clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Five things we’ve learned about the 49ers so far: They don’t have to play their best to win

Las Vegas Raiders v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The general rule of thumb is it takes a month into the season to know who an NFL team is. For example, San Francisco beat its first four opponents in 2019 by a combined 70 points. So we didn’t need to wait until midseason to know that year's 49ers team would do damage.

Then, there’s 2020. The 49ers started 2-2 and lost their starting QB, RB, TE, WR, and a slew of defenders during the season's first month. The writing was on the wall.

The 49ers are 2-0 this season. They hung on for dear life in a bizarre game against the Lions and beat a physical Eagles team. Two months from now, nobody will care how the Niners won their first two games.

Have we learned anything from the team through two games that we didn’t know before the season? We asked you that question on Twitter. Here are some of the top answers.

Our starting OL is really, really good - nweston20

The 49ers are third in the NFL in adjusted sack rate. They’re first in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency. You could make a strong argument that the offensive line has been the best unit on that side of the ball.

Expecting a clean pocket for every dropback Jimmy Garoppolo takes isn’t real life. The defense gets paid too. You can’t ask for a better start to the season as far as pressure goes, though.

Last season, the 49ers were allowing pressure on 27% of their dropbacks, which was in the top-five of the NFL. However, early on in 2021, The offensive line has allowed pressure on only 11.5% of dropbacks, which is the third-best in the NFL.

Screens and the quick game help, but there’s no denying the offensive line has exceeded expectations through two games.

We will never be able to shake the injury bug - @matthewrdriguez

It’s to a point where if there isn’t an injury, it’s a surprise. Can any other team say the same? It seemed as though the 49ers would make it out of the Eagles game unscathed. Then, Elijah Mitchell, JaMycal Hasty, and Trey Sermon were all hurt in a span of about seven minutes.

Earlier in the game, defensive tackle Kevin Givens left the game and did not return. Givens has a high-ankle sprain. Fortunately, Maurice Hurst should return in two weeks. But you now face Aaron Rodgers without a couple of critical backups that can help.

Based on everything we’ve seen during the past 734 years, the injury bug is here to stay.

Demeco Ryans is a damn good coordinator - @mani4evaa

There was a lot of unknown about Ryans’ heading into the season. Then, the preseason happened. Ryans showed what type of coordinator he’d be early, and I love it: I’m going to blitz and play man coverage because my guys are better than yours.

Ryans saves his exotic blitzes for third downs. San Francisco blitzed 16% of the time through two games. That’s 26th in the NFL. The mix of coverages, blitzes, and where certain players are lining up has been the key to why only 31% of drives have ended in a score against the 49ers defense — which is good for ninth in the NFL, per Pro Football Reference.

Even with a couple of big plays, the 49ers are top-10 in yards per play. But, unlike some other teams, their numbers aren’t inflated. As the schedule gets tougher, Ryans will have his work cut out for him, but he’s passed with flying colors so far.

Kinlaw is much more important than anyone expected. He’s going to be very, very good. - @Preacher49V

Watching Kinlaw take on double teams, split them, and finish should not be as easy as it looks. Philly couldn’t move him. For as disappointing as the 49ers running game was on offense, the Eagles were worse.

The 49ers EPA per rush was -.06 with a first down rate of 33%. The Eagles EPA per rush was -.20 with a first down rate of 17%. That’s including Jalen Hurts scrambling to give you an idea of how well the defense played.

Kinlaw and D.J. Jones were nothing short of spectacular. Kinlaw played 72% of the snaps. I’m not sure if that’s sustainable. It might have to be against Green Bay with Hurst and Givens out. The Niners are in good hands if the second-year pro can play this much and add anything as a pass rusher.

They don’t have to play their very best to win! It’ll be nice once they reach their very best! @donny1cash

There were several good answers that we could pick from. Deommodore Lenoir is an obvious answer. However, undervaluing Deebo Samuel’s impact on offense might’ve been my favorite.

Let’s go with not playing their best to win. Last year, the 49ers needed to play a near-perfect game to pull out a victory. One of the article’s question responses was that San Francisco would have lost both of these games last year.

Between fumbling the opening snap of the season to allowing a 91-yard pass, there have been plenty of opportunities for this team to fold through two weeks. They haven’t played anywhere near their best ball, which is encouraging.

I’m still of the mindset that the next three weeks will tell us everything we need to know about the 49ers. Can Ryans keep a lid on premier quarterbacks? Will the offense keep pace if he doesn’t?

I have so many questions about this team. There has been plenty of good to start the season. If they can continue to answer adversity, the sky is the limit.