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A Tale of Two Games: The 49ers at Their Best and Worst

Bret Rumbeck
Aug 23, 2017 at 6:27 AM

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.

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.
  • 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 opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Marty
    In a NFL game teams that have a 5 to 0 turn over advantage wins 99% of the time. No defense can over come a situation where the opponents offense gets the ball in great field position. And the opponents players are fired up because of their opponents mistakes & failures. And throw in the fact the defense is tired because they played two thirds of the game. Its all on the guys who turned the ball over.
    Aug 24, 2017 at 4:53 AM
    Response: Hi Marty, thanks for reading. I agree with you on the tired factor. Against KC, the defense was on the field for 46 plays; against Denver, they were on the field for just under 70 snaps. I put that in my notebook as I was covering the game for the Webzone. That again goes back to the offense for an inability to sustain drives. If my counting is correct, the 49ers' offense had three drives under 5 plays, one five-play drive, and two three-and-outs. Denver, on the other hand, had one three-and-out.
  • Steve
    Good post Bret, although I think you're being too hard on the defence. They looked good on the first couple of drives, but then the offence kept turning the ball over (not to mention that boneheaded special teams play). You are right, that first team offence needs to show up this week, they line are giving Hoyer time, but he is failing to execute, and the ground game is not getting the job done which it needs to to make the play action work. I know it's pre-season and everything is a little vanilla so far, so I'm looking forward to what the team does in the regular season (usually a big win in week 1 followed by crushing losses for the next 8 weeks!)
    Aug 24, 2017 at 2:17 AM
    Response: Thanks for reading, Steve. Against KC, the defense was lights out. Even though it's preseason, only giving up 31 yards on the ground (and under 200 net yards to KC) says something. They regressed against Denver, giving up 315 net yards to the Broncos' offense. Again, it's preseason. There's a lot of work to do, and we don't know if Saleh was trying some new schemes or ideas. My concern is the continued inconsistency that's been hurting the team for years. I am hopeful that we'll see Shanahan put together a solid game plan this week for the offense to have success.
  • Jack Buchanan
    Sorry, I meant Mr. Rumbeck
    Aug 23, 2017 at 8:42 AM
  • Jack Buchanan
    Get a grip, Mr. Galko. The 49ers are in a total rebuilding mode, it's only pre-season and Shanahan is not going to show any any of his real offense until game one. All they care about now is finding out who the 53 will be. They'll probably only win 3 or 4 games this season. SO WHAT? They're building for the future which is not 2017 or even 2018..expect a contender in 2019. Why do you think Lynch and Shanahan have 6 year contracts? They know far better than anyone what it will take to get this team back on track. Enjoy watching Lorenzo Jerome, Solomon Thomas, Beathard and Kittle and the D and O lines develop. Immediate gratification ain't coming.
    Aug 23, 2017 at 8:32 AM
    Response: Thanks for reading. I have no issue with the team in rebuilding mode, and totally agree the team will probably win a handful of games this year. My concern is the continued lack of consistency that's plagued the team for the last few years. The 28 penalties thus far into the preseason is something Shanahan needs to address immediately. Additionally, the 49ers who played the Chiefs and the 49ers who played the Broncos looked like to completely different teams. There is no immediate gratification in the preseason; it's a glorified, controlled scrimmage game. We've seen the good and the bad. The team as a whole needs to get back to level this week. Hoyer needs to start leading the offense, and the defense needs to play like they did against Kansas City.

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