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What if the 49ers haven’t had a good game yet?

Sep 29, 2023 at 10:40 AM--

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Through three weeks, the San Francisco 49ers have scored 30 points per game and held their opponents to just 14 per game. They rank at or near the top of effectiveness metrics in all three phases of the game. Simply put, they're crushing the NFL underfoot, and not making it look particularly difficult.

It's still only been three weeks, and there's a long season ahead of the 49ers. For a team performing at such a level that they're lapping their opponents, it's not difficult to make an argument that this smooth sailing isn't going to last forever. No one expects even the best teams to make it through the regular season undefeated, and the Niners will undoubtedly face their share of adversity this year.

But even understanding that, it's also pretty easy to argue that the 49ers haven't played their best ball yet at any point. Week 1 saw T.J. Watt eat up the 49ers' offensive line like a roast chicken dinner, Week 2 featured a Rams attack that scored on every drive in the first half, and Week 3 gave us a somewhat sleepy start that raised niggling questions about Brock Purdy's ability to compete for MVP honors this year. Dominating victories or not, each week has shown various parts of the team going through some growing pains as this squad adapts to the 2023 season.

With that being said, what would a full, "firing on all cylinders" team victory look like? To a degree, we know the absolute ceiling - Mike McDaniel's Dolphins walloped the Sean Payton-led Broncos 70-20 just last week. As optimistic as the 49ers should be about this season, a 50-point win is probably not on the table. But there's no doubt that with the absolutely unfair assemblage of talent on this squad, they have the ability to do something special.

The last few years are littered with example of the 49ers utterly laying out inferior squads. They've beaten the Panthers by 60 in their last two games, Tampa Bay by 42. They've gone scorched earth on the Rams, beating them by an average of 10 points over their last nine regular season games. Oh, and the Cardinals team that San Francisco plays on Sunday? The Niners outscored them 78-23 last year. Do you think Jonathan Gannon and his underdog squad aren't keenly aware of that fact?

Still, the 49ers aren't quite the type of team that threatens to put up 50 on you if you fall asleep. Their major victories are littered with high-30's, low-40's wins with dominating defensive performances. San Francisco went 51-13 against the Panthers in 2019 (three years before the Niners came around again and pantsed Carolina until they said "uncle" and traded CMC), which remains their high-water mark under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. Tremendously impressive? Of course. But not the generational showing that raised the bar for the rest of the league last week.

The limiting factor here is that San Francisco's overpowering run game means that Shanahan prefers a ball-control, bleed-the-clock style of play that doesn't lend itself to lots of quick-strike touchdowns once the team's up by two or three touchdowns. If the team is playing at its best, that also means it's going to be kind of boring. Not that Niners fans mind, of course. Watching Brock Purdy style on his umpteenth defensive coordinator in his usual understated manner is reward enough for the Faithful, even if it doesn't mean gobs of top-10 ESPN highlights.

Realistically, a 2023 49ers team at maximum power probably looks an awful lot like the 2019 NFC Championship Game. You remember it well; a historic rushing attack spearheaded by Raheem Mostert's 220 yards and 4 touchdowns, combined with a debilitating pass rush that didn't allow Green Bay to score until the Niners were already up by 27. That game was dominance incarnate, and even an oddly minimal game from QB Jimmy Garoppolo (6-8, 77 yards, 1 sack) didn't stop SF from ending a playoff game effectively before halftime.

It's not difficult to imagine this 2023 squad from doing similar things to top-tier teams with all of their offensive talent, and Brock Purdy under center gives opponents even fewer ways to shut them down. Even if this year's defense doesn't vie for top-2 like 2019's did, they're still well on pace for top-5 by the year's end.

It's just important to remember that even as lopsided as that 2019 championship game was, the final score was still 38-20. The Niners then, like they are now, were capable of being much, much better than the final score showed. That's the funky little twist with this team. They might just be as good as they've ever been, certainly on this side of the millennium. You see it every time they go out on the field, and sooner than later, they're going to make that fact abundantly clear. It just might be a little harder to tell from the box score.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • BigAl
    Your articles suck
    Oct 3, 2023 at 2:48 PM
  • Akex
    Actually, I hate the way KS is tending to finish games, going slow on the offense and soft on the defense. Really wish he'd be more aggressive there.
    Sep 29, 2023 at 3:44 PM
  • Michael Bennett
    What if JD got hit by a meteor tomorrow?
    Sep 29, 2023 at 12:16 PM

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