“Give me one reason why I should keep watching this winless team?” tweeted one 49ers fan.
“I knew it would be miserable, but can you share at least a couple of bright spots? See, I’m having trouble finding ’em. UGH!” tweeted another.
The 49ers’ endlessly hyped rookie linebacker has played two games and hasn’t finished either. Their supposed defensive-line depth dried up faster than a puddle on an August afternoon.
They are tied with Cleveland for most penalties (58) and least wins (0), and with one more defeat, the 49ers will become the first team in the franchise’s 72-year history to start 0-8. They stand an excellent chance of doing exactly that. They play the 6-1 Eagles Sunday in Philadelphia and opened as 13-point underdogs, by far the biggest spread this week.
Has anything gone right, Craig Rose (@SmokeShowing911) wants to know? Why, as Ricardo Pardell (@hummbabybear) asks, would anyone keep watching? It took a lot of deep thinking, but here are some answers:
1. Safety duo. When Colts running back Frank Gore was asked about the 49ers earlier this year, the first thing out of his mouth was, “The safety, No. 29, is around the ball a lot.”
That number belongs to Jaquiski Tartt, who along with Jimmie Ward, has hit hard, flown around the field and otherwise done everything expected of him at the safety spot.
Ward, in particular, has looked the part of the classic single-high free safety, and his game against Washington – a fumble recovery and near score, a diving interception attempt, a big hit on Kirk Cousins – highlighted his versatility. Every team that runs a version of Seattle’s defense wants to recreate that squad’s duo of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. In Ward and Tartt, the 49ers have a pretty good facsimile.
2. C.J. Beathard. Kyle Shanahan already has used “by no means was he perfect” three times to describe Beathard’s play, and there are certainly things the rookie must improve upon.
But it’s immediately clear that Beathard is hard to rattle, which is the top criterion for a rookie quarterback. The next two months are sure to have ugly moments for Beathard and it’s hard to see him convincing the team not to bring in a prominent passer in the offseason. But Beathard will be better for the experience and at the very least will be able to push a top draft pick – if that’s the route the 49ers go – and make him better.
3. Two tackles. San Francisco’s next opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, lost left tackle Jason Peters for the season on Monday. In the same game, Washington’s left tackle, Trent Williams, aggravated a knee injury and had to leave the contest. In the same weekend, the league’s ironman at the position, Cleveland’s Joe Thomas, tore a triceps and is out for the year. All of which highlights the 49ers’ fortune at the position. They have two quality tackles who are mostly healthy (right tackle Trent Brown suffered a concussion Sunday). The 49ers will get offers to trade Staley, 33, but they have to ask themselves whether that’s wise considering the investment they likely will make at quarterback.
4. Rank-and-file draft. The players John Lynch drafted in the middle rounds, the guys who make up the rank and file of an NFL roster, mostly have been good. This was an area where Trent Baalke largely whiffed despite large draft classes and multiple opportunities. Instead of hitting singles, Baalke swung for the fences and drafted injured players or character-risk players. It rarely worked out. This year, a pair of fifth rounders, tight end George Kittle and receiver Trent Taylor, have been productive as has sixth-round nose tackle D.J. Jones. You can toss in seventh rounder Adrian Colbert, who has been a standout on special teams throughout the year and who on Sunday took snaps at free safety.
5. The Jacksonville Jaguars. After finishing with three wins last year, the Jaguars already have four and are tied at the top of their division. The keys to their turn-around: a strong running game and a tough defense.
Why mention that? Because Jacksonville essentially runs the same defense as the 49ers. The Jaguars have allowed 15.7 points per game, tied for the best mark in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks, who also run that defense. The two other teams that use the system, the Los Angeles Chargers and Atlanta Falcons, rank eighth and 15th in that category.
The 49ers? They rank 30th and are giving up 26.6 points a game. But as their brethren prove, the issue is the personnel – cornerback and pass rusher, to be precise – not the system.