The San Francisco 49ers are fresh off their bye week after starting the season 2-3. After a 2-0 start, everyone was riding high, and the confidence in this team was through the roof. However, since then, inconsistent quarterback play, shaky blocking, drops, and big plays on defense led to a three-game losing streak.
There are overreactions to wins and losses. We know there are far more overreactions to the latter. So let’s look back and talk about three overreactions to the 49ers’ first handful of games this season.
The season is done, and the time to develop Trey Lance is now
I’ve heard plenty of people in 49ers land say the 49ers should pack the season in, develop Lance, and look to the future. You have to overlook a lot to think this season is over. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the three-game losing streak is how little your margin for error is when facing a top-tier quarterback.
The handling of the quarterback situation was always going to be tricky. However, Kyle Shanahan believes Jimmy Garoppolo gives the team the best chance to win. Garoppolo received close to all of the first-team reps this summer, and it showed in Lance’s first start.
As much as we all want to see Lance play, developing him on the fly when you’re in the thick of the NFC playoff race would be a significant challenge. I’d expect Lance to have more packages and perhaps even play a series here and there, but that’s the extent. I wouldn’t rule out Garoppolo having a shorter leash, either.
Still, the odds Lance has a half that Garoppolo had in the second half against the Packers any time soon seems like a stretch. Because of that, Jimmy will start. Wins against Indianapolis and Chicago should only further cement Garoppolo as the starter.
The secondary is costing the defense
The 49ers rolled the dice this offseason by failing to bring in a veteran, expecting Jason Verrett to stay healthy, and hoping one of their Day 3 rookie cornerbacks would develop into a starter.
Five games in, and Verrett didn’t make it out of the first game, plus both rookie cornerbacks have been benched. This is not a player problem. This is a team issue. Also, I don’t feel as though the secondary has been nearly as bad as the highlights.
Whether it’s Josh Norman, Verrett, or any cornerback, he’s probably going to struggle against DeAndre Hopkins. The same goes for Seattle’s receivers and Davante Adams. They get paid on the other side of the ball, too.
The biggest issue has been the lack of turnovers the 49ers have generated. The 49ers are average to above-average in most metrics. They are second-worst only to the Jaguars in turnovers and interceptions per drive. It seems as though the secondary is in a position to make a play. But, for whatever reason, and this isn’t anything new, the ball doesn’t bounce their way.
Facing Carson Wentz and a rookie quarterback should mean this unit will have plenty of opportunities to rack up turnovers and ride that momentum into the second half of the season.
Shanahan’s wasting talent in his doghouse
The 49ers traded up for Brandon Aiyuk in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft and did the same for Trey Sermon in the third round of this past draft.
Sermon didn’t play during the first game. He only played late in Week 2 after two injuries ahead of him and was relegated to one carry last week once Elijah Mitchell returned to the lineup.
If you go to the Football Outsiders DVOA page for wide receivers, Aiyuk isn’t among the top 65-targeted wideouts in the NFL. Instead, you have to scroll down to the receivers who have caught between 5-23 passes, and even then, Aiyuk ranks 36th due to lack of opportunities.
General manager John Lynch has tried to do as much damage control surrounding Aiyuk during this past week in interviews, but I’m not sure he’s helping his cause. If the 49ers wanted to get Aiyuk more involved, they’d give him jet sweeps and screens.
First, Aiyuk was “benched” due to a lack of effort. Then, Lynch said he earned more playing time. Two weeks later, Aiyuk returned to square one after failing to “take the next step.”
If the offense were lighting teams up on the scoreboard, then the handling of Aiyuk or Sermon wouldn’t be an issue. Mitchell appears to be the better option at running back, but he’s also been afforded the most opportunities.
Aiyuk remains the most talented receiver on the roster. So his lack of usage is puzzling. Still, the 49ers have to challenge Aiyuk if he’s not giving great effort, creating separation, or running each of his routes to his fullest capability.
If Sermon and Aiyuk come out of this for the better and end up being a vital part of a playoff run, then Shanahan’s point will have been proven.