In the first half, the 49ers struggled significantly on the defensive end, giving up four major drives, although the Bengals only scored two touchdowns, missing a field goal and then fumbling in the red zone.
Then, the offense became the issue in the second half, as the 49ers turned the ball over three times, allowing the Bengals to distance themselves for the eventual two-score victory.
Here are three quick takeaways from the 49ers 31-17 loss to the Bengals on Sunday.
Coming into this matchup, I said that the most important factor in this one was going to actually be the run game, not the aerial attack.
Why? Because the Bengals came into this one really struggling on the ground, averaging under 70 yards a game and only 3.5 yards per carry, while failing to eclipse the 100-yard mark yet this season.
If the 49ers were able to make Cincinnati one-dimensional offensively, their chances of winning would significantly increase.
Well, they did not do that, as the Bengals finished with 134 rushing yards on 27 carries, with lead back Joe Mixon earning 87 yards on 16 attempts, as well as a rushing touchdown.
The 49ers, who have been stout against the run for a majority of the season, have now shown serious flaws in that area over the past three games, which I highlighted as a potential concern at the beginning of the year.
San Francisco needs to address this aspect of their defense heading into the bye, as the lack of a run defense allowed the Bengals to be two-dimensional, where they thrived.
After the defense struggled in the first half, turnovers sealed the deal in the second half for the 49ers, as quarterback Brock Purdy had two poor interceptions that costed his team at least 10 points.
With the 49ers driving in the red zone, Purdy made a poor decision on an RPO, holding on to the ball too long before throwing an interception to Germaine Pratt.
Even if it wasn’t going to be a pick, Purdy holding on to the ball would’ve led to an ineligible man downfield penalty, and rid the 49ers of a touchdown opportunity.
Then, on the ensuing drive, Purdy threw an interception in his own territory directly to linebacker Logan Wilson on a Jimmy Garoppolo-esque play.
Right after, Joe Burrow found Ja’Marr Chase on a slot fade, with cornerback Isaiah Oliver biting on a fake screen, leading to an easy touchdown for the star wideout.
Those two turnovers were crucial as they took points away from the 49ers and gave the Bengals a score in a close game, sealing the deal for San Francisco.
Purdy had a nice bounce-back touchdown drive, but those turnovers are inexcusable and took away from a strong first half performance.
For some reason, the 49ers cannot play complimentary football right now, and it’s showing in their losses.
Right now, Steve Wilks is the clear scapegoat for the 49ers, as the defense is starting to unravel, despite there being significant talent on the roster.
And, part of that blame is deserved; Wilks said he needs to put his players in better situations and some of the play calls are questionable, such as a third down set that was drawn up after a timeout where Dre Greenlaw was 1-on-1 with Ja’Marr Chase and there was wide open space over the middle for a Joe Burrow run.
What was that third down defensive look?— Rohan Chakravarthi (@RohanChakrav) October 29, 2023
Greenlaw 1-on-1 on Chase, the amount of space over the middle. Not sure about that one.
But, it’s not all on Wilks.
The 49ers had a number of missed tackles on the day, including a few crucial ones from Talanoa Hufanga, allowing the Bengals to get extra opportunities and continue moving the chains.
Nick Bosa also needs to make a bigger impact when plays are present; he didn’t set the edge well on a pair of run plays, missing tackles as Joe Mixon bounced outside.
Dre Greenlaw looked like he was battling through an injury, impacting his play, which hopefully subsides after the bye.
But, the point being: Wilks deserves blame, but the 49ers defense also needs to just flat-out play better.
Hopefully, the bye week provides some clarity on what the issues have been on that side of the football.