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This Was Their Finest Hour: An Optimistic View of a Grievous Ordeal

Bret Rumbeck
Sep 25, 2018 at 8:53 PM

Often, it feels like the last bit of luck graced upon the San Francisco 49ers was the moment the lights went out during Super Bowl XLVII. In the Superdome's darkness, the team regrouped and almost overcame a 22-point deficit.

Years later, after firing a few coaches, a general manager, and conducting a sage burning ritual, the prayers of a soul-crushed fan based were rewarded with John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan, and Robert Saleh.

Even under new leadership, the 49ers' locker room is still haunted by an evil spirit hungry for knee ligaments, hamstrings, and damaged soft tissue.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's injury crushed any hope for a .500 record. It's bad enough now that some fans are talking about tanking to land another high draft position.

I roundly disagree, though I do not expect the 49ers to win more than five games.

I expect more from Shanahan than planning a future on purposeful failure and blind faith; I want Shanahan to lead the 49ers to their finest hour.

But be the ordeal sharp or long, or both, we shall seek no terms, we shall tolerate no parley; we may show mercy—we shall ask for none.Winston Churchill. Broadcast. July 14, 1940.

Moral victories in professional sports are as worthless as a participation ribbon and an after-game snack of orange wedges and Shark Bites.

The Shanahan-led 49ers cannot accept a moral victory and fans should not either. Scoring a late 21 points to counter an opponent's 35 is not a celebration. Looking better while losing to the Packers by 28 points isn't a reason to applaud the effort.

Shanahan should want his team to face the best competition for the remainder of the season. If the 49ers get shut out in December because each rival squad is fighting for playoff positions, then that's the obstacle the team must overcome. Coach the team to be a spoiler and ruin the purchased dreams of the Los Angeles Rams.

Each game and each opponent is a teaching moment for young players. Dealing with six straight losses could demoralize a roster and lead to in-fighting among players. Bad teams invite bad vibrations and are prime for turmoil. Great teams feed on the failure and are better for it.

There is a jocular saying: 'To improve is to change; to be perfect is to have changed often.' I had to use that once or twice in my long career.Churchill. Address to a joint session of Congress, Washington, D.C., (17 January 1952)

The 49ers were not a perfect team entering the Week 3 game against the Chiefs. It was not a perfect team a moment before Garoppolo's injury, and it is not a perfect team today.

Currently, the 49ers have drawn 26 penalties in 2018 for 254 yards. Against Kansas City, the 49ers were penalized 14 times for 147 yards.

The story was similar last year when the 49ers drew 123 yellow flags, giving up 988 yards of field position. Should this year's penalty trend continue, the 49ers will break last year's mark with 138 penalties and 1,354 yards of lost turf.

At some point, Shanahan needs to find out the reasons why the 49ers cannot break the penalty habit. Maybe he's teaching the wrong form, or perhaps 49er players are just horrible at hiding a few legal ways to cheat. No matter; the team has not improved and is on pace to get even worse.

Additionally, Shanahan needs to find a way to squeeze 60 minutes of consistent football from all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams.

Part of the 49ers' problem is when one unit plays poorly – say the defense – the offense hasn't shown up to carry the load. Already, the 49ers' offense has had seven three-and-out series this year. Each drive does not have to result in a touchdown, but it should result in driving the ball downfield, chewing clock and allowing the defense to sip some water.

On September 11, 2011, wide receiver Ted Ginn ran a kickoff 102-yards for a touchdown and followed it up a sixty seconds later with a 55-yard punt return for six points. That was the last 49ers' touchdown scored by a member of the special teams squad.

Shanahan and his coaching staff are not at fault for the 114-game drought in kickoff and punt returns touchdowns, but they do need to find ways to improve the return game to score points or obtain better field position.

All the greatest things are simple…Churchill. United Europe Meeting, Albert Hall, London. May 14, 1947.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has a significant role in Shanahan's finest hour, beginning with a complete overhaul of the 49ers' defense and a weekly practice session dedicated to tackling.

It's not the league rules that have caused the 43 missed tackles; it's over pursuing the ball carrier, bad angles, poor reads, and sloppy technique. However, we're three games into the season, and all is not lost. Saleh can step in today and adjust the way players engage the opponent, fixing flaws in form, footwork, and hip explosion.

Next, Saleh needs to scrap every complex coverage currently in the defensive playbook. It's clear the young secondary cannot comprehend the scheme; the results have been broken coverages, finger pointing, and wide-open receivers.

After Week 3, Pro Football Focus graded the 49ers' secondary at 35.6 coverage grade, ranking the unit dead last in the league. This week, Saleh needs to bring the secondary back to basics with non-exotic coverages that prohibit players from overthinking.

When every morning brought a noble chance,
And every chance brought out a noble knight.
Alfred Tennyson, "Morte d'Arthur." stanza 23 (1842)

The path for the 49ers will not be easy, and at times, it may be an effort to watch the team slog through another year of growth.

But, as Tennyson's lines indicate, every morning provides an opportunity, and every opportunity could bring a new leader.

Forget tanking for a draft pick or blaming losses on the lack of an edge rusher. Now is the time to see if Shanahan can be the noble knight that keeps the 49ers fighting until the players have nothing left to give.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
  • 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

  • Dwight
    CJ is terrible.. he didn't even beat out Mullins( IMO ) to deserve the back up qb job. He can't consistently complete consecutive passes without them being batted down at line. He slow out of play action drop backs. Let's get real... The Niners are tripping over there own mistakes.. Why trade your second best linemen on draft day just to draft the same position with the number our first pick (9) overall. The safeties that supposedly where better than Reid is a joke.. the leading rusher breida consistently taken off the field for what shanahan calls " going with the hot guy" is another bogus observation of his. Kap is better than anyone we have on our team now and better than anyone they worked out yesterday!!!
    Sep 26, 2018 at 8:18 AM

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