Today Niner Noise is going to discuss the first three weeks of the 49ers’ 2017 season and how it has defined the team so far. We will touch upon the many “bads” and the “goods,” and how you can fail miserably and get robbed at the same time.
The San Francisco 49ers have been anything but victorious through the first three weeks of the NFL 2017 regular season, but while doing so, they have also provided a glance at what could be the beginning of an identity going forward.
In Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, there was a flash of an elite defense in the first quarter, as the front seven seemed to have all the answers. Everything quickly fell apart immediately after rookie inside linebacker Reuben Foster went down early with what turned out to be a high-ankle sprain. Afterwards, everyone on the team seemed deflated, and a 23-3 loss was the result.
During that game, the 49ers looked to be the same team that was trudging through the preseason with all the growing pains you would expect from a completely revamped roster and new staff and playbook. That said, there was a discrepancy between the score and the actual game play. It was closer than the end result would show.
Foster’s absence immediately showed a weakness on the second level against both the run and the pass, and the interior offensive line play from the guards and center were abysmal. Quarterback Brian Hoyer seemed flustered and played like it, and the 49ers offense never truly got going, yet while watching the game, only a few plays seemed to separate the teams and you could see the game plan peeking through.
49ers Defense Shines in Week 2
In Week 2, the 49ers faced a rival that has sat on top of the NFC West for the past three years, in the Seattle Seahawks, and showed the defense — ranked last in 2016 — could actually play with a playoff-caliber team. The offense looked to be the same group that took the field in Week 1 against the Panthers but flashed some running ability, with Carlos Hyde breaking out on a few plays, finishing with 124 yards on the ground and three catches for 19 yards.
The offensive line showed a bit better, with Laken Tomlinson being plugged in at left guard after just a week with the team. But overall, the Seahawks kept Hoyer flustered and playing scared once again. The 49ers game plan on offense never seemed to get going, and they went two weeks in a row without a touchdown.
The defense, however, played the Seahawks to the end and played well enough for a victory, if there had been any passing game at all. You could still see the absence of Foster in the second level, but overall, you could say that if not for Russel Wilson’s ability to keep plays alive outside the pocket and make route trees and zone coverages obsolete with extended backyard ball, any other team would have fallen that day to the 49ers in what would eventually be a 12-9 defeat.
Starting strong safety Eric Reid went down halfway through the contest and was missed, but Jaquiski Tartt stepped in and played admirably, as he has this year so far. There was also flashes of K’Waun Williams out of the nickel that looked very good, and the front seven kept the pocket moving and breaking.
Offensive Finally Breaks Out in Week 3
Enter Week 3 against the Los Angeles Rams on the national stage of Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network, the 49ers and Rams both coming in off of a short week and only having a few days to prepare, needed to prove something in the division in this game.
In what most of the football world would consider to be a snore fest, this game turned into what is widely considered the most entertaining Thursday night game the NFL Network has broadcast ever.
If you missed it, you truly missed the best show on television Thursday night.
The 49ers entered this game without a single touchdown yet this season, and a true 12-9 nail-biter played against the Seahawks just four days prior. Most fans, including myself, thought the 49ers defense had a better chance against the Rams and second-year quarterback Jared Goff than they did against the incumbent NFC West champs, Seattle, the week before. This assumption proved to make what most assumptions do out of “U” and “ME.”
San Francisco 49ers
The Rams came out ferocious and played lights out all night long. The 49ers opened with a pick on the first play of regulation that set up a gimme two-yard touchdown by running back Todd Gurley. The Rams continued to embarrass the 49ers defense throughout the first half, and the Rams offense was successful throughout the entire game.
Gurley gashed the 49ers defense with 113 yards on the ground with two touhdowns, and 36 yards through the air with a touchdown as well. Foster was the most-missed player, while his replacement, Ray-Ray Armstrong, seemed to be accidental roster fodder that was consistently out of place and at least two steps behind.
All of this while, the 49ers suffered concussions to starting and only fullback Kyle Juszczyk,who the 49ers cut the only backup, Tyler McCloskey, in their path to the final 53. The 49ers also suffered concussions to Tartt and Brock Coyle, the one proven backup to the middle linebacker position that Armstrong just proved to not be able to handle. At the same time, Tank Carradine goes down with a high ankle sprain, moving No. 3 overall draft pick Solomon Thomas to a premiere spot regardless of the situation.
But back to the game.
After a start that had many fans going to bed or heading home, the 49ers finally engineered a touchdown drive that had Hoyer running into the end zone from nine yards out. Personally I would have considered this first touchdown of the year a success, but all I could focus on was the 49ers starting — and much talked about — right tackle Trent Brown walking around with nothing to do as Hoyer scrambled.
Watch No. 73:
This type of O-line play is what is killing the 49ers. I watched missed blocks periodically for the rest of the game, but it seemed to tighten up towards the end.
Overall, the offense showed up in the second half, but the special teams made up for the defense overall giving the 49ers several turnovers, including a clutch onside kick at the end. The kick from new 49er kicker Robbie Gould was a thing of beauty, as it bounced off of the turf strait from the tee allowing it to be fair game after 10 yards.
After the special teams, the real hero of the comeback was Pierre Garcon. This cat played his bones to the ground, a real mud dog. Garcon ended the night with 10 catches for 142 yards with many of them contested. He was a warrior in the stretch and has put the rest of the NFL on notice. Garcon was a one-man highlight reel and, if you did not get a chance to watch him, then check it out here:
After Garcon, fifth-round selection, wide receiver Trent Taylor, showed a lot of fight and potential in the second half, turning in 32 yards receiving and a touchdown paired with a lot of involvement in crunch time.
The one person that you will not hear a lot of praise towards is Hoyer. Most of the media-verse will concentrate on the first half and the 3-and-outs, but in all honesty, you can’t down play his play towards the end of the game. Hoyer finished 23-of-37 for 332 yards passing and two touchdowns with one rushing TD and one interception.
Not bad numbers.
As much as one can talk about the coaching, player performance and preparation in this game, you cannot tell the full story without mentioning the officiating. The overall outcome of the game was close because of the former, but there is a viewer and fan sentiment that the latter, the officials made larger impact to the final result.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan was rewarded a third challenge flag for correctly disputing two separate-but-equally crucial receptions from Garcon and Marquise Goodwin along the sidelines. He could of thrown a third, but Tavon Austin‘s jet sweep that got pulled down over a yard from the goal line was a scoring play and was automatically reviewed and turned over.
The 49ers were on their proverbial heels most of the night, but the refs’ mistakes seemed to be properly placed to cut off any comeback.
There was an overall feeling of under-officiating at some points and, as equally perplexing, was the over-officiating at other crucial points, namely the final offensive pass-interference call on Taylor that ended the 49ers final drive.
Strangely enough, there is only a single camera angle of the first-down catch on a 3rd-and-10 play in the final minutes of a 41-39 nationally televised game, that has more than 20 of the most technologically advanced cameras surrounding a football field for both viewer benefit and replay purposes. A slightly obstructed view with this solitary camera angle could not show a definitive foul in any way.
Subsequently, the entire world must wait for the all-22 film to be released, the view that most coaches watch from a higher angle in order to see every player on the field for game planning and correcting players. This is odd indeed.
The great Peter King, senior writer for Sports Illustrated showed up and spoke on the NFL Network this morning and mentioned that the end of this game was officiated to a conclusion strangely and spoke to the lack of film to review.
Say what you want about the 49ers’ poor play, whether it be about the QB, the horrible secondary play, the fundamental breakdown of the zone coverages in the middle of the field or even the missed extra point. But the 49ers played their way back into this game and were driving towards a win when strange officiating shut them down.
There will always be a lot to look at and coach to do better, there will always be poor performances, but there is not always a concerted effort and fight to come back and play for the win. The 49ers are showing that fight and that is what this new regime said that they were looking for in players.
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The Rams are also in a rebuilding process and have a new staff, they are not as deep in a full turnover as the 49ers, though. The 49ers have over 30 new players and 15 of them are rookies.
The game against the Rams helped to solidify an identity in this division. If you are playing San Francisco, be prepared for a fight. In my opinion, this is a fundamental building block that only the best teams have. In time, the 49ers could personify a culture that wins consistently. The last three games have shown the growth towards that cornerstone and will build the locker room from within.
If the league will not allow pick plays after five yards, can they make them illegal if there is not five yards to be had, like on the goal line?
Everyone that is going to do this from now on and run different plays out of it.
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