Lessons Learned from 49ers Week 11 Loss to Seahawks


A dreadful season for the 49ers took another miserable turn in Week 11, as the Seattle Seahawks eased to a 29-13 win, dealing San Francisco its fourth division loss and raising further questions about the capability of a coaching staff that appears to be under increasing pressure.

Now at 3-7, it is obvious to even the most casual of observers that the 49ers will not be making the postseason and are likely to be picking in the top 10 of the 2016 draft barring a significant turnaround.

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However, although it was another week of severe disappointment for Niner fans, there was a number of positives San Francisco can take from a performance in which the offense was able to move the ball, although not enough to atone for the efforts of a defense that continues to struggle on the road. Here we look at the lessons learned from this latest defeat.

Blaine Gabbert is growing into the starting quarterback role

The decision to go to Blaine Gabbert in Week 9 was widely derided. Not because Colin Kaepernick deserved to keep playing but because of Gabbert’s woeful play as a starter in Jacksonville, where he left after posting 22 touchdowns to 24 interceptions in three seasons.

However, after a decent showing in the win over the Atlanta Falcons, Gabbert produced further signs of growth as a starter with a composed performance against one of the league’s vaunted defenses.

Gabbert completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 264 yards and a touchdown, was cool under pressure – making five of his six throws when blitzed per Pro Football Focus – and demonstrated a rapport with his pass-catchers, particularly Anquan Boldin, Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek as the Seahawks continue to struggle to cover tight ends.

It will be key to see how he plays down the stretch, but Gabbert is making a case to be in the conversation for the starter’s job next season.

No Hyde, no running game

It’s not exactly breaking news that Carlos Hyde is a pivotal part of the San Francisco offense, but the idea the Niners can have a capable running game without him was dispelled last Sunday.

Shaun Draughn, having put up 96 all-purpose yards in his 49ers debut, was kept very much in check by a stout Seahawks run defense, finishing the game with 37 yards on just 12 carries, resulting in average of only 3.1 yards per attempt.

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Niners stuck with the ground game to keep Seattle honest but were only really able to move the ball through the air, and that will likely continue to be the case should Hyde remain on the sidelines with a foot injury.

San Francisco should be wary of aggravating Hyde’s injury this early in his career with little riding on the rest of the season. However, if the Niners want to finish with a semi-respectable record, it is in their best interest to get Hyde back on the field.

The 49ers need to bring back Boldin in 2016

Five catches for 93 yards despite nursing a hamstring injury, Boldin remains on the best receiver on the 49ers.

He is a free agent in 2016 but, per Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury News, is keen to be back in a San Francisco uniform next season. And, while may be 35, the Niners would be wise to keep the veteran on board ahead of what will likely be another year of rebuilding.

Whether it is Gabbert at the helm of the offense or an early-round rookie or – however unlikely – Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers are going to need a safety net they can rely on in the passing game and, as long as he remains relatively healthy, Boldin is the best bet.

Travel sick defense has a long way to go

At home the 49ers defense looks like a unit that could soon rejoin the best in the league, keeping the likes of Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman in check and holding the Green Bay Packers to 17 points.

On the road, however, it continues to be a different story. The 49ers defense was completely unprepared for running back Thomas Rawls, who steamrollered his way to 252 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in relief of the inactive Marshawn Lynch, as Eric Mangini’s group was bullied by Seattle throughout.

The 49ers missed 13 tackles, per PFF, and were lethargic from the start, with outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks admitting as much after the game.

Brooks’ words indicate the 49ers were not ready to face a division rival despite having the luxury of a bye week beforehand. There is a lack of veteran leadership on the defense, save for NaVorro Bowman, and performances like this serve as a reminder a talented but inexperienced unit has plenty of growing to do.

However, the majority of the blame should lie with a coaching staff that is looking increasingly incompetent.

Tomsula is coaching scared

In addition to not having his defense prepared to go into one of the most hostile environments in football, Jim Tomsula’s gameplan appeared to be one of a man who is coaching not to lose, or at least not to lose badly.

Gabbert led the 49ers on a succession of successful drives in the second half, but when he got down near the goal line there was an apparent reluctance to go for the end zone and an all too evident willingness to settle for field goals when already trailing by two scores.

The conservative nature of Tomsula was also clear late in the game, as the 49ers continued to punt the ball away in spite of the big margin of deficit and then inexplicably call timeouts.

Tomsula’s reticent to be aggressive when having little to lose tallies with a report from Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole that he would keep his job if the 49ers remain competitive, which is how the Week 11 final score looks.

Yet in the weeks after this Sunday’s game with the Arizona Cardinals, the Niners are going to see teams with coaches also in job-saving mode who are more likely to be ambitious in the pursuit of victories to make their own records more aesthetically pleasing.

If Tomsula stays conservative and loses to the likes of the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, he will be in big trouble.

To save his job Tomsula needs his defense to start performing away from Levi’s Stadium, but he also needs to ditch the fear of defeat and start putting his players in a position to gain wins that could ultimately keep him around in 2016.