The 49ers have a slew of problems this season, more than can be addressed in a week with the Rams coming to down. But fixing this one thing will help a lot.
The San Francisco 49ers have a laundry list of problems at the halfway point of their 2021 campaign.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s roster isn’t as good as many thought it would be entering the season. His own decisions, both in terms of that roster and who plays on game days, have been called into question, too. Same with his actual play-calling.
Certain units are wholly underperforming and underwhelming. The offense has been inconsistent at best, inadequate in most cases. And there have been too many costly penalties.
All the signs of a bad team.
At 3-5, that’s precisely what the Niners are. And things don’t figure to get much better with a high-powered 7-2 Los Angeles Rams team coming to town in Week 10 for Monday Night Football.
There are too many issues for San Francisco to clean up in one game. Even if the 49ers play clean, it’s still going to be awfully difficult for Shanahan’s squad to pull off the upset.
But if there’s one part of the Niners’ struggles that can be addressed in Week 10, it’s this one.
49ers must cut down on offensive turnovers
There are a lot of elements out of any team’s control on any given game day. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford might deliver a perfect pass to wide receiver Cooper Kupp Monday night that could potentially be defended well, yet the throw itself is simply too good to prevent the completion. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald might simply be too powerful and blow through a blocker.
Yet, if San Francisco wants to engineer some sort of second-half turnaround in 2021, one area where it could start is by not turning the ball over.
This is arguably the biggest element fully in the 49ers’ own control. Not even defensive takeaways, such as a forced fumble bouncing in the Niners’ favor somehow, is under the team’s complete control.
Through nine weeks, San Francisco has turned the ball over 14 times — six interceptions thrown and eight fumbles lost — which is tied for sixth most in the league. This stat is highlighted even more because the 49ers have generated only five defensive takeaways of their own, meaning the minus-9 turnover differential is tied for second worst in the NFL and only better than the New York Jets’ minus-12.
2021 could easily be a year when the Niners can’t force defensive takeaways. But maintaining possession and eliminating the offensive turnovers can help spark whatever turnaround San Francisco is hoping for.
49ers can’t afford to turn the ball over vs. Rams
The tone of the 49ers’ Week 9 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, led by backup quarterback Colt McCoy, was set early when tight end George Kittle fumbled early in the first quarter. Not long after, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk also fumbled within the red zone.
Not surprisingly, McCoy and the Cardinals got out to a quick 17-0 lead, capitalizing on both takeaways with points.
While it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s late fourth-quarter interception gave the Niners a minus-3 turnover differential in the contest.
Those results certainly led to disaster against an undermanned Arizona squad, eventually leading to the 31-17 blowout.
And a similar effort could spell even greater troubles against Los Angeles.
The Rams enter this contest with 14 defensive takeaways of their own, tied for fifth most in the league. To no one’s surprise, All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey is leading LA with three interceptions on the season, and he’ll look to capitalize on Garoppolo’s 2021 2.3 interception percentage on pass attempts this season.
If there has to be one point of emphasis for San Francisco this game, it should be ball control. The 49ers can’t fix all of their woes in one week. But not turning the ball over is the one element fully within their grasps.