With a couple of days to calm down and reflect on the 49ers suffering a crushing loss to the Miami Dolphins, I’m ready to get my thoughts down. My first point is that for those of us who have been fans for a while, we’ve seen worse. I once travelled from the UK to Tampa Bay to watch the Niners lose 35-3 with Tim Rattay as the 49ers starting QB.
The trouble is, we are comparing to last season, where the offence and defence were firing on all cylinders and a place in the big game was secured in style. Of course fandom being what it is, we’ve all read or heard some hot takes and some wild overreactions, from, “Get Jimmy out of here,” to, “Fire Shanahan!” Yes the O-line has been struggling – what should we expect with a new LT and injuries pushing Ben Garland into a starting role at center. In Shanahan’s system, communication and assignment knowledge is crucial and complex. The guys can play, they need time to get it right; the lack of a preseason is blatant for all to see.
The D-line has been shredded. Obviously Bosa’s loss is what hurts the team the most, but Ford is out, along with Thomas and they’re still without Ronald Blair III. The 49ers have a promising rookie who is developing each game, an inconsistent Armstead and an overachieving Kerry Hyder who has been very fun to watch.
Last year’s pass-rush took a lot of pressure off of the corners. Without that pressure relief, the corners are exposed. And not our starting corners, oh no. Against the Dolphins the team reached right down into the practice squad, and poor Brian Allen gave up big plays and gifted Fitzpatrick a perfect passer rating when targeted (158.3). At this point let me state something overlooked by a lot of hot take fans: the Dolphins played very well! Even if the 49ers were on their A game, this would have been a tight one. I’ve read a lot and it appears Pettis’ 49ers career is done – I hope he gets more of a chance this season. “What,” you say, “more chances!?!”. Yep, he’s been targeted a grand total of one time this season. After starting the season with a fresh new outlook, it seemed we’d finally see the Pettis of 2018 with extra juice.
So, where exactly is the problem, and what’s the solution? Jimmy said that the team has yet to find its identity, which is hard to do when so many key, high-profile players change in the first few weeks. Shanahan’s offence pulls defensive players around to maximise every play, but the margin of success is small, and as I mentioned earlier, the O-line just hasn’t gelled yet. That’s also why rushing yards have been hard to come by of late. The Dolphin’s defensive front were a major problem, and you can bet they’ll be game-planning for the league’s best interior D-lineman; Aaron Donald, who must be licking his chops at the stats he can pad on Sunday.
Jimmy’s ankle was obviously a factor, throwing off a gimpy plant foot is something only reasonably to be expected from Wilson or Mahomes. The pass rush must be more effective, even just a bit, to help the beat up corners, though there’s a good chance we get back Moseley and Sherman this week. The offence has to make progress, whoever is at QB – quick slants to get the ball into the hands of the YAC bros. Get back to some basic concepts and move the chains. To go from a game with no punts to a game with three scoring drives is a hard swing in the wrong direction. I believe that if he can let go of his hubris, Shanahan can scheme to the level of the players available, and we can find success again with the players who can move the ball.
Once we have again a quorum back on defence, and once the offence starts clicking, this team will find their identity, and then they start winning the right way. Between now and the bye week, every game is a tough matchup, but if the 49ers want to be a playoff team again, they must find a way to win these games. All is not lost. Stay faithful, watch the adjustments. The measure of a team is how it responds to adverse situations. This team has the potential to be great, not despite the challenges, but because of them.
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