SF 49ers sloppy Week 1 play shows why preseasons are necessary
By Peter Panacy
The SF 49ers’ ugly loss in Week 1 to the visiting Cardinals revealed a lot about Kyle Shanahan’s squad, particularly the lack of an NFL preseason.
So, perhaps the SF 49ers would have benefited from the NFL having a preseason after all.
Yes, there are many reasons why the Niners ended up losing their 2020 regular-season opener against the visiting Arizona Cardinals last Sunday. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t comfortable and never got into a rhythm. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s wide receiver depth chart was a mess with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk both out with injuries.
And the interior of San Francisco’s offensive line? Well, as expected, it wasn’t good at all.
There were defensive problems, too, highlighted by Shanahan’s offense failing to maintain prowess and the hand-in-glove effects this had on a worn-down defense in the second half. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit had no answers for Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had a career-high 14 catches for 151 yards, while quarterback Kyler Murray ran rampant for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Well, it can’t be blamed for everything. But the lack of a 2020 preseason amid the current global pandemic certainly carried some influence. Generally speaking, plenty of effects were felt both by Arizona and San Francisco.
Although cornerback Richard Sherman didn’t necessarily agree a lack of a preseason had any effect.
“I don’t think tackling was the big issue today,” Sherman told reporters after the game. “I think there was communication, there was some lapses in that, that we’ve just got to get cleaned up.”
But right there is a clue: communication.
Sherman also said a communication gaffe led to the defensive breakdown ultimately responsible for Hopkins’ long reception of 33 yards, which set up a Cardinals touchdown.
Perhaps a preseason could have solved that kind of gaffe.
How a preseason could have helped SF 49ers in Week 1
Granted, no other team in the league had a preseason. And that’s a prime reason why it’s not solely to blame for San Francisco’s loss.
At the same time, though, Shanahan’s squad could have benefited from having one and for a number of reasons. While Shanahan isn’t necessarily a fan of the previously standard four-game slate of exhibition games, he wasn’t entirely in favor of having zero at all, as he mentioned in 2019.
“You absolutely don’t need four preseason games,” Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area a year ago. “I’d rather have zero than four. Preferably, I’d like two. One to evaluate the people trying to make the team and then just one to knock a little rust off.”
There’s the number: two. One game to evaluate the back end of the depth chart and another to iron out the kinks.
Those kinks were awfully apparent for San Francisco on both sides of the ball. Defensively, tackling Murray was problematic. And in total, the SF 49ers were charged with eight missed tackles in the game.
In contrast, during the NFC Championship game last year, the Niners missed just two.
Training camp didn’t allow tackling, meaning the last time defensive players were allowed to physically wrap up players and bring them down was in the Super Bowl. That was seven months ago.
The communication issue Sherman alluded to also could have potentially been resolved during exhibition games, too, as a healthy few drives from Garoppolo and the first-team offense to garner some sort of chemistry, particularly up front along the interior of the offensive line.
For a team running one of the most complex offenses in the league, those extra in-game reps could have been vital. Perhaps that’s one of the biggest differences between the Niners and the other teams who didn’t appear to struggle so much in Week 1 despite no preseason.
Oh, and San Francisco wasn’t/isn’t particularly strong, defensively, against mobile quarterbacks like Murray. That was the case last year as well, and one could make the argument a preseason featuring at least one scrambler could have helped a bit.
The good news, though, is the ugly loss almost could be considered a preseason for the SF 49ers in of itself, and the fine-tuning elements usually accomplished by now will get the attention they deserve.
As long as the long-term ramifications of the Week 1 defeat aren’t too detrimental by the end of December.