In the loss, the 49ers saw issues on both sides of the football that eventually led to their largest deficit of the season, leading to several questions surrounding the team heading into the bye week.
What’s been the difference for the 49ers between the first weeks of the season and the last three?
In the losses, the 49ers have shifted away from their identity, as they’ve struggled to run the football, which coincidentally comes with the loss of left tackle Trent Williams, as well as the injury to Deebo Samuel.
But, it hasn’t just been one issue; it’s been the combination of problems arising together, as head coach Kyle Shanahan noted after the game.
“There’s not one thing I’m going to pinpoint [that is the most major concern],” Shanahan said after the Bengals game. “I think we need to run the ball better, we need to score more points and we need to slow guys down better, whether it’s with pass rush, whether it’s doing better on first and second down. I want to say they had, I’m not going to say this exactly right, but when you get 20 first downs and I think 17 of them are on first or second, something like that. We’ve got to get in some more longer third downs and when we do, we’ve got to get them off the field with a sack if they hold on the ball that long and not let them break that pocket.”
However, Shanahan believes the 49ers have been building up to this level of play, as they struggled with certain issues early on as well, which especially showed out in the three losses when the team wasn’t able to get enough splash plays going.
“I think in our first five games we didn’t always do right longer,” Shanahan said. “We just made a bunch of plays and we were able to get up on people and win by a couple scores. I think when that happens, those little mistakes aren’t as crucial and it hasn’t been the case these last three weeks.”
During the losing streak, without as efficient of a run game and as many big plays on both sides of the ball, the “little mistakes” have stood out even more, and the 49ers haven’t found a way to win with those consistently occurring.
“We haven’t been able to overcome some little mistakes, whether it’s a turnover, whether it’s a penalty, whether it’s a drop, whether it’s a missed tackle and that’s kind of what I mean. You can’t just focus in a game for three and a half hours and pick that up. It’s how you focus throughout the week just to make everything, every single play like it’s the biggest play in the game. We’ve gotten away with a number of stuff on our win streak and we haven’t in these last three weeks.”
“I still believe we’ve had every chance to win all three of these games and that one got away from us the most. That’s what’s going to happen when we turn it over like there at the end. When we do answer and they go right down and score again that was our opportunity to get back in the game and we missed that. So it’s not one guy, it’s a whole team, but everyone has their part in it.”
A part of it has been in part due to the losses of Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams, as Shanhan noted how additional star players allow you to overcome those mistakes, but regardless, those smaller issues shouldn’t be happening in the first place.
“I mean, good players allow you to overcome mistakes sometimes and they can hide stuff, kind of like what I was saying earlier,” Shanahan said after the game. “I think we didn’t score enough points because we turned it over on first-and-goal on the seven. I believe that we didn’t do good in running the ball when we had some chances in second-and-one and third-and-one where I thought we would’ve stayed on the field. I always feel confident with our players that we’re going to move the chains and score and it’s do we not hurt ourselves? And that’s not to take anything away from any other team. They make it difficult on you. But I think we’ve hurt ourselves a lot in these last few weeks too.”
“Then when you get in those situations and you are a little bit more one dimensional at the end and you’re passing every time, yeah, you’re going to notice not having Trent out there and stuff like that. But that’s when we’re already in that situation. I mean, we shouldn’t have been there. And when that’s the case, yeah you can have some great guys bail you out of some stuff, whether it’s Deebo taking a screen to the house or Trent being able to hold up in protection longer, but by no means are those reasons why we lost these games. It’s just harder to overcome.”
Are the 49ers’ issues fixable? Absolutely, which is why Shanahan isn’t panicked at the trade deadline, especially given the talent on the team.
However, there is now an increased sense of urgency to figure those little mistakes out, as they’ve plagued the 49ers throughout the season; they’re just now only starting to punish the team.
“I know how these last two weeks especially I felt, but I do believe we have the answers in our building,” Shanahan said. “I believe we have good players. I believe we have good coaches. It’s up to me to get them to do better. I thought we started out pretty good, but there’s some things that we haven’t been able to hide here these last few weeks and that’s why we’ve got to continue to push them in every aspect because some people do go on these losing streaks and they don’t have those answers and you’re just living in hope.”
“I truly believe we do have the answers. I believe we’ve got them on our team. I believe we’ve got them with our staff and we got to sit here and wait about 14 days to deal with this feeling that we have, which nobody wants, but I think we need to. I think our guys need to be pissed off a little bit. I think we need to come back with a little better focus because it hasn’t been enough and we haven’t been getting it done.”
The 49ers have the talent. Their issues don’t stem from their personnel for the most part, but rather them lacking a sense of identity at the moment, as they’ve strayed away from their nature of football, be it due to a variety of injuries or for other reasons.
Once they can start cleaning up those little mistakes, the splash plays will continue to come, resulting in the efforts we saw at the beginning of the season.
But, the 49ers need to address the second half with some urgency, as Shanahan said, given the fact that they’ve now dropped three straight games, and currently sit at second place in the NFC West.