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A Little Better All the Time: Improving on Last Week’s Victory

Bret Rumbeck
Aug 18, 2017 at 6:17 AM0



Preseason football is often a mixed bag for spectators. On the one hand, you're tickled pink to have the NFL back on living room television. However, the meat hook reality is the football you're watching is a glorified scrimmage with the projected starters playing hard enough not to get hurt. Competition among the second, third, and fourth team players is high, but often their mental and physical errors cause the game to slow to a frozen crawl. As we are well aware, these games are critical for coaches to test plays, schemes, and new personnel packages under live conditions.

There are positive and negative takeaways from the 49ers' first preseason game, but it is far too premature to make any real determinations about the team's or a player's destiny. For example, quarterback Brian Hoyer only threw the ball four times and running back Carlos Hyde had no yards on two carries. We all know these two players are starters come Week One. However, the second string-quarterback competition is practically even, and the 49ers need to determine the best reserve linebackers to fill in for Reuben Foster and NaVorro Bowman.

Here are a few ideas head coach Kyle Shanahan can employ to improve upon last week's victory.

Throw it deep. Football always makes me happy until I see a wide receiver screen. Then, the joy inside my heart turns into misery and anger. It's a plague in a playbook, but until it's exorcized from the call sheet, I'm hopeful that any quarterback currently on the 49ers roster can make this throw. It's unclear if Shanahan purposely called a lot of plays that sent receivers on shorter routes, or if the quarterbacks wanted to work on timing with faster pass patterns.

We didn't get to see wide receiver Marquise Goodwin streaking down the sideline or splitting the safeties on a deep post pattern. On the 49ers' eighth possession, quarterback C.J. Beathard was facing a 1st and 20. Shanahan called a play with the receivers running short routes, and Beathard completed a three-yard out route. Here was an ideal opportunity to call something bigger to see how the rookie quarterback handles the situation. There's nothing lost if Beathard fails, rather we can spot areas where he can improve.

The quarterbacks did not take many five-to-seven step drops and uncork a few throws downfield. Any quarterback in the NFL can hit a swing pass or a rocket screen. Completing a 60-yard throw doesn't mean that particular player should be the starter. Shanahan should challenge Barkley and Beathard with intermediate and deep reads, or plays that force them to look off the safety and come back to another receiver.

Hurry-up offense. I've always been a fan of running a hurry-up offense in the middle of the game for no real reason other than to put the defense on its heels. We did see Barkley run a three-minute offense in the second quarter, and Beathard chewed up nearly seven minutes of clock in the fourth quarter. These are small, positive steps in the right direction.

But to solidify the second-string quarterback, both need to run the offense in a stressful situation. Shanahan needs to simulate a hurry-up offense in the middle of the quarter. For example, ignore the score and tell Barkley, "We're running this as if we're four points down with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter. Hang tough and get it done."

Fewer field goals and punts. All players need to get the feel of a live game, including the lowly kicker and punter. The 49ers do not need practice kicking lots of field goals or punting on every fourth down; the 49ers need to maximize all four downs, especially when the offense is working inside the opponent's 20-yard line. These situations test all players, not just the quarterback, to come up with a critical first down or six points.

Continued consistency from the defensive line. On the fourth play of the game, the 49ers' defensive line collapsed the pocket and forced the Chiefs' quarterback Alex Smith to scramble for ten yards. Smith's run was the highlight of the Chiefs' ground attack on Friday night. The remainder of the Chiefs' running backs totaled 21 yards, with running back C.J. Spiller leading the crew with nine total yards. Spiller's longest run was five yards, or roughly 15 feet. It's tough to give a proper evaluation of the defensive line without an all-22 film, but it's easy to see the 49ers have quietly built a formidable unit to stop the run. More performances like this build positive momentum going into the regular season.

Greater mental focus. During preseason games, viewers come to expect a bevy of illegal formation or illegal procedure penalties, especially when the third- or fourth-string players are on the field. So, if you're going to commit a penalty or two, the time to do it is Week One of the preseason.

However, ending the game with 17 penalties and 131 yards is a bit over-the-top. It's far too early to tell if the team has a discipline problem; in fact, these penalties are probably due to over-excitement, confusion about a formation, and getting away with holding or pass interference during practice. Shanahan needs to set a goal of eight or fewer penalties before the mental errors start to spiral out of control. Killing bad habits today ensures they won't bleed into the regular season.

These are just a few ideas for tomorrow's game against the Broncos. What do you think the 49ers need to focus on to keep improving?
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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