks only converted four of 12 third-down conversions.
There were well-timed blitzes, sound coverage in the secondary, and 11 players doing their job. It’s refreshing when there aren’t multiple coverage busts in the back seven, despite two linebackers playing more than they’ve ever played all season. That’s a testament to Robert Saleh and how he’s gotten his guys ready all season. He’s been incredible to watch all year, and performances against Seattle are a big reason why.
Saleh seems like the type of guy that would succeed wherever he goes. The only question that remains is where that will be and which 49ers, players or coaches, he’d take with him.
Next year will be fun for whoever is under center
I can say that I’ve never seen an NFL offense get as many pass-catchers wide open over 20 yards down the field for the past two seasons. Beathard had a few opportunities in this game. He finished with two completions over 20 yards, and one was a strike to Richie James. It’s the throws that aren’t attempted that have plagued the Niners.
Beathard had Kittle wide open in the end zone on “leak” and another play where he forced the ball to Kittle, though George should have caught it when he had Ross Dwelley running wide open for a touchdown the other side of the field. The broadcast said, “Jimmy Garoppolo usually hits those,” which is 100% true if you’ve watched this team before.
The vertical element in this passing game has been missing, and that’s why the 49ers struggled to run the ball this season. Defenses can load the box if they don’t respect your deep passing game. Imagine taking the field with Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and a defense not worried about you throwing the ball down the field. That’s an issue the 49ers must solve, and it’s not on the offensive line.
Sacks remain king
When you sack the quarterback, the play is over. When you pressure the quarterback, he still has an opportunity to evade the rusher and make a play. I’d love to watch a clip this season of all of the times the 49ers generated pressure, only for the quarterback to escape the pocket and make a play down the field. Sacks are king, and the numbers back up the eye test. Does pressure affect QBs? Of course. If you’re getting home and not finishing, it means nothing.
The prime example came when Kerry Hyder had Russell Wilson dead to rights in the backfield, but Wilson avoided Hyder, scrambled, and threw a touchdown. On Dontae Johnson, Fred Warner, and Kentavius Street’s sack, you didn’t have to worry about Wilson making plays because he was on the ground. I’m going to retire using “hurries” or “pressures” because the 49ers' defense was burned too often by them this year.
Let’s hope this is the last season during the next decade where Nick Bosa plays 1.5 games.