The Cincinnati Bengals have a theme this week: Yes, the 49ers have a bad record, but they’ve been much feistier at Levi’s Stadium where Sunday’s game will be played.
“They’ve played very, very well,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during a Wednesday conference call. “And so we have to understand that. Our guys were made well aware of those things this morning. And the things they’ve been doing statistically at home.”
Three of San Francisco’s four wins this season have come at Levi’s Stadium where the 49ers haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points. On the road, they are giving up an average of 31.4 points per game. Meanwhile, four of the five games in which an opposing rusher has gained 100 or more yards have come on the road, including Sunday in Cleveland when Browns tailback Isaiah Crowell rushed for 145 yards.
San Francisco’s dual personalities might serve as motivation for the Bengals, but it’s a troublesome trait for 49ers coach Jim Tomsula, who is trying to convince the front office the team is making progress.
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His case wasn’t helped by his Browns counterpart, Mike Pettine, who on Wednesday revisited his team’s victory last Sunday.
“... Two teams in very similar situations, and I thought you saw one team that wanted to be out there and wanted to compete and wanted to win a football game, and I don’t know if I sensed that same attitude from the other side,” Pettine said via Cleveland.com.
That comment echoed postgame statements from the 49ers’ two longest-tenured members, tackle Joe Staley and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who said the 49ers did not go into the Cleveland game with the right amount of energy and suggested that players might have taken the Browns, who are in line for the second pick in the draft, too lightly.
Tomsula said he spoke with Staley, one of six team captains, this week about his comments.
“There’s nothing to it,” Tomsula said. “There’s nobody that overlooked anybody. That’s very clear. ... There’s been some (inconsistency) and that’s what we have to get away from.”
Staley has been a leader in the locker room in recent years. But other stalwart personalities such as Justin Smith, Frank Gore and Patrick Willis departed during the offseason while 30-something veterans like Glenn Dorsey and Antoine Bethea suffered season-ending injuries earlier in the year.
Asked if that left a leadership gap in the locker room that might explain the 49ers’ up-and-down season, Tomsula said the 49ers’ roster is full of young players who are rising into those roles.
“I think we’re in the process of that,” Tomsula said. “There’s a core of young guys that you’re really excited about. You see that in them, and it’s growing. That’s why I have a lot of faith in the locker room. I do. There’s the right mentality and the right people.”
Tomsula didn’t mention any players by name, but defensive linemen Ian Williams and Quinton Dial and safety Eric Reid are believed to be emerging leaders on the team. All of them are 26 or younger.
The subtext of Tomsula’s statement is that the future seems bright. Still, he said he will not encourage them to take on bigger roles or otherwise try to accelerate their growth. Leadership, he said, has to occur naturally.
“I think you’re starting to see more of it happen,” Tomsula said. “You can’t force those things. I’m not going to force them. You provide an environment for it to grow in, foster it. That’s just what I believe.”