When I say 6 and you say 0, 6 and… 6 and… Did you really say the 0 for me though? If not, I get it. I actually felt crazy writing it.
Yes indeed, hello Empire Faithful, and welcome back to another Nothing But Ninersproduction. Let’s start this piece by taking a collective a deep breath and a brief moment to reflect on our 49ers starting the season 6-0. *TAKES DEEP BREATH IN, LET’S DEEP BREATH OUT* It’s been a long time faithful, but the journey is far from over. It’s okay to enjoy the moment, but not for too long as the next mission is upon us. Still have work to do, still have room for improvement. It’s one thing to achieve greatness; it’s another to maintain it. Let’s keep doing our part as the faithful and packing the stands, being present, loud, and proud. And they’ll take care of the rest on the field.
The previous game vs Washington, was a wet, muddy, slippery mess, and it wasn’t pretty by any means. Some players even referred to it as, “The Mud Bowl”. But the 49ers found yet another way to win and grind out an impressive victory, despite the terrible weather and field conditions. If for whatever reason you missed the game, take a moment to watch the highlights as we jump in the Silverado and get on the road to head back home to Santa Clara.
This next game the biggest test yet for the 49ers and will act as a good measuring stick. It all goes down this Sunday live from Levi’s Stadium, as the 49ers take on the 4-2 Carolina Panthers. As I stated a moment ago, it takes more work to maintain greatness than it does to achieve it. That said, thus far Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch have done an amazing job obtaining and preparing the necessary ingredients needed to consistently cook up great tasting and satisfying meals. So far, there have been six successful meals cooked to perfection in a row, let’s now take a moment to discuss what it will take to increase that number to seven.
Cancel the Allen and McCaffrey show
This rejuvenated 49ers defense has been successful. The team ranks 1st in passing yards per game (133.5), 2nd in yards allowed per game (223.5), 2nd in points allowed (10.7), and 8th in rush yards allowed per game (90), (via NFL.com). This pressure, sack, and production party will need to be sustained through this Sunday if the 49ers defense wants to cool off hot hand quarterback Kyle Allen, handing him his first loss of the season, and neutralize MVP candidate running back Christian McCaffrey. This dude is a monster and coverage nightmare. And he looks like he literally moved into a gym during the offseason. So he can run around, away from, and through you. You have to catch him in the backfield and swarm him when he becomes a receiver in the open field. LOCK HIM DOWN FELLAS! Moving along.
Since stepping in for injured quarterback Cam Newton(ruled out this Sunday vs the 49ers) in week three, Allen has put together the following stat line: 80/122, 65.6%, 901 yards, 7 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, quite impressive for a second year guy making his first fourth start.
Although Allen is coming in with a hot hand, full of confidence, and riding a four game winning streak, he definitely has an issue with what one of the many things this 49ers defense does pretty well, “pressure.” When looking at his numbers in terms of no pressure vs pressured, his numbers considerably drop from 72.8% with no pressure, to 43.3% when pressured (via profootballfocus.com). If the 49ers defense wants to take credit for both his first loss and interception, the pressure needs to be consistent. If the defense can achieve this, it limits the time he has to get the ball to his playmakers. Though this offense runs through McCaffrey, the Panthers also have other weapons, such as, veteran tight end Greg Olsen, and dynamic receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. How about another four quarter long game of, “meet you at the quarterback” and not giving Allen time to even think about who’s open.?Thus, forcing him to rely on the run with McCaffrey. Let’s make this Panthers offense one dimensional, and then shut that one dimension down too.
Speaking of shutting down that other dimension (McCaffrey), aside from two games vs Tampa Bay this season in which he failed to rush for 50 yards rushing (37 yards and 31 yards respectively), McCaffrey has just about done what he wanted to do and came close to or eclipsed 100 yards rushing in every other game. This 49ers defense has yet to allow a 100 yard rusher this season, and it cannot start Sunday. With this in mind, this is no time to come off the gas now. ALL GAS, NO BRAKE! Rookie stud Nick Bosa (4 sacks) and Dee Ford (4.5 sacks) will need to continue collapsing and squeezing the pocket/play from the edge, further forcing Allen to resort to running the ball with McCaffrey.
This defense as a unit hasn’t just done an outstanding job of getting to the quarterback from the edge, it has also gotten contributions from the middle of this defense. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomasdo their best work from the inside, having an impact vs the run and pass. It’s truly been a joy to watch as this defense as a unit can now rush the passer and stuff the run game. In the words of Brian Baldinger, breaking down the game vs Washington, “49ers dressed 8 defensive lineman and they all ate.”
Again, by the numbers it looks as if this defense will again be able to feast as a unit, as the Panthers offensive line isn’t the best. LET’S GO DEFENSE.
Go with what works (run baby run)
Six games into the season and undefeated at 6-0, the 49ers have executed a game plan that’s working just about to perfection. Play great defense, run the ball (a lot) effectively, and pass (efficiently) when needed. It’s no secret this offense is run dominant, as the team run the ball 57.07% of the time (via teamrankings.com). If it’s working, why go away from it? I mean, would you? Especially with the run game having the success it’s had thus far. The combination of Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson Jr. has been a dangerous and formidable one, averaging 172.7 rushing yards a game (via ESPN.com). Just keep moving those chains.
You want to guess what the weakness of this strong Panthers defense is? Yep, run defense. The Panthers are ranked 23rd in rush yards allowed per game (119). This bodes well for this run-heavy offense. Go get game minimum 119 rushing yards, since they’ve been giving teams for just showing up, then keep pushing towards that 172 rushing yards the group has been averaging a game. I say, run it until they, begin to stop it. As I’ve discussed before, knowing the team is determined to shut down the run and is playing the run, go play action on first down, take a shot.
If it’s not there, throw it of bounds downfield, or check it down. Either way, the defense will have to respect their ability to pass the ball. That’s when you make small adjustments, get them overly aggressive linebackers running downhill and hit them right in that void behind them for chunk yards, behind them and in front of the safety. Speaking of behind the linebacker and in front of the safety, that’s exactly where newly acquired veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders does some of his best work. Dudes routes are bananas and gets open with the best of them. Not to mention, he catches everything. Let them creep up too much reacting to the run if they want, Jimmy will get real familiar with his new weapon. Welcome to San Francisco Manny.
More Jimmy, being Jimmy
To address some of these critics, that say they need more from Jimmy Garoppolo. I get it, but I promise you guys find any reason to bash ole Jimmy. I’m beginning to think he took the last bag of fruit snacks from you or something. Listen, in his defense, he hasn’t had to do much but manage the game to this point. By manage, I mean, sustain drives by completing passes when asked, make good decisions, use his legs when needed, and don’t turn the ball over. So far, he’s done a decent job of such. Jimmy has the following stats on the season: 114/167, 68.3%, 1,314 yards, 7 touchdowns, 6 interceptions. Okay, okay, I admit, a few of his interceptions have made me say, “Just what in the name of, “when was that ever a good idea” is going on here?” There may have been some expletives included, but that’s neither here nor there.
Aside from those moments, he’s been doing what they’ve asked him to do. But see, this is where it becomes a double edge sword. They’ll in one breath say he’s doing his job but the next breath say he needs to do more. Is he putting up Pro Bowl numbers or winning games singlehandedly? No, but again, he hasn’t had to and they’re winning. Look, I’ve been one to be quite critical of Jimmy as I want the best for him and the team, but I am also capable and willing to come to his defense. Jimmy actually made some of his best passes and plays in those unfavorable conditions last week vs Washington. Whether it was driving the ball downfield, fighting the wind and a heavy, wet ball, or making Steve Young type scrambles to avoid sacks and gain positive yardage. Ignore the naysayers Jimmy, just keep getting better and being the best you possible.
So long as this offensive line can keep guys like defensive ends Brian Burns,Mario Addison, defensives tackle Gerald McCoy and Vernon Butler, and nose tackle Dontari Poe (accounted for 18.5 sacks between them) relatively quiet (easier said than done), both Jimmy and the offense should be able to get going. In addition to the five defensive linemen, I just named, savvy veteran Luke Kuechly also needs to be accounted for. Kuechly is still one of the best at his position (62 tackles) and is a key cog on this Panthers defense that has forced 15 turnovers and has scored 54 points off said turnovers. This is most definitely the most daunting task thus far for the 49ers offensive line.
We have arrived
Okay, as always it’s been a pleasure. If our Niners go in here, establish the run, keep them off-balance, play clean football, minimize mistakes and penalties, and force turnovers to eventually score of said turnovers, all will be well. Though this will be the toughest test yet for the 49ers, I do feel they have what it takes to make the necessary plays and come out on top, improving their record to 7-0. This group is humble but hungry and determined to succeed. It’s truly a thing of beauty to watch this team continue to gel, fight for one another, and play for one another. They truly have a championship mindset to go along with championship grit. Time to go to work. GO NINERS!