Five reasons the 49ers are underperforming

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (17) leaps over San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (54) into the end zone to score a touchdown in the second quarter an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022 in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Lachlan Cunningham)

Coming into this season the 49ers roster was considered one of the most talented in the league. However, it hasn’t translated onto the field and San Francisco finds itself a game below .500 through seven weeks.

Here’s why.

The 49ers defense is overrated!

At first glance some of you are likely thinking this is blasphemous. Let me explain.

Over the first five weeks the Niners defense faced teams with either a bad quarterback or a porous offensive line. As a result, the numbers had many comparing them to the 1985 Chicago Bears defense.

It’s been a completely different story over the last two weeks.

Against Atlanta and Kansas City, San Francisco’s defense gave up 63 points and surrendered a first down on 15 of 23 third down opportunities.

On Sunday against the Chiefs, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans was completely overmatched by Andy Reid.

After intercepting Patrick Mahomes on the third play of the day, Ryans had no answers. The only 49ers stop over the next seven possessions was the result of a missed field goal, which came after Mahomes’ touchdown pass was negated by a penalty.

San Francisco’s defense faced 58 snaps against the Chiefs. They gave up 529 yards, 42 points, twenty plays of ten or more yards, and an average of 9.1 yards per play.

Seeing the 49ers’ defense falter in high-leverage situations yesterday wasn’t anything new.

Despite the fantastic early season numbers, we saw them allow touchdowns on three straight possessions to Chicago in the season opener.

In week three against Denver, they could not hold a five-point lead late in the game. Russell Wilson converted all three third-down attempts on the game-winning possession.

After an offensive surge saw the Niners tie the Falcons at 14 midway through the second quarter, Marcus Mariota took off on a scramble up the middle to convert on third and twelve. From there, the defense couldn’t make a stop, allowing an Atlanta touchdown just before halftime.

While it’s true the defense is dealing with injuries, the Niners’ defense saw Patrick Mahomes go after the veterans.

Jimmie Ward made the start at nickelback. He was targeted in coverage six times, allowing six receptions, including a touchdown.

Key free agent acquisition Charvarius Ward wasn’t any better. The former Chief was targeted in coverage six times, allowing six receptions including a 57-yard bomb to Marquez Valdez-Scantling.

For the second week in a row the vaunted 49ers pass rush was almost nonexistent. Patrick Mahomes was hit only three times on Sunday, and Nick Bosa came away with the only sack.

Kyle Shanahan needs to stop using Deebo Samuel out of the backfield.

The 49ers’ offense struggled last season until Kyle Shanahan started using Deebo Samuel as a running back against Los Angeles in week 10.

Samuel was electrifying, finally giving San Francisco’s offense an explosive element.

Opposing defenses are no longer caught off guard.

Whenever Samuel is the backfield, the play call is going to be an outside run or pass.

With Christian McCaffrey now in the fold, it is time for Deebo Samuel to become a wide receiver once again. This doesn’t mean he occasionally won’t get opportunities to run the ball. Those will come off end-arounds and jet sweeps, as we saw before the second half of last season.

The 49ers “playmakers” need to step up.

San Francisco has averaged less than 19 offensive points this season.

The blame usually goes to the quarterback when you aren’t scoring points.

We know who Jimmy Garoppolo is. At best, he is slightly above average, and doesn’t throw the ball down the field or outside the numbers with any consistency.

The quarterback sometimes holds the offense back, but he isn’t alone.

George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, Jeff Wilson Jr. Juaun Jennings. These are the 49ers’ “playmakers”.

The reason playmakers is in quotation marks it simple, the guys who are supposed to make plays happen for San Francisco aren’t doing it.

At a rate of 8.4%, the 49ers are leading the NFL in dropped passes.

While there are a couple of terrific plays each game, the positive results are being offset by the drops.

Against Kansas City, on Sunday both Aiyuk and Kittle could not hold on to passes on third down leading to field goals.

There is nothing special about the 49ers’ special teams.

After struggling on special teams the last couple of seasons, the 49ers made improving this area a priority.

San Francisco let Richard Hightower go to Chicago and replaced him with Brian Schneider.

In free agency, the 49ers’ big signings were Oren Burks, George Odum and Ray-Ray McCloud. Each came to San Francisco focused on elevating the special teams’ units.

To this point, the moves have been a bust.

The 49ers kickoff unit has been dreadful the last few weeks, allowing three more 45 yards returns.

A 48-yard kickoff return to open the second half yesterday gave Kansas City its only short field of the game. Three plays and 34 yards later, the Chiefs had a 21-13 lead.

The kickoff return unit hasn’t been any better. McCloud has handled all 13 kickoff returns for San Francisco this year. His average of 17.6 yards per return is over a yard less than the 49ers managed a season ago.

A holding penalty on Ty Davis-Price during a fourth-quarter return put the 49ers’ offense on its own five. Three plays later, Jimmy Garoppolo was sacked in the endzone for safety.

It doesn’t stop there. Two field goal attempts by Robbie Gould have been blocked this season. One of those was returned for a touchdown.

Penalties

San Francisco has been called for 48 penalties this season, tied for the fifth most in the NFL.

In summation, the 49ers struggle to get off the field, drop a lot of passes, aren’t good on special teams, and commit a high number of turnovers.

Let’s just blame it all on Jimmy Garoppolo.

This article has 38 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, your summation is correct.
    The question is why.
    A sport psycholgist would talk about the collective psyche of the team. The 48 penalties speak to a lack of focus as well as the dropped passes. The team seems to be ill prepared to play at a high level.

    Garoppolo was not supposed to be here this year ,they were going to be playing behind a rookie and everone knows an NFL team never wins the trophy behind a rookie, ie mind set.

    Sometimes teams just do not hear the HC.
    It is extremely diffcult to be stimulated all the time.

    Or we could just blame the QB…

    Sports ,thats why I love it!

    1. I actually agree with all this. Right now its fair to say the entire team is overrated. My fear is we’ve given out some bad contracts too. Warner is the most overrated LB in the league. He was a non factor vs KC and Atlanta. Theres this narrative that theres this vast place in the middle of the 49ers defense called “Warner Island” and opposing QBs are unable to complete passes there. This is completely false. I will say hes got his hands on a few, just hasnt come close to actually catching the ball.

      Deebo Samuel got his contract and isnt even the best receiver on the team. I still think he looks slower this year, either way he struggles to create meaningful seperation. Is he still a terror with the ball in his hands? Its hard to say, JG has been unable to get him the ball accurately in space. When defenses key on Deebo he is usually taken completely out of the play. Frankly, this is why the addition of CM is so important.

      People like to go off Trent Williams pff score and say how dominate he is. I havent seen it this year. The OL barely looked any different with him in.

      I do know this, we absolutely need Armstead back. He is our Justin Smith, he is the glue that makes everybody else better. Armstead and Bosa are elite together

      1. Agree with Big Al: A lot of nonperformers are the guys who got paid a fortune. What kind of motivation do they have? They do not show it. Leadership?

    2. The Hack is right.

      Thanks to Jack for his honesty. I predicted, last spring, a.500 team and worried about the over-hype. I thought that the Niners were, for the most part, too laid back and had no sense of urgency or pride after the disastrous defeat to KC. I thought the game would be special to the Niners due to the painful SB loss. No sign of it though.
      Kyle is ok as a somewhat effective play caller. But he is no genius. Reid far outcoached him and had his team motivated. Worst of all, Kyle shows no urgency. He is a bland dude. What is his plan to do better in the coming weeks and months? Agree with Jack that Deebo is tipping off plays as is Trent Williams who has been slowed by injury. Is he finished with Football? Anyway, we could trade him for picks? Major changes are needed and we have few picks. We way overpaid for Trey as well. Trey has not shown improvement (in OTA’s or summer camp). Nice man and good family but not accurate enough.

    3. Unfortunately, your summation is correct.
      The question is why.
      A sport psycholgist would talk about the collective psyche of the team. The 48 penalties speak to a lack of focus as well as the dropped passes. The team seems to be ill prepared to play at a high level.

      This. And I might add that when the team was playing Denver who had zero offense whatsoever, Shanny opted to decline a penalty that would have to put them out of field goal position and facing a 3rd and 19. Instead he shows no balls and coaches scared by declining the penalty (because he’s afraid they’ll convert??) and allow the Broncos to kick a make-able field goal. And you wonder why the team disappeared on the big stage… maybe if the coach wasn’t scared all the time and imposed their will on opponents like Payton, Reid, even Harbaugh did the team would be prepared to play a big time opponent.

  2. Good drop, Jack.
    I believe that most of us here know that Jimmy is not a QB who could put a team on his back. In fact, JG has been OK enough to win the last two games. The defense has to take the hit for both losses.

    Hopefully, the defensive team captains can have a come-to-Jesus meeting with all the defense and get them back on track. Had we lost in a close game, perhaps the sting wouldn’t be as painful. But getting completely dominated by the Chiefs on every level falls on the players.

    Shanahan will be targeted by the usual suspects and there should be some critique, but this one is on the players.

    1. That is false. There was nothing ok about that RZ INT. In JGs history of bad throws, that is towards the very top. He looked like he never faced a blitz before, hes poor pre-snap and doesnt set his protections properly or acknowkege where likely pressure will come from. To not see free rushers is a QB error. Also, for all the talk about Lance in the short game, JG was very inaccurate on even screen passes and somehow makes ‘safe’ throws unsafe. In fact no QB throws a higher % of INTs on such short throws as JG, and its not even close. He certainly was not good enough to beat any good team and most of the stats are inflated from YAC and meaningless

      1. If the 49ers had their way you’d be watching Purdy QB now. Blame Jimmy when a blitzing player goes completely untouched to the QB. Come on man. And I wish Jimmy would have kept McGlinchey from two beautiful “look out” blocks that led to sacks. Not to mention his two holding penalties. Yeah man – It’s all Jimmy’s fault. The reason we can’t win is because we have Jimmy to blame while the rest of the team gets a pass (no pun intended).

  3. Jack,
    Tangential observation: Would it be fair to say that, at this point in the season, Robert Saleh is getting more out of his team than Kyle is with one of the more talented rosters in the league?

    Thanks!

    1. And the Jets lost their 2 LT’s to IR and their RT to IR. That being said the Jets are about to start slipping as they lost their LG for the year and star rookie RB

    2. For the most part, I somewhat agree with the five reasons Mr. Hammer stated as to why the 49ers are underperforming – Defense overrated, Use Deebo less, Playmakers need to make plays, Special teams is not special, and Penalties.

      To me, the common denominator to these five reasons is COACHING. I like the last line – the scapegoat is none other than Jimmy G. I like it because it’s true. The GM, HC, the press, the fickle fans, and talking heads on the radio and TV like to blame Jimmy G. Let’s review the season to illustrate my point that it’s coaching on both sides of the ball that’s the reason for performance of the 49ers.

      The table shows the opponent from week #1-7, the first set of numbers is the score for the first half (49ers score-opponent’s score), the second set of numbers is the points scored in the second half, and the third set of numbers is the final score.

      Bears: 7-0, 3-19, 10-19 L
      Seahawks: 20-0, 7-7, 27-7 W
      Broncos: 7-3, 3-8, 10-11 L
      Rams: 14-6, 10-3, 24-9 W
      Panthers: 17-3, 20-12, 37-15 W
      Falcons: 14-21, 0-7, 14-28 L
      Chiefs: 13-14, 10-30, 23-44 L

      At the end of the first half of the seven games, the 49ers are 5-2. Coming out of halftime, the 49ers have the lead in five games. In the last two games, the 49ers did not have a lead coming out of halftime. The discussion at halftime should be about in-game adjustments for both teams (49ers and opponents), and the 49ers offensive coaches should be planning for the second half with discussions about what’s working and what’s not working. Similarly, the 49ers defensive coaches should be doing the same. In addition, the players who are making penalties should be reminded by the coaches of what not to do. The players who are getting smoked need to get help. If it’s the right side of the OL giving up a sack, then a TE or RB need to be lined up to help the OL, or roll the pocket to the left or right. If the right CB is getting smoked, then a safety needs to help with the double team.

      In the second half of the seven games, the 49ers are 2-4-1. The 49ers outscored their opponents twice in two of those games. In four other games, the opponents outscored the 49ers in the second half. In the second half of one game, it was a tie where the 49ers scored a TD and the other team scored a TD. The total points scored by the 49ers scored in the second half was 53 points to the opponent’s 86 points.

      In my opinion, I believe the offensive woes is their scheme. They are a run-first, rock em and sock em football team. When the 49ers fell behind by more than two scores, they have a hard time gunslinging with other top QBs like Mahomes. The 49ers don’t have a two-minute offense or a hurry-up offense. The 49ers identity is a ball control run-first, screen pass, quick slants, ball control offense. When the 49ers were winning with Joe Montana, they were a pass-first offense. Because of their success in their heyday, the east coast press deemed them, the “West coast” offense. For anyone born after 1972, it’s hard to imagine how good Joe Montana was because it was January 1982 (fan at age 10 if born in 72), that Vin Scully called the NFC Championship game where Joe Cool beat the mighty Cowboys. Seeing is believing. For the fickle 49ers fans who saw Mahomes dismantle the 49ers defense, Mahomes is the modern day Joe Montana except he’s a little faster, stronger arm, and throws a better spiral.

      For anyone who saw yesterday’s Joe Montana 11 minute interview with the press, he said, “I like watching him play. Everything he does, you’re not supposed to, but he does it – a right handed QB rolling left while throwing, throwing a pass off his back foot, throwing a sidearmed pass.” This was what Montana did – rolling left and passing, throwing off his back foot throwing sidearmed, throwing jump passes, could read a defense, could read where the blitz is coming, and is mobile. Mahomes is a little faster and has a stronger than Montana.

      For all those anti-Jimmy G fans who made fun of his noodle arm and wobbly passes, the knock on Joe Montana was that he had a weak arm and threw a wobbly passes as well. This is the reason why he was drafted in the third round. I believe Jimmy G has not been coached up. Isn’t that the responsibility of the coaching staff? When the 49ers won their first Superbowl, they had an undersized OL. They used to roll the pocket to the left or roll the pocket to the right. Bill Walsh made adjustments to help his QB be successful. I don’t see the current coaching staff doing anything different to help Jimmy G with pass protection especially when they’re playing from behind. If the 49ers were down 21-0 at halftime, and if you’re identity is a run-first offense, you’re not going to make a comeback because you’re not trained to comeback. I haven’t seen a good two-minute offense from the current 49ers. In the ’83 NFC Championship Game against the Redskins, the 49ers were down 21-0 in the 4th quarter, Montana threw a 80 yard bomb to Freddie Solomon and tied the game at 21-21. In the Redskins final possession, they called two pass interference penalties on Ronnie Lott. The Redskins kicked a FG to win.

      In today’s NFL game, the QBs have a lot of protection from late hits, helmet to helmet contact, rolling into the legs of the QB as does the WRs and TEs, so a lot of rules benefit today’s offensive passing game. So it makes sense for HC Shanahan to pass more, run a little less, and be more balanced.

      1. “In today’s NFL game, the QBs have a lot of protection from late hits, helmet to helmet contact, rolling into the legs of the QB as does the WRs and TEs, so a lot of rules benefit today’s offensive passing game. ” so you don’t run them up the middle several times a game in the beginning of the season,

      1. It’s going good. Things are slowly starting to level out in my personal life and job, so hopefully you’ll soon see me on here more often.

  4. you can blame the players but these players are selected by Shanahan and Lynch. if they are under performing they are either not very talented or not very well coached. if the former get rid of them if the latter get rid of the coaches. Something is very dysfunctional on this team. penalty’s,drops poor execution should not be tolerated on a professional level. i truly believe Shanny is a wonderful play designer but i think trying to design ,call plays and be a head coach is to much. he needs to lose a hat (offensive coordinator )

  5. I can’t disagree with anything, Jack. Hopefully we get healthy and things get better. It’s sad to see so many good players, not perform to their expected level.

    1. If only there was someone in the organization responsible for getting the most out of their players. What a concept!

  6. Jack,
    Can you remind me, how many of the 49ers Asst. coaches are new this year? How many of those who left l eft voluntarily and how many were let go? I believe many of the problems are a direct result of poor position coaches and coordinators. The blame for that comes down to the HC. Compare Harbaugh’s staff to KS’s. Ks’s staff can not compare in my opinion. Jack what is your opinion of KS’s staff?

    1. Harbaugh’s staff was top notch. You make a good point. A lot of turnover from last year on the staff and some are pretty green. Could definitely be part of why we keep seeing the little things not being taken care of.

  7. Belichik is ruthless. Just benched Jones a 1st round QB pick after 1 quarter of play today. I hope KS is taking notes.

  8. Marcus Mariota took off on a scramble up the middle to convert on third and twelve.

    But wait there’s more!

    Week 1 – 3rd and 10 Fields to Pettis for 51 yards TD

    Week 3 – 3rd and 10 Wilson to Hinton 27 yards
    2021

    Week 3 – 3rd and 10 Rodgers to Adams for 17

    Week 7 – 3rd and 11 Wentz to Pittman 57 yards

    Week 9 – 3rd and 13 Fields to Goodwin 22 yards

    Week 10 – 3rd and 18 McCoy to Connor 21 yards

    Week 14 – 3rd and 14 Wilson to Metcalf 33 yards

    Week 15 – 3rd and 10 Burrow to Boyd 29 yards

    Week 16 – 3rd and 15 Tannehill to Westbrook Akiene 24 yards

    Week 16 – 3rd and 23 Tannehill to Brown 42 yards

    NFCCG – 3rd and 13 Stafford to Kupp 16 yards TD

    All of these examples minus the Bengals game resulted in L for the 49ers.

    1. Those plays are made because the teams have an offensive line who can pass block. We don’t. Also, our defense is designed so that our pass rush takes away the other team’s ability to make those long passes, if you neutralize our pass rush (like the Chiefs did) our coverage is shown to be sub par. We argue here about who is calling the shots re the 49ers draft selection but notice the capital we expended for D lineman to the expense of every other position. (Armstead, Buckner, Thomas, Kinlaw, Bosa) Also that Million $ per sack guy Dee Ford. Interesting to me because you have an offensive minded HC and a defensive minded GM that are not in synch. The 49ers draft strategy has been bi-polar to the point that we have neither a good offense or a good defense . They say a camel is a horse designed by a committee. The 49ers look like they have been designed by a committee to me. Our model now is the ’85 Bears but, as Jack says above, our defense is nowhere near what the Bears had and our version of Jim McMahon isn’t going to pick up the slack. P{articularly when he puts his life on the line each week with our awful pass blocking.

  9. Great summation Jack. Your column’s have been a pleasure to read. My only addition would be “Shanahan’s play calling/design is overrated”! If I hear one more time that Kyle is an offensive genius, I’m gonna scream (I already have). There was only one offensive guru on the field this week, and he was wearing a Chiefs hat.
    As forJG, besides his lack of mobility, he constantly throws the ball high and behind. That might account for some of the drops. Even some of the catches are way up high and tough. Teams have seen enough film to know most of his passes are in the 10-15 yard range, either lateral or over the middle. I like the guy as a person, I think he’s a great teammate, but he’s not taking this team or any other too the promised land, but then again neither was Trey, at least not this year. I’m afraid its gonna be a long year folks. I’m thinking 7-10, 8-9 at this point. I had them at 10-7 before the season, but I had them winning in Chicago and Atlanta. I think this losing stretch will reach 5 before the New Orleans game. That will leave them at 3-7. Huge hole to dig out of. I hope not. I hope I’m wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time! :)

  10. The 49ers at his point in the season are obviously not a finished product. Lot of football yet to be played. They do have a hard time coming back in games but have proven that they can come back in terms of getting on a roll as the season goes on. They are not discouraged by losing to KC. They are adjusting to a new coaching staff. If they can be healthy at the end of the season and make the playoffs they have a chance.

  11. Damn Jack, Damn.
    Did you have to write down the truth!
    This is your best column so far! Painful but laser-sharp.
    Are we to draw the only conclusion that you don’t mention?
    It all starts at the top..

  12. Ryans is seriously overrated. Last year he did not use safeties to help the weak corner backs. This season he has no viable scheme for the week’s opponent—he totally failed to fulfil the promise to keep Mahones in the pocket. And both years he has been unable to make in-game adjustments that are critical to success.

    Shanahan’s play calling remains a puzzle. He says he is committed to the run, and then when the Niners are close to the goal line he calls passes—which are otent high, low, or dropped. I imagine there were hundreds of fans yelling at their TV screens: “Run the ball”

  13. Jack, this is a terrific summation of what is happening with this football team on the football field, and just as it was last season, it’s been hard to watch. I’m a little surprised that you didn’t make mention of the 49ers OL, because even though they have, more or less, held their own from an analytical/statistical viewpoint, I don’t think this OL has played well enough at OC (Brendel) and RT (McGlinchey) which are two of the three most important positions along the OL. And 4 of the Niners first 7 opponents have defensive units that rank near the bottom in the NFL in YPP.

    But Jack, I’d like to see you take a different angle at some point. The 49ers are obviously struggling in all 3 phases, but I feel like any sports page in the country, and any sports website on the internet, can show us where the 49ers are going so horribly wrong, especially considering their lofty expectations. What I want to know is whether you think the 49ers have fundamental issues that are essentially holding them back?

    – Is Kyle Shanahan at all adaptable as a HC/OC (and de facto GM), or is he so rigid that he’s stuck with one type of system, one philosophy, and one way he’s willing to coach his QB and offense, and if it isn’t working, I don’t think he has a PLAN B.

    – Are there systemic problems that involve the working relationship between John and Kyle, considering that John is mostly involved with the scouting and personnel departments, but Kyle has the ultimately say when it come to specific players, particularly offensive skill players, high round draft picks, and the trade market? I believe that JL and his guys have done a phenomenal job finding talent in the mid-to-late round draft picks, and they have a clear vision when it comes to defensive personnel. But I believe Kyle has badly mismanaged both the QB and RB positions, as well as most of the high round draft picks (Rnds 1-3), and I think there needs to be a stronger firewall between Kyle the HC/OC, and the personnel departments, and John Lynch!

    – Is Kyle Shanahan starting to lose his grip on his locker room? I am hearing some statements from the players, that are starting to sound like they are questioning why the results aren’t matching the level of playmaking talent.

  14. Warner had a down year last year and this year he has been a near bust. Did he get overpaid and then lost his motivation? He looks done.

    1. I always compare Warner to Darius Leonard which is sort of unfair because Leonard has just been a crazy playmaker.

      If you look at Warner compared to Bobby Wagner he has similar stats i.e sacks, PD, QB hits, tackles, INT, FF, FR

  15. Justin Fields with WR likes Pettis (yes that Pettis) dropped 32 last night on the road on national television agants the Patriots!

    Meanwhile our Offense littered with all pro players could barely score more than 20+. And that is on a good day! Ugh

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