The 49ers legends have been vocal — critical is a better word — about the team’s performance this season. Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, and Joe Staley, among others, have spoken out against the Niners.
It wasn’t as if San Francisco didn’t deserve criticism during their four-game losing streak. Even now, they are still below .500 and have been maddeningly inconsistent all season. However, the last two games sum this team up to perfection. You get smoked by Colt McCoy one week, then turn around and shut down a team many believe is headed to the Super Bowl.
Last week, Young, who joins KNBR often, was on the Tolbert, Krueger, and Brooks show speaking with Rice about the 49ers' embarrassing loss to the Cardinals. Rice said, “there’s no dogs. You watch the team go on, go off, everyone’s like, ‘OK.” Young went as far as to say Kyle Shanahan had mishandled the quarterback situation, and it’s affecting the locker room negatively.
In less than a week, Young changed his tune. Winning will do that. During Young’s latest appearance on KNBR, Young was complimentary of the defense and Jimmy Garoppolo:
“Defensively, that defense all of a sudden looked like they could compete. Jimmy on third down, really efficient, and we got the explosive running game.
This is the best Jimmy, where he gets that explosive run game, and he comes off the play-action, and people are open, and that quick release. The running game is knifing. His quick release is knifing. And all of a sudden there’s a big play. Then there’s third-down conversions. You know that’s the money down in the NFL. That’s where he’s thriving.
You’re a really good player if you’re thriving on third down in the NFL. I don’t even care what else happens. Two places, right? There’s third down and the red zone — that’s where all the veterans hang out.”
There’s no doubt that the 49ers are at their best when they can move the ball consistently on the ground. It helps when you don’t go down early by multiple scores. Can Garoppolo and the 49ers keep it up? That’ll determine whether they can build off the Rams' win.
On the season, San Francisco is 24th in third-down conversion rate. That tells you the offense isn’t winning enough on early downs, which forces them into 3rd & long situations. Unsurprisingly, the 49ers are 18th in the NFL in early down success rate and a lowly 29th in dropback success rate on first and second down.
Thankfully, for Jimmy and the Niners, their second-half schedule should allow them to iron out inconsistencies on the offensive side. Here’s a look at the defenses they play for the rest of the season and how each team ranks in EPA per play and success rate from Week 5 on:
More importantly, neither of those defenses scare you with their pass rush. So expect the perception of the 49ers' offense to change by season’s end, especially if the passing game improves on early downs and the team continues to take care of the ball.