What We've Learned About the San Francisco 49ers Through 2 Games
I really don't remember what happened on Sunday night. Just three hours of violent hits, loud noise and epic disappointment. I spent most of my time afterward trying to forget everything I just saw. It was sort of how I felt after watching the last Superman movie.
Of all the images that had 49ers fans screaming expletives at their TV screens—Frank Gore routinely getting gobbled up by defenders at the line of scrimmage, Pete Carroll dancing so precariously at the end of a touchdown run that his Hello Kitty wallet almost fell out of his pocket, Kaepernick being intercepted on a pass so terrible that Vernon Davis had flashes of Troy Smith—it was the sight of 49er after 49er limping off the field that stung the most.
This was a hockey game played by two fierce rivals that despise one other, and while it may have been the Seattle Seahawks who were grabbing, holding and throwing blocks at the knees of their opponents, it was the 49ers who were frequently in the penalty box, being whistled constantly for personal fouls and getting burned on the resulting power play.
To put it mildly, it was a big change from last week when San Francisco prevailed in an epic shootout against the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick and Boldin could have been compared to Montana and Rice. On Sunday night they were more Tim Rattay to, well, anybody.
Bay area fans shouldn't panic at what they saw in Seattle (no one wins in the land of algae-colored jerseys and marine fowl right?). If history has taught us anything, it's best to make your biggest mistakes early in life and learn from them going forward. Erickson. Nolan. Singletary. We all learned a lot from them (though if the Yorks had given up trying to run the team sooner, Niner fans might have saved themselves 10 years of suck).
So, what have we learned about this 49er team in the last two games?
Let's break it down.
The Receivers Are Still a Work in Progress
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The Seahawks put out an APB on Anquan Boldin after the Packers game, and as a result he found himself lined up across from Richard Sherman.
What Sherman lacks in coverage skills he makes up for in aggravation. He's like the Stephanie Tanner of the NFL. No one wants him around, but he's impossible to get rid of. I pity the fool who has to spend three hours on the field talking to him, so it was understandable when Anquan tried to put him in an headlock after being held and shoved for four quarters.
What's befuddling is that during the few times Kaepernick was able to get off a pass in Boldin's direction, there were no fewer than two defensive backs in the vicinity. What was everyone else doing while Kaepernick was hanging back in the pocket looking for an open receiver?
We'll never know, as NBC apparently doesn't have access to the technology that allows us to see coverage downfield. But when Bruce Miller is your quarterback's top target, you know your offense is in for a long night.
Kaepernick may have thrown for over 400 yards in Week 1, but the leading receiver after Boldin and Vernon Davis was Kyle Williams with only 36 yards. With Davis currently nursing a sore hamstring someone's going to have to take a little more initiative. But from a group that includes Williams, Marlon Moore and Quinton Patton, who's it going to be? The one who's faster? Stronger? Has the best hands?
Vance McDonald completely ran over Richard Sherman on Sunday.
Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham can't come back soon enough.
Harbaugh Must Stop the Nonsense
Apparently, a full offseason and a devastating loss in the Super Bowl hasn't taught Jim Harbaugh anything.
Against the Packers, the 49ers were flagged twice for delay of game penalties, and they burned several timeouts to stop the offense from moving backward.
Then on Sunday, Kaepernick inexplicably called two timeouts with his team down two scores with only seven minutes left in the game—in a no-huddle offense, no less.
For years 49er fans have wondered how Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick could struggle with a task so menial as getting a snap off within 40 seconds.
Turns out the quarterbacks aren't the culprits.
Grant Cohn of the The Press Democrat wrote an effective piece last week detailing the flaws in the 49ers' offensive strategy.
Instead of going with a pre-planned set of plays (you know, the way Bill Walsh did during the glory days of the '80s), Harbaugh and Roman prefer to give their quarterbacks two plays before every snap. By the time Kaepernick is done working through the huddle and shifting personnel to determine the most effective option, the ref is already getting ready to take the little yellow flag out of his pocket.
Wouldn't it be easier to script the first few plays of every drive and audible according to defensive sets?
Keep things simple, Jim. A faster offense is a more effective one. You should know that after years of facing off against Chip Kelly.
Kaepernick Still Needs to Improve on Accuracy
I mentioned last week how several of Colin Kaepernick's passes missed their intended targets. Nobody cared because of his sterling 130.0 passer rating, but he knew.
Now facing a pretty good secondary in Seattle, it was important for Kaepernick to take the crowd out of the game and establish a rhythm early on.
On the 49ers' opening drive, Kaepernick had Bruce Miller wide open on the left hash and threw a pass that he couldn't catch with his shoelaces. Five minutes later, Kaepernick did an excellent job evading the pass rush and keeping the play alive, but lobbed the football 14 feet above the head of Frank Gore, who had about 20 yards of open field on which to do high steps.
But the biggest play of the game came on San Francisco's only end-zone opportunity. Kaepernick had just pulled off several great runs, forcing the Seahawks to finally pay less attention to the 49ers receivers. On third down from the 7-yard line, he threw a pass wide left of Vernon Davis that was batted up into the air for an easy interception.
The Niners never recovered.
No one has displayed more class and resilience this early in his career then Colin Kaepernick, and his three interceptions and 20.1 quarterback rating last week will give him a chance to prove it again.
Breathe deep and calm down, people. Even Joe Montana had a few terrible games. (Though admittedly, I can't think of one as bad as Sunday's.)
The 49ers' Running Game Will Pick Up
Through two games, Frank Gore has carried the ball 30 times for 60 yards. That's two yards per carry. I know because I have a calculator.
OK, so basic arithmetic tells us that Frank has had a slow start to the season, but that doesn't mean that the 49ers should hit the reset button on the running back corps anytime soon. There still isn't anyone else I want in the backfield more than No. 21, and the tank should have no problem rolling over one of the league's worst rush defenses this Sunday.
But where is Kendall Hunter? San Francisco's No. 2 running back only touched the ball once against the Seahawks (in what looked like a failed option play) for a seven-yard loss. After a strong training camp and an impressive 24-yard against the Packers, the 49ers coaching staff needs to trust Hunter whenever the first half of their platoon is getting shut down.
With LaMichael James slated to come back next week, the three-man ground crew will be ready to discombobulate front sevens once again.
San Francisco Is Committing Very Bad Penalties
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Through the first two weeks of the season, the Niners have been whistled 23 times for 206 yards.
How bad was it against Seattle? The 49ers nearly scored as many points for the Seahawks as they did for themselves.
But the safety that resulted from the holding call in the end zone wasn't what cost Colin Kaepernick an eyebrow.
On a day where the defense performed mostly well, holding Marshawn Lynch to under 100 yards on the ground (only 3.7 yards per carry) and providing good containment on Russell Wilson (142 yards passing, 63.9 QB rating), it was the absurd amount of personal foul calls that nearly caused me to regurgitate my Chili Fritos.
The two most egregious flags came in the third quarter with the game still in reach. On a 2nd-down-and-long, Russell Wilson was prepared to fall into the turf for an easy sack when Ahmad Brooks grabbed hold of his facemask. Instead of a 3rd-and-20, the Seahawks had a first down at the 49ers' 9-yard line. On the Seahawks' second drive of the half, Aldon Smith pulled a Clay Matthews and slapped the helmet of an offensive lineman (emphasis on the word "offensive"), changing a fourth-down field-goal attempt into an easy red-zone opportunity.
Both drives resulted in touchdowns.
Altogether, the 49ers were flagged four times for personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct.
Like the kids are saying now on the Internets: SMH.
And no, that's not "shaking my head."
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