That wasn't the way Kaepernick and the 49ers wanted to start the game.
Whether you want to point to the passing, running or blocking game or an inopportune injury at an inopportune time, the San Francisco 49ers’ 29-3 Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, September 15, showed a team that was flawed in numerous ways.
While both defenses came in as the most heralded in the league, it was the Seahawks who emerged as the clear favorites in the NFC West. The Seahawks were everything the 49ers were not Sunday night, showing balance on offense as well as throughout their defense.
Obviously for San Francisco this was just one game in 16-game season. And for as bad as they looked in this one, forgetting just how dominant they looked against the Green Bay Packers would be foolish. At the end of the day, however, there were clearly some aspects in their game that they need to correct.
And, for as bad as they played, the 49ers still had a few bright spots that they can build on in the weeks going forward.
Here are five critical takeaways from the 49ers’ Week 2 loss.
Frank Gore couldn't find any holes against the Seahawks' defense.
Don’t let the 100 rushing yards fool you; the running game in San Francisco is non-existent right now.
Colin Kaepernick scampered for 87 yards on nine carries, sure, but the truth of the matter is that those runs were out of sheer need, not design. The 49ers couldn’t do anything against the Seahawks’ front seven.
Frank Gore carried the ball nine times for a grand total of 16 yards. Anthony Dixon, who was better known this week for calling Seattle the “Shehawks” than anything he’s ever done on the field, at least averaged four yards per attempt. The only problem? He had only one attempt. Oh, and the electrifying Kendall Hunter? He carried the ball one time and lost seven yards.
We saw shades of the deterioration of the running game in Week 1 against the Green Packers but were willing to ignore it because of the surgical-like precision of Kaepernick as a passer. We thought that the 49ers were matchup-proof—If a team sold out to stop the run, the passing game would get it done, and vice-versa.
What we saw in Week 2, though, is that the running game is not as prepared to hold up their part of the bargain. Because of their dominance in the secondary, the Seahawks sold out to stop the run, much like the Packers did. The only problem is that their secondary was too good to exploit.
The 49ers need Gore to regain his form and bring some semblance of balance back to the San Francisco offense. That’s not going to happen, however, if this next thing doesn’t get fixed.
The 49ers' offensive line did not Gore any room to run.
The offensive line gave up three sacks, but that was the least of their problems. I actually thought they did a decent job of protecting Kaepernick. Where they failed was in the battle of the trenches.
We can’t talk about the weakness of the running game without addressing the lack of help from the offensive line. They got no push whatsoever and were unable to open up any holes for Gore to exploit. Gore is still a good back, but if the offensive line continues to get beat on the snap, he’ll never be able to show it.
Gore is the type of patient runner that waits for his line to open up even the smallest of holes and then powers through for a nice chunk of yards. What we saw, however, was the line getting blown up by the Seattle front seven and making contact with Gore in the backfield.
This isn’t to take anything away from the Seattle defense; they proved they’re great, maybe even historically great. But San Francisco, led by Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis, is supposed to have the best offensive line in the league. They’re supposed to be the guys that neutralize a great defense.
And on Sunday, they got hammered down. Just like how the offensive line and running game each carry a share of the blame, though, there’s another unit that contributed to the lack of offense.
The 49ers' receivers could get no separation from the Seattle secondary.
The Seahawks exploited what could be the biggest weakness of this 49ers team: no receiving depth.
The Packers had a game plan and the 49ers exploited it in Week 1. They concerted their efforts to stop the running game and dared Kaepernick to beat them through the air. That all happened, we loved it as it was happening and in the process were duped into thinking that maybe what we had known all along during the preseason was wrong.
If opposing defenses do not fear your receivers, they can concentrate on the line of scrimmage. This lack of respect by the Seattle defense is what led to the 49ers’ offensive line getting beat off the ball by a stampede of Seahawks defenders and the Gore stumbling to ineptitude.
Boldin is, has been and will continue to be a fantastic football player. He gets those tough yards, moves the chains and carries himself like an enforcer. Unfortunately for him, the 49ers, like the Baltimore Ravens before them, have not figured out what the Arizona Cardinals knew: Anquan Boldin is Anquan Boldin, not Larry Fitzgerald.
He’s a fantastic No. 2 option on a good team, a solid No. 1 option on a team with a variety of weapons and a bad No. 1 option on a team with no other receivers.
This is why the Crabtree injury will continue to hurt. As the robin to Crabtree’s batman, they could have been special. Forced to be batman, however, against a joker-like villain in Richard Sherman no less, Boldin will falter. And since he makes up basically the entire 49ers receiving corps (apologies to Kyle Williams), that means the entire passing game falters, just like it did against the Seahawks.
Reid was injured on this excellent open field tackle on Sidney Rice.
Had Eric Reid not left the game with concussion-like symptoms going into halftime, the end result of this game could have been much different. Would San Francisco have won? Probably not. But would it have been closer than the 29-3 final score? Definitely.
Everything all fell apart for San Francisco after Reid went out, and it’s no secret why: He’s really, really good. It’s not just the fact that he now has an interception in each of his first two professional starts, or that he’s proven himself to be not just a sure tackler, but a powerful one too.
It’s his instincts that have been so impressive. On pass plays he always makes sure to keep the ball in front of him; we haven’t seen him get beat over the top yet. On runs he always ends up near the ball, ready to make the tackle should the front seven fail.
Just to emphasize the point, when looking at Russell Wilson’s first and second half splits, Wilson was 2-of-10 for 48 yards and an interception in the first half for a quarterback rating of 7.5.
In the second half, however, with Reid out, Wilson went 6-of-9 for 96 yards and a touchdown and bumped his quarterback rating up to 63.9. Obviously they aren’t world-beating numbers, but they are a vast improvement over what he was able to do with Reid in the game.
The 49ers better hope that if Reid is diagnosed with a concussion he is able pass the NFL’s strict concussion protocols and make it on the field next Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. As we saw against Seattle, it’s two different defenses with him on and off the field.
Aldon Smith has made a habit of putting quarterbacks on their backs.
Aldon Smith is as destructive a player on defense as there is in the entire NFL.
With four sacks through two games, he’s picked up right back where he left off last season, disrupting quarterbacks with, dare I say it, Reggie White-like ferocity. The numbers for Smith to date are just silly, with his four sacks to the start the season giving him 37 in his short career.
It’s no stretch to say that he will once again challenge Michael Strahan’s sack record this season.
In a game as disappointing for the 49ers as Sunday’s “showdown” with the Seahawks, Smith was one of the very few bright spots. He was consistently in the backfield and had Wilson scrambling for his life on numerous occasions. Unfortunately for Smith, his teammates couldn’t finish the job, but that’s beside the point.
With the type of pressure that Smith brings, the 49ers defense will continue to be dominant. Don’t let the final score fool you; the defense was not the problem in this game. They’ll bounce back, and odds are that it will be Smith that gets them back on track.