Why San Francisco 49ers' Preseason Struggles Are Greatly Exaggerated
Can it get any worse?
The San Francisco 49ers preseason has started on a really bad note. In their first two preseason games, the 49ers have been outscored 57-3. Yikes!
Offensively, the 49ers have looked out of sync. Their defense, which is the strength of this team, has lacked the aggressiveness we've seen in years past. Not to mention, the play of the special teams unit has been lacking.
Fortunately for the organization and the 49er faithful, it's only the preseason. Everyone should take a deep breath and exhale.
Here are four reasons why we shouldn't overreact to 49ers preseason performance.
Game-Planning Is Nonexistent
The creative juices don't really flow in the preseason. Coaches save all the good stuff for the regular season, so why should we expect anything different this year?
NFL players will tell you this all the time. Coaches don't game-plan during the preseason. It serves no purpose since the games don't count. No need to show your hand, especially if you play any of your preseason opponents again during the regular season. (The 49ers play both the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers during the regular season.)
The 49ers have one of the best coaching staffs in the league, and we would be foolish to expect this level of performance to show up when the games start to count.
More importantly, issues like this seem to happen every year.
Same Problem, Different Year!
When it comes to the quarterback position, having a reliable backup is extremely important. Your season could hinge on the performance of your backup quarterback, yet many teams don't invest heavily in the position.
Now, you can't expect a reserve to step in to replace the production of a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, and the same probably can be said of guys like Russell Wilson and Kaepernick. Though, having a veteran backup could prove useful in terms of mentoring a younger prospect. Of course, it also doesn't hurt that Wilson and Kaepernick have strong running games and stifling defenses to aid their progression.
While the Seattle Seahawks invested in experienced options behind Wilson, it seems the 49ers decided to take a more risky approach with the position. The 49ers made a trade this offseason to acquire former first round pick Blaine Gabbert to backup Kaepernick.
Gabbert has yet to show the talent that made him a top ten pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Harbaugh loves the challenge of trying to turn Gabbert into a serviceable NFL quarterback.
Does this sound familiar? Well, it should.
The 49ers followed the same game plan last season when they traded for Colt McCoy. Like Gabbert, McCoy struggled during the 2013 preseason.
In a nutshell, none of this really matters if Kaepernick stays healthy. Even with a shaky backup in McCoy, the 49ers still made it to their third straight NFC Championship Game.
All the hoopla about Gabbert and the underwhelming play of the backup quarterbacks matters little to the 49ers ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.
Young and Injured Players Returning to Form
There are plenty of teams who can't really adopt the 49ers draft philosophy. While Baalke is most certainly looking for immediate contributions from his selections, the 49ers are unafraid of drafting injured players and stashing them away for a year.
This is a very similar process to what some organizations in the NBA do with international players during that league's draft. The talent of said player is too good to pass up, but you have quality depth at the position. You just stash him away for a year or two, and hopefully reap the benefits when he finally arrives.
Of course, the NBA can let their players develop overseas. The similarities end here, since NFL teams use this process with injured players.
Now, what does this have to do with the 49ers struggles? Well, some of those young players who were either buried on the depth chart or redshirted get a chance to play.
And, as you expect, you begin to see their struggles manifest themselves on the field.
These players are still learning the game, and for us to not expect some struggles is foolish to say the least. This doesn't take away from their talent, but these young guys need some time to develop.
The defense serves as a great example. Just look at guys like Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Lawrence Okoye, Jimmie Ward, Chris Borland, Dontae Johnson, etc. Outside of Ward and possibly Dial these guys will have bit roles during the 2014 regular season.
Yes, it's easy to say the 49ers are taking a step down after reaching the conference championship the last three years, but we have to look at the bigger picture when it comes to the preseason.
The depth of this 49ers team has been questioned over the last several weeks, and rightfully so. However, this team's success is rooted in the play of their starters, not backups.
Luckily for fans, the team has yet to really play their starters in their first two preseason games. Yes, we've seen Colin Kaepernick here and there, but for the most part Jim Harbaugh has decided to rest his starters in the hopes of keeping them fresh for the regular season.
Can you blame the head coach?
The only injuries that can occur to starters during the preseason are unnecessary ones. To be blunt, preseason action serves only to aid the coaching staff in creating a viable 53-man roster. Most of the 49ers starters have defined roles on this team, so what's the point of playing crucial starters like Patrick Willis, Ray McDonald, Justin Smith and Frank Gore.
In the so-called "dress rehearsal" game that usually is the third preseason outing, we should see more action from the 49ers starters. Now, if the team trots out the regular crew and struggles against an underrated San Diego Chargers squad this upcoming Sunday, a problem may exist.
Until then, I have no doubts the 49ers can be just as successful in 2014 under Harbaugh as it has over the past three years.