Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports


A Two-Game Reflection: Where the 49ers Improved and Declined

Bret Rumbeck
Aug 21, 2018 at 8:34 PM


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It's a stretch to take the first preseason game and make gross assumptions on the final state of the San Francisco 49ers' roster. Week 1 of the preseason is akin to syllabus day in college; show up for class, get an outline of the semester, and leave to go grab a chicken sandwich.

After a short series, one can always hear the collective sigh of relief from team management when the star athletes are relegated to the sideline to chew sunflower seeds.

But after two games, and starters seeing a four-to-five-fold increase in snap counts, it becomes easier to evaluate individual improvement or decline.

Arrow Up: First-Team Offensive Line


The 49ers' ground attack is struggling, but let's first focus on the positive.

In Week 2 against the Houston Texans, the 49ers' first-team offensive line was Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Mike Person, and Mike McGlinchey. These five men did not allow a hit or a sack on the quarterback.

Their success allowed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to end his day 10-for-12, 136 yards in the air, one touchdown pass and without a blade of turf touching his jersey.

Right guard still remains open, but veterans Joshua Garnett and Jonathan Cooper finally saw live action this year. I'll take both of them in the line-up as good news and am happy to include it in the arrow-up category.

Both men had good plays and poor plays: Garnett allowed two hurries and two pressures while Cooper allowed one hurry and pressure. However, I'm willing to let them shake off some rust before being overly critical of their play.

Arrow Up: Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones


Earlier this year, I wrote that the 49ers received a gift when they claimed defensive lineman Sheldon Day off waivers last November. Against the Texans, Day showcased his ability as a dominant force on the line of scrimmage.

Day played 35 snaps on Saturday and ended the day with five total tackles and a forced fumble. Pro Football Focus gave Day an 89.9 grade for his efforts.

Also, keep an eye on second-year defensive lineman D.J Jones. I have his name in my notebook as someone who was causing havoc for the Texans' offensive line. Like Day, Jones had a forced fumble against the Texans and finished the evening with three combined tackles.

During his August 21, 2018 press conference, Shanahan commented on Jones' play.

"I thought D.J. started to get his legs back a lot more, had a good week of practice, did well in the game. I'm excited to see if he's going to be better or worse this week."

The 49ers have deep talent on the defensive line; adding Day and Jones into the rotation this fall could keep an offensive line busy from start to finish.

Arrow Level: C.J. Beathard


It's disappointing to watch second-year quarterback C.J. Beathard play like the game is still too fast or confusing. He started off the preseason completing fifty percent of his passes and throwing an interception.

Against the Texans, he improved his completion percentage, but he still has the pocket presence of a nervous rookie.

On the fourth offensive possession for the 49ers, Beathard had four of his linemen slide left to protect him while his right tackle popped to the right to pick up the defensive end. The Texans had a four-man rush called, allowing the offensive line to pick up each defender. In theory, five men blocking four men should give Beathard plenty of time to go through his progressions.

Rather than climb the pocket and move slightly to the right, Beathard stepped left into the pack of linemen. He forced himself into a no-win situation. Beathard completed a short pass to his back, but it was three yards short of a first down.

It's one play, but it's reflective of Beathard's lack of growth as a quarterback. A second-year player with regular season experience shouldn't have fans and experts wondering if Nick Mullens is threatening to be the second-string quarterback.

Arrow Down: Run Game


Preseason games help expose flaws in players or personnel packages. It's okay if a set of plays isn't working, or if a player has trouble with a particular block; these issues are correctable in the film room and on the practice field.

However, after two games, the 49ers have shown little ability to run the football. All 49er backs, including Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida, have had trouble gaining yardage.

Here are two possible reasons for a sluggish run game:

  1. It could be an offensive line that still needs to work out some kinks. For example, Shanahan called a toss right to running back Joe Williams on the 49ers' second possession against the Texans. Left guard Laken Tomlinson missed a block, fell down, and caused the play to disintegrate.
  2. Maybe the backs are looking for larger running lanes rather than the small creases created by the offensive line. At one point last Saturday, Joe Williams literally ran right into the back of left tackle Mike McGlinchy. Further, Williams has been indecisive on when to plant his foot and turn the ball upfield for positive yardage. It's as if he's waiting for a huge gap to open up between his lineman.

It's not just the guards, tackles, and running backs at fault. The reserve tight ends, specifically Cole Hikutini and Ross Dwelley, are missing primary run blocks on outside zone, and power runs.

Outside zone runs are the bread and butter of Kyle Shanahan's offense, and the tight end's block is the first read for the back. If the tight end fails to seal off his defender, the back has to make a vertical cut or bend the run back against the grain. The tight end cannot afford to miss his block or choose not to block anyone, a sin which both Hikutini and Dwelley have committed.

Maybe new running back Alfred Morris is the elixir missing from the running attack, or maybe the backs and line need to get in tune with one another. Whatever the issue, I'm hopeful we see a solution this weekend in Indianapolis.
  • 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.


1 Comment

  • mbniner
    Like most of the other commentators I think that C.J. is not "Arrow Level". He has regressed in my view. You mentioned his poor pocket presence but even more worrisome is his inability to see the field and his slowness in processing information. This is something that he should have improved on in his second year. I like C.J. for his toughness and willingness to sacrifice his body for the team but he is not showing that he can be more than an average QB. Look at Mullin's jump from last season to this and see what potential really looks like (admittedly on a small amount of looks). If they can't move C.J. to another team, then they should strongly consider cutting him. This would be tough for Lynch/ Shanny to do due to loyalty. I think that C.J. is eligible for the practice squad if no one else claims him.
    Aug 22, 2018 at 9:36 PM
    0


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