We are over the hump. At least when it comes to games played this season. Still, this is going to be a very long 7 games yet to play. 9 games are played and the San Francisco 49ers are still winless. The most recent loss came on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium against the divisional opponent Arizona Cardinals. No Jimmy-Garoppolo-excitement can make us fans forget the repeated disappointment. That said, there were still some good things to observe, so let’s start with that.
Brown, Magnuson, Fusco: Good news! Not all hope is lost on our offensive line, although it certainly feels that way. QB CJ Beathard dropped back an outrageous FIFTY-EIGHT (58) times and subsequently was under pressure on 22 of those dropbacks, but OT Trent Brown, Erik Magnuson and OG Brandon Fusco did a nice job in pass protection, allowing only a combined 3 hurries, no hits and no sacks. Especially Fusco stood out, keeping a clean sheet throughout the game.
Ahkello Witherspoon: You might think I have lost my mind, but hear me out. Yes, our new starting CB gave up a 52 yard bomb on the very first play from scrimmage, but I rather credit Cardinals WR John Brown here who put a nasty double move on Witherspoon. After that play he rebounded very nicely, giving up only one reception for 11 yards on his remaining 29 cover snaps. He showed great athleticism throughout the game and was solid against the run as well. A knock on him around draft time was his allegedly poor tackling, but he took good angles and posted a perfect stat line with zero missed tackles. This is an encouraging start to his young career.
Reuben Foster: Foster saw basically his first full game action this week for the first time in his career. He played for a large portion against the Cowboy two weeks ago, but that was just over 50 snaps before he had to leave the game with a rib injury. He played 75 snaps on Sunday, missing just two plays when he felt pain on his still injured ankle. He was great against the run, racking up 13 solo tackles in 44 run snaps. An area of improvement is the passing game; he allowed a reception on all 5 targets with him in coverage, whether that’s due to his ankle, his limited playing time or him being a rookie. However, he still has not one missed tackle on the season and is only getting better. It might not be long until we see him snatch INTs in actual games, just like he did in training camp.
Carlos Hyde: Hyde was the 49ers’ best offensive player by a distance on Sunday. He had a career-best game as a pass catcher and continues to look a threat every time he gets the ball in his hands. He also stuck up for his QB which earns him a few more brownie points in my book.
Kyle Shanahan: Some fans have been calling for Shanahan’s head already. Personally, I cannot understand this sentiment. Shanahan does a good job on a week to week basis with his play-calling and game management. Receivers get open; they just either drop the ball or don’t get a chance to catch it in the first place. That cannot be put on Shanahan, though. He is working with inferior talent and we simply see the limits of good coaching. Another positive aspect about him is that his players still have the fight you want to see. Despite no wins and nine straight losses the team plays hard, does not get demoralized and does not fall apart. This is a sign that the players buy into what Shanahan preaches.
CJ Beathard: “Only filed under ‘bad’?” you might ask. In my opinion, yes. Beathard was the 5th fastest QB this week to get rid of the ball; 2.55 seconds. He was solid when he was not pressured (20-34, 250 yards, 81.7 rtg., 5 drops). This would be a nice stat line for a rookie QB making his 3rd start of his career. The problem, though, were the 22 other pass snaps where he got pressured. He was sacked 5 times and completed only 4-17 for 44 yards and a 15.1 passer rating. Yes, he ran into some pressures, but most of the time the pressure was inescapable, coming quickly through the interior offensive line (more on that later). The most troubling aspect of his game is probably his arm strength. If he can’t step into throws, he is wildly inaccurate. He still showed some things here and there to escape the ‘ugly’ category.
Defense: While the Niners run defense was actually one of the strengths for a big part this season, this week they could not stop 32 year old phenomenon Adrian Peterson. Bruce Arians called a ton of runs up the middle in the first half and it worked. AP rushed 18 times for 79 yards (4.4 YPC). In the second half Arians kept calling runs up the middle and it kept working. Peterson posted a nearly identical stat line, rushing for 80 yards on 18 attempts (4.2 YPC). Robert Saleh’s defense simply did not manage to make Bruce Arians’ attack one-dimensional.
Another problem with the defense was 3rd Down defense. While the stats for the Cardinals don’t look all that impressive here (7/16), it could have been worse easily. From the top of my head I can recall at least 3 passes by Stanton that were dropped or slightly inaccurate, basically plays the Cardinals screwed up and the 49ers got lucky. And those were not tough plays, these were easy routes with way too much cushion by San Francisco’s DB’s.
Daniel Kilgore, Laken Tomlinson: While three of the five starters on the offensive line did well, the other two played even worse. Kilgore and Tomlinson combined for 4 sacks, 3 hits and 3 hurries. These two are a big part CJ Beathard took 16 sacks and 47 (!) hits in just over three and a half games. This is a shameful performance and does not do right to CJ Beathard and won’t do right to Jimmy Garoppolo. Whoever plays quarterback is under serious injury risk.
Penalties: To be fair, the 49ers improved in this category lately. However, penalties still come and usually at the worst time. On Sunday, 8 were accepted for 53 yards, but also for 3 first downs. Those are just presents on a silver plate for any opponent.
Talent: Let’s face it; this team, even at its best, won’t be good enough to beat probably about 30 teams in the NFL right now. All over the team players are starting that you would ideally have for depth or development. Even no player was on IR this season would have been an uphill battle. But it is darn near hopeless at the current state. Before the game 16 players were placed on Injured Reserve, most in the NFL. This game alone we saw 6 players leave with injuries. This is weird to say, but the 49ers right now would be lucky to have the Los Angeles Chargers injury problems.
Image courtesy of USATSI