The 49ers’ Week 9 home loss, combined with earlier losses, suggests there are some painful truths the team must fix before playing the Rams on Monday night.
The San Francisco 49ers have now played eight games in 2021, and of those games, they scored an opening-drive touchdown in only two of them.
Translation: The offense is lethargic and slow coming out of the gates.
Their first two offensive possessions in the Week 9 home loss versus the Arizona Cardinals ended with one sputtering out that resulted in a punt and a fumble by tight end George Kittle that derailed the second drive. Granted, this was Kittle’s first game back in the lineup since a Week 4 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, as the All-Pro tight end was placed on injured reserve three weeks because of a calf injury, but he’ll be the first one to tell you, that’s no excuse.
Nevertheless, it was a crushing turnover at a crucial moment in the game and that kind of set the tone for what type of game it would be.
49ers can’t overcome turnovers, and they’re committing a lot of them
Early turnovers doomed the Niners against Arizona. Now, with a prime-time Week 10 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football, the same theme will apply.
On the year, San Francisco has a minus-9 turnover differential, which is tied for second worst in the league and only better than the New York Jets’ minus-12.
In contrast, the Rams’ turnover differential is plus-5. Not a good recipe for success on the table.
The 49ers offense has not found any type of consistent rhythm or flow either, and it’s forcing the team to punt early and often. This is problematic because it puts an incredible amount of strain on an already struggling defense that has a rookie defensive coordinator in DeMeco Ryans. It seems as though the offense has reverted back to its old, stagnant ways of having very little success on early downs, and putting this offense in constant 3rd-and-long situations almost certainly dooms them.
The Niners are only converting 33 percent of their third downs this season, and it’s causing a ton of short drives with opposing teams taking advantage and scoring quickly. This has made San Francisco play from behind for much of the year, and unfortunately, that’s not what this team is built to do. And considering Los Angeles owns the No. 5 scoring offense in the league entering Week 10, that’s not a good formula for an upset victory.
The grumbles are growing ever so loudly among unsettled fans and media personnel alike. They’re beginning to fan the flames under the seats of head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. The two have been joined at the hip since 2017, but the losing has not stopped consistently.
Although the 49ers are 4-0 over the Rams the last two seasons.
Still, aside from their lone successful run in 2019, which ended with a Super Bowl appearance and subsequent loss, it has truly been disappointing for Lynch and Shanahan, and Week 10 could put yet another emphasis point on that disappointment.
Speaking of which, we can finally let go of the memories from 2019. This is no longer that team and that is no longer this season.
49ers defense still looking for its footing
After being throttled at home by a severely shorthanded Cardinals team, the entire defensive unit needs to have one of those “player-only meetings.” You know, the one where some harsh words are said, emotions are running high and the meeting ends with tears, hugs and guys dancing to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
Yeah, that’s the type of meeting needed.
If last Sunday was your first time watching a football game, you probably would’ve thought Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was filling in for their injured superstar quarterback, Kyler Murray, and Arizona’s offense didn’t skip a beat. Actually, it was quite the contrary, as it did exceptionally better than anticipated.
McCoy torched the Niners as he threw for 249 yards on 22 of 26 passing attempts, one touchdown and finished with a passer rating of 119.4.
Los Angeles’ quarterback, Matthew Stafford, is playing at an MVP-like level, too, and still ranks at No. 3 on FanSided’s Week 10 quarterback rankings despite his poorish outing against the Tennessee Titans in Week 9.
When talking about San Francisco’s defense this year, many folks will point to key losses of great players such as cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive tackle Deforest Buckner, and even the uncertainty of current 49ers D-lineman, Dee Ford, who’s again out with a back injury. While all of those losses had significant impacts on their respective positions, no loss is now greater than now-New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh.
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In 2020, Saleh was able to do more with less as defensive coordinator of the Niners. This year, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Ryans, and through the first eight games of the season, San Francisco’s defense has been underachieving and wildly inconsistent. The lack of constant pressure from the D-line is leaving a shaky secondary with tons of subs exposed for the world to see. Couple that with poor tackling, self-inflicting errors, and no voice of accountability, and you have yet another hard lesson learned.
There’s a real lack of leadership. And how well that pans out against an angry Rams squad in prime time probably doesn’t figure well in the 49ers’ favor.
With the first half of the season in the rear-view mirror, the Niners have dug themselves in a pretty steep hole they must dig themselves out of.
If they wish to remain relevant in 2021, that change needs to begin in Week 10.