Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports



The San Francisco 49ers played 120 minutes of preseason football thus far, riding the crest of a peaking wave and then feeling its massive, crashing blow on the sand. In their first game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the 49ers' offense and defense played very well, allowing the team to overcome 17 penalties for 131 yards and leave Arrowhead with a victory.

For a brief moment, it was as if the 49ers were boarding a graced rocket ship to take them to Heaven. However, after last Saturday's debacle against the Denver Broncos, it's clear the team was headed in the other direction. The 49ers lacked consistency, aggressiveness, and the mental focus on offense, defense, and special teams.

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It is preseason football, and every NFL team has its share of hiccups and stumbles. A team may fire on all cylinders one week, and seize up entirely just seven days later; this, in fact, is the raw ebb and flow of sport.

For reasons unknown, the 49ers have not played consistent football in years. Too often, they come out of the gate flat – allowing the opposition to score a quick 10 points and floundering during the first few offensive possessions. The outcome against Denver felt like a bad hangover, with the past three years of dismal play resurrected in the memories of faithful fans.

This week, head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan faces his first big test as the leader of the team. He must craft a game plan that wrings success from what's been a bone-dry starting offense, along with challenging the players on the roster bubble. Somehow he needs to cut back on the penalties currently branded to the chest of the 49ers like a scarlet letter. Shanahan and the team do not need to walk out of U.S. Bank Stadium like a conquering English king from 1066 A.D.; they need to leave Minnesota knowing they can play with consistency.

First Team Offense: Score Points

It is now time for quarterback Brian Hoyer, surrounded by the projected first team offense, to lead the first team offense down the field and play flawless football. Hoyer was building a quality drive on the 49ers' second possession of the game on Saturday until the ball magically slipped from his hand and Denver's defense recovered. He later threw an interception on the team's third possession of the game.

In response to his interception, Hoyer said, "It's football. It's unfortunate, things happen. You move on and you play the next play. So, that's the one thing. It's not time to panic. You go on and you keep playing." I do agree with Hoyer on his perspective of bad things happening on the field. It's not time to panic, but it's time for the first team offense to put points on the board.

First-Team Defense: Shut Down Minnesota and Bail Out the Offense

During the press conference after last Saturday's game, Shanahan said, "I thought the defense did a pretty good job considering that we had 27 points off turnovers. So, we put them in some very tough situations."

That's a fair assessment from Shanahan since the 49ers' offense couldn't seem to generate drives and touchdowns. However, the same defense that held Kansas City to 31 yards rushing allowed 146 yards on the ground against Denver. The difference between great teams and average teams is how well one component of a football team can elevate its game to compensate for the failure of the others. With the 49ers' offense struggling, it was on the defense to raise the level of their play. The 49ers have been unable to grasp this aspect of football, and it showed against Denver.

Think of a football game as a pendulum moving back and forth for 60 minutes. A great defense keeps the swing in a consistent pattern, controlling the speed and distance it reaches; at times, when the situation gets thick, a defense must halt the pendulum and hurl it back in the other direction. Shanahan cannot rely on his offense to hang 30 points on the scoreboard each game. Therefore, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh needs to use the tools on defense to vacuum the wind from the sails of the opposition and keep the team headed in the right direction.

Gimme, Gimme Shock Treatment: A Complete Mental Rewiring

Above all, the secret to adjusting the offense and defense is a mental reboot for the 49ers. We've all heard the mantra from a coach that practice makes perfect; the 49ers need to wash that proverb from their brains this week.

A series of perfect practices will make the 49ers perfect. Shanahan and Saleh cannot tolerate errors at practice any longer. They need to drill each player on fundamentals, snap counts, personnel groupings, and the proper alignment in each formation listed in the playbook if they want to cut back on the yellow flags. The veteran players should step up and lead practice, showing new or struggling players the proper technique to take on a pulling guard or the route to run against a defensive alignment.

There are still plenty of days on the calendar for the 49ers to rebound and improve from their dismal outing against Denver. But we've entered a critical week for the team to put a stop to the bipolar play and errors, and begin playing consistent football.