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Preview: Are the 49ers Small Victories Enough to Beat Arizona?

Bret Rumbeck
Oct 1, 2017 at 6:47 AM


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There are countless life lessons I've taken from football, but one has always stuck with me:

Potential in one hand and nothing in the other are the same things.

That's a slightly different, G-rated version of the quote my high school coach said to our football team after a particularly brutal effort against Davis High.

To start Week 3, all eyes were on Thursday Night Football to witness what the 2017 San Francisco 49ers could do when facing a steep challenge. It was refreshing to see the team finally battle for four quarters, and reassuring to watch quarterback Brian Hoyer bounce back from his interception.

I'm convinced previous coaches would have thrown in the towel after the score was 27-13 with 9:17 left in the third quarter. But we've faced and defeated those nightmares, and while the 49ers didn't lead during the game, they put up 19 points in the fourth quarter. That alone, if looking at a single moment from this season, is something that brings me great joy.

But moral victories in professional sports are nothing but a Golden Calf, a false idol that draws our focus away from what matters: Wins.

The 49ers had the potential to win the game, but they still came away with the loss. Potential to win or lose is the same thing. It's not a negative attitude; it's a cruel, real-world perception of football.

And you don't have to take my word for it.

During defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's press conference on September 28, he said, "Thursday obviously wasn't good enough for anyone who's a Niners fan or employee or anything."

Offense: Talking of Execution

A tried and true talking point a player or coach can use is critiquing the on-the-field performance of a play or scheme. It's trite, but usually on-point and works in all interviews.

Take Hoyer's response to a question during his press conference on September 27.

Hoyer: "You just want to go out there and execute plays. Whether it's a run play, pass play. Get a rhythm. Get that first, first down and get things going. Just like any week in the NFL, it's always a challenge."

Not every offensive series is going to result in six points, and that's okay. But, the Ghosts of Seasons Past still emerge from under a brown fog to slow the 49ers' offensive attack. So far, through three games – and frankly, the last four seasons – the 49ers take too long to get rolling.

Again, I applaud the second half fight against the Rams; but where's the execution in the second quarter? Why can't the team show the same tenacity in the first quarter that it did in the fourth quarter?

This afternoon, Hoyer needs precise execution on each play, but the offensive unit needs consistency on each drive. Think of execution and consistency like a John Lennon-Paul McCartney song. Of course, they can work solo and produce a good outcome. But when flawless execution meets clockwork consistency, the result is almost always perfect.

Defense: Talking of Mistakes

The 49ers are no different than other NFL teams: they make in-game errors. However, these flaws continue to emerge from a below-average secondary.

While not commenting directly on the play of the secondary, Saleh did note the mistakes committed by the defense: "Again, it goes back to silly mistakes here and there. Unneeded penalties. Unneeded fundamental flaws."

Feel free to blame Hoyer for his mistakes on offense, and his opening interception that led to the Rams' first touchdown. But the defense still gave up 34 points and let quarterback Jared Goff throw for 292 yards and three touchdowns.

Saleh also commented on the defense winning more one-on-one battles: "We need to find a way to be consistently creating one-on-ones as a staff to see if we can create more one-on-ones and then as a defense, winning those one-on-ones when we get the opportunity. That's not just for the D-Line, that's for the DBs and the linebackers."

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer still has it in him to throw for 300-yards and three touchdowns, and it's easy when wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is running routes that leave defensive backs flat-footed.

Saleh cannot expect the secondary to be the rock of the defense today. Once again, the play of defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Solomon Thomas will have to set the tone and win those one-on-one battles for the 49ers' defense.

According to Jeff Deeney with Pro Football Focus, Arizona's offensive line has allowed 61 quarterback pressures this season, which is the most in the NFL. This week, for the 49ers' defense to cover up mistakes in the secondary, it's imperative that the defensive line wins those one-on-one battles against a shoddy offensive line and keep Palmer off-balance. Muddy pockets and little time often lead to incomplete passes or interceptions.

A Great Flame Follows a Little Spark – Alighieri, Dante. Paradiso

Last week's game is what the 49ers needed to rebound from poor showings during Weeks 1 and 2 of the season. But, they've done some small things well, and they can use those to build upon and notch a win over Arizona today.

Rookie wide receiver Trent Taylor has been returning punts for the team, and I'm convinced he's due to break a big run. So far, he's amassed 58 total return yards and averages just over 11 yards per return.

The 49ers' defense has faced 107 rushing attempts from opponents this year – more than any team in the NFL – and is holding teams to 3.5 yards per attempt.

The ground game for the 49ers' offense is averaging 107 yards per game, ranking it fourteenth overall in the NFL.

At some point, and I think it's today, these sparks are enough to light a big flame for the team. I'm expecting the 49ers to edge out Arizona by a score of 24-21.

I'll be covering today's game for the good people at 49ers Webzone, so be sure to keep Twitter, and your Facebook page turned our direction!
  • 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.


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