49ers Lack Fine Focus in Week 15 Loss to Bengals


The San Francisco 49ers lost at home in Levi’s Stadium for the fourth time this season. Dropped passes, penalties and a lack of “fine focus” doomed the team from the beginning.

The Cincinnati Bengals are a strong team. They sit atop the AFC North with an 11-3 record after beating the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday. However, with an inexperienced backup at quarterback, an ailing receiver in A.J. Green and the absence of starting strong safety George Iloka, the 49ers had an opportunity to win in front of a small crowd at Levi’s Stadium.

The game started slow for those fans in their seats and, for a moment, it appeared that the inexperienced 49er defense would keep the team in the game despite another performance of ineptitude from the sinking San Francisco offense.

The game, although another mark in the loss column, served as a strong reminder of where this team is, where it was, and where it may be heading.

Here are the top takeaways from another 49ers loss.

The 49ers offense continually starts slow

Whether at home or on the road, the 49ers display an impressive ability to keep themselves them from scoring in the first quarter.

At home, the defense plays well and yesterday was no exception.

The inexperienced group held the Bengals to 242 total yards of offense, including 68 yards rushing on 36 attempts. In most games, that’s good enough for a win. But with the vanilla offense that the 49ers trot out each week, this defense is almost destined to fail. The 49ers had nine drives in the first half and managed to only run 31 total plays for an average of 3.44 plays per drive. I

f we were discussing the Steelers you might assume the team is scoring quickly, but in the case of the 49ers it’s 3-and-out drives with turnovers sprinkled in. For whatever reason, Offensive Coordinator Geep Chryst introduces low-risk play calls in the first half and manages to hold his own offense back.

Jun 11, 2015; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst talk during minicamp at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Late in games, down 21 points, Chryst opens the playbook up and the offense has no trouble getting into a rhythm. At that point defenses are likely playing soft but if the team is executing plays comfortably, why not incorporate these plays early on?

Until Chryst can get his offense rolling early, the 49ers defense will continue to be on the field more than NaVorro Bowman’s knee might like.

The 49ers lack discipline and routinely play sloppy football

Former head coach Jim Harbaugh was meticulous in his preparation for his football team.

Some players grew tired of the coach, including soon-to-be free agent guard Alex Boone. If Boone’s interview is any indication, Harbaugh was overwhelming in his emphasis of being prepared to do the task at hand; namely, win games.

In that same article, Kevin Patra of Around the NFL noted that former 49ers receiver Randy Moss felt the team was run like a college team rather than an NFL team. Perhaps current 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula might want to take a page out of Harbaugh’s book.

With so much youth, particularly on defense, the 49ers often times look undisciplined in their preparation and commit penalties that are indicative of that inexperience and lack of composure.

On the 49ers second drive of the game it looked as if the team would begin to find a rhythm on offense. Three straight Shaun Draughn runs gained 19 yards and on 2nd-and-1 the offense had a chance to call anything in the playbook.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s pass was incomplete and on the play Draughn was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty. Instead of 3rd-and-1, the offense faced 3rd-and-15 and the drive stalled immediately afterwards.

Draughn had been running hard but seemed chippy with other players after nearly every run. Not surprisingly, his emotions were running hot and affected his play on the field. Draughn’s penalty essentially ended the first sign of life from the 49er offense.

Late in the 3rd quarter Cincinnati gained one yard on a 1st-and-20 play following a holding penalty. Despite the relative stop of the defense, 49ers linebacker Corey Lemonier was flagged for unnecessary roughness after hitting Cincinnati running back Gio Bernard late and out of bounds.

Instead of facing 2nd-and-19, the Bengals were gifted a first down by the 49ers after an avoidable mistake. Whether the team is dropping passes or committing foolish penalties, players consistently seem to lack discipline that fans became accustomed to seeing over the last few seasons.

Players may not love the approach but the young players could use a coach of Harbaugh’s mold rather than one that might clean up after them.

Tomsula can discuss a lack of fine focus as often as he would like but his team stands in their own way more often than not. That becomes his responsibility to clean up; not the locker room.

The coaching staff does not feel comfortable developing players through game experience

The last takeaway from the 49ers loss could also be that the 49ers coaches are not good at developing players through game experience, but I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt throughout the end of the season.

Jarryd Hayne, the former Australian rugby player that signed with the 49ers in March, excited fans throughout the preseason with his ability to make plays in space and utilize his open-field ability. The regular season didn’t begin strongly for Hayne as he fumbled three times in six career games.

The 49ers subsequently released Hayne but re-signed him to the practice squad following the weekend. Since Hayne’s demotion, wide receiver Bruce Ellington has remained as the team’s punt returner. He has not struggled to hold onto the ball but Ellington has not displayed anything close to the explosiveness of Hayne.

Dec 6, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington (10) is tackled by Chicago Bears defensive back Chris Prosinski (31) in the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Ellington has 137 return yards in 18 attempts for an average of 7.6 yards per attempt.

Excluding his season long of 36 yards, that average dips to less than six yards per return. Fans are growing increasingly tired of seeing Hayne toil on the practice squad.

The season was over after a loss to the Cleveland Browns and now young players should be given an opportunity to learn and gain experience through game time.

The 49ers have allowed young defensive backs to play and yet are holding other capable players on their roster out of competition.

In addition to Hayne, the team was initially reluctant to fully commit to guard Andrew Tiller, instead opting for a rotation at interior lineman with Tiller and Jordan Devey.

Ryan Sakamoto of ninerfans.com had been calling for Tiller to get an opportunity based on conversations he had with players who practiced against Tiller.

Since Week 9, Tiller has performed well and further proved that his coaching staff doesn’t give young players opportunities even when they ought to. Jeff Deeney recently tweeted the impressive success of Tiller.

The coaching staff’s commitment to veteran players or players working through rough patches is commendable but it cannot be at the detriment of the team.

Starting right tackle Erik Pears has struggled heavily this year, and rookie Trent Brown may now have an opportunity to play tackle due to injuries among the offensive line. Let’s hope the coaching staff breaks the trend and allows Brown to continually develop through playing time.

In the Week 15 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the 49ers showed us that they used to be disciplined, can’t score early, and just might have more young players to see. Unfortunately, the ultimate takeaway from this game is that the 49ers lost, are now 4-10 and look to be headed for another offseason of major question marks.

Next: Jarryd Hayne: 49ers Should Promote RB for the Rest of 2015 Season

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com andESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.