Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports


Week 5 Review: The 49ers Are on the Edge of Average and Dismal

Bret Rumbeck
Oct 8, 2018 at 9:15 PM


The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
"The Premature Burial" (1844). Edgar Allan Poe.

The line separating the 2018 San Francisco 49ers from average and dismal is becoming brighter. Before a Week 5 collapse against the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers flirted with being a mid-level football team.

Today, the 49ers are getting closer to an inescapable event horizon.

For reasons unknown, the 49ers are unable to put together quality, consistent play from all three phases of the game. After an eight-play, 75-yard opening drive to score a touchdown, the 49ers' defense decided to show local high school teams how not to run a cover-three pass defense.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan summed the error up nicely following the game.

Q: Was that 75-yard touchdown a product CB Ahkello Witherspoon not getting the help that he was anticipating he was going to have from the middle?

"Yes. Usually, in cover-three, you've got someone in the middle of the field, so it's tough to get the post, and we did not have one there."

It wasn't a scheme, it wasn't the wrong call, and it wasn't Solomon Thomas. The opening play for the Cardinals was successful because, after eleven weeks of football, the 49ers can't execute cover-three.

Whatever Shanahan's vision for the 49ers resides in a fantasy world. The current team – offense, defense, and special teams - cannot run basic football strategies.

A one-win team certainly has a pile of blame to pass around, so let's see who might be at fault.

It's Not the Coaching Staff.


Shanahan called a 92-play game that resulted in 447 net yards of offense. His running backs averaged 4.3 yards-per-rush, and his second-year backup quarterback completed 63 percent of his throws.

49er receivers dropped five passes.

One pass hit wide receiver Kendrick Bourne square in the facemask, while another hit tight end Cole Wick in the gut while he was standing in the end zone.

The 49ers' defense held the Cardinals to 56 rushing yards on 23 attempts. And while Rosen's opening touchdown pass looked amazing, the defense forced the Cardinals to punt eight times. Punter Andy Lee's kicks totaled 317 yards, nearly 1.8 times more yardage than quarterback Josh Rosen's total passing yardage.

Yet, on the three returnable punts, Trent Taylor gained one yard. The kick return game wasn't much better, but due to the rule changes, it's hard to expect much from this unit.

The scheme is there, but both Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh have failed to keep the team focused. Both men have called the right play at the right time, only to have a player commit a penalty or blow a coverage.

Then It's John Lynch, Right?


General manager John Lynch gets a little more of the blame, and this is where I differ from friends and football minds I respect.

I've grown weak and weary of the 49ers' brass trying to sell the fanbase on an average player and then cutting him down the road.

Take former 49er, Jonathan Cooper. The 49ers signed him on March 20, 2018, and handed him a $2 million signing bonus. A few million later, Cooper isn't on the roster. Alas, Lynch made no upgrade at the guard position.

On March 15, 2018, the 49ers signed defensive lineman Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year deal and guaranteed him $2.5 million.

In a statement released on March 15, Lynch commented that Attaochu was, "… a wonderful fit for our scheme and our locker room. We expect Jeremiah to be productive on defense, while also providing us an exceptional player on special teams. He's another guy who fits the mold of a 49er."

Naturally, Attaochu failed to make the 53-man roster, and the 49ers made no upgrades at the edge position.

Lynch failed to find quality depth at each position to play on Sunday, and the 49ers are trying to reap talent from a sparse crop.

Not every player on the final 53-man roster can be an All-Pro, but right now asking Bourne to catch or Adrian Colbert to cover is like trying to conjure ice water from desert sand.

Also, does anyone have any idea when tackle Shon Coleman is going to make the active roster?

Apparently, It's the Players.


Here's an interesting statistic from Sunday's game.

Twenty-three of the total plays run by the 49ers' offense gained a net total of 17 yards and averaged 1.35 yards per play.

Here's another way to visualize that statistic: A professional football team moved the ball a little over four feet per play, or the average height of a seven-year-old.

That's not scheme, friends. That's shameful execution.

Watching Bourne take a catchable ball off his facemask was tough. Wick's drop in the end zone was a joke. And Shanahan's reaction to a failed two-point conversion summed up the overall performance.


Indeed, Saleh calls exotic blitz packages at times, and I've had enough of the defensive line dropping into coverage. But, it's hard to blame him when his secondary can't grasp the basics of a three-deep coverage or how to tackle a ball carrier.

General managers can find talent and coaches can bring a team only so far. Shanahan may have some work to do on himself, but the wins and losses fall on the men between the white lines.

This week, the 49ers find themselves once again teetering on the edge of life and death. Games are not must-win; the next ten games will look at how deep the players can dig to survive and avoid the continued embarrassment.

All statistics courtesy of NFL.com unless otherwise 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.


3 Comments

  • Djack
    So if we're saying it's the players, then we're saying it's the GM and his staff's fault, which to me, it is. Let's replay last years draft. We draft Solomon Thomas, never a big standout at Stanford, never heard his name until the final weeks of the draft. He was never a 20 sack guy.. not even a 10 sack guy, but he's going to be our big pass rush specialist? So we pass up on offensive weapons like McCaffrey and so many others and our Defense is still horrible. Then we pay and keep Armstead who has shown nothing but a penchant for being injured. We cut Harold and he gets 3 sacks since. Then we pay Cooper and Attachou as mentioned and they get cut. We pass on guys like Mack who are game changers and stick with people like Marsh who are nothing, nobodies who will never be game changers. So wouldn't you say it's our talent evaluators? Then there's the coaching. Tackling, or lack thereof is a coaching issue. Time management, or lack thereof, is a coaching issue. Not being able to adjust during a game is a coaching issue. Kyle is a decent OC, but he has not shown the ability to manage a game. These are the issues, but since our coach and GM have 6 year contracts? Yeah, exactly
    Oct 9, 2018 at 11:04 AM
    4
  • Jerry
    Very nice article. The easy thing to do is blame the coaches but the players have been coached the basics over many years by many coaches. They’re men and provide their own motivation. Lynch and Shanahan took over a failed team a year and a half ago. They are building to the future. There will continue to be player turnover as they build this team. I am going to enjoy watching the process.
    Oct 9, 2018 at 6:10 AM
    1
  • GM
    Coaches are responsible for more than just the scheme. If all coaching was just putting schemes together, many from failed coaches would still be coaching today. Teaching discipline and ensuring your players are ready mentally is just as essential as playcalling. Those who have been making frequent mistakes with focus and discipline aren’t just rooks, but have routinely been vets who have been playing for a long time in the NFL.
    Oct 9, 2018 at 4:56 AM
    2

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