Oh my, how things can change quickly in the National Football League.
Two weeks ago, the 49ers were seemingly scraping the bottom of the barrel, having lost for the second week in a row at home in a blowout at the fins of the Miami Dolphins. Today the 49ers have seemingly resurrected their season following back to back upset wins to improve to 4-3. Throw in a Seahawks loss Sunday night in Arizona, and not only are the 49ers in the playoff hunt again, they have a chance to get back into the division race with a win on Sunday in Seattle.
- Kyle Shanahan is dealing right now: For the second week in a row, Kyle Shanahan put together a master class in offensive football. How has he done it? Simple, he has simplified things for the quarterback and gone back to the run. Despite what the stats might say, the last two weeks the 49ers have run the ball for over 200 yards in back to back weeks when you include the passes that have essentially been forward handoffs on fly sweeps.
Yesterday you could see Shanahan trying to give Jimmy Garoppolo more rope early on, and Garoppolo responded well until he threw a terrible ball that sailed over the head of a wide-open George Kittle and was intercepted by Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty.
After the interception, Shanahan drew in the reins and went after the Patriots by pounding the run at them, only mixing in a few passes to keep them off balance. Throughout the final three possessions, the 49ers ran the ball on 13 of the next 21 plays, as the 49ers extended their lead to 20 points before halftime. There is little doubt that without injuries to Jeff Wilson Jr and Deebo Samuel which, caused Shanahan to take his foot off the gas pedal in the second half, the 49ers would have scored 40.
- Robert Saleh should be getting far more respect from 49ers fans: Robert Saleh is the man that 49ers fans love to hate. After every 49ers loss, the blame is focused on Saleh. This is understandable, Kyle Shanahan is the second coming and infallible so it must be Saleh’s fault. Even Saleh’s successes are met with the criticism that he only began to be good when the talent picked up in 2019. That’s just flat out wrong. Saleh’s defenses have ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed per play every year that he has been in San Francisco with the exception of 2017, his first season as a defensive coordinator. What’s changed since then is that the offense has improved and for the most part not putting the defense in bad spots. All 49ers fans should hope that NFL owners are too blind to hire Saleh as their head coach before next season because that will be a big loss for the franchise.
- Jimmy Garoppolo: Garoppolo played about the same as what we saw the week before against Los Angeles, and it’s enough to win games. Is he worth $27 million dollars right now? No way, but he’s the best that the 49ers can do right now and they need to hope that he can pull it together as the season goes on. While he did have terrible interception on the second 49ers possession, at least yesterday he was able to hit a few more throws down the field.
One other quick note on Garoppolo: are people really arguing over the interception at the end of the half or using it against him? They had the ball at the 45 with only six seconds to go in the half and he threw a deep shot that was a hope and a prayer. That play is the least of the 49ers worries right now.
- Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk: This pair is dynamic and over the last two weeks it has been so entertaining to watch how they can change the offense around. It’s a shame that Samuel injured his hamstring because while Aiyuk is capable of doing many of the same things as Samuel, Kendrick Bourne doesn’t put the same type of fear into opposing defenses.
- The 49ers best offensive groups: The 49ers are absolutely at their best when they go with their 21 (two backs/one tight end) and 22 (two backs/two tight end) personnel packages. The reason for this is that they are keeping their best players on the field in Kittle, Aiyuk, Samuel and Kyle Juszczyk. This is really all because of the athleticism that Juszczyk brings to the offense. He is easily among their top four receivers and his presence on the field forces the defense to stay in their base defense to defend the run.
- Fred Warner is the best inside linebacker in the game right now: There may be some debating on this, but the guy just goes out and makes plays week after week and allows the other linebackers to be better, kind of like what Patrick Willis did with NaVorro Bowman.
- 49ers defense: With the exception of one bad half against Miami when they had a practice squad guy at cornerback, the 49ers defense has been outstanding. Against Philadelphia they gave up only 18 points, only 16 last week to Los Angeles and 6 points to New England. A lot has been made of the injuries, but with the exception of Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman they haven’t been to guys the defense didn’t play well without in 2019.
Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford, Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward all missed time last season and the defense didn’t really miss a beat. Jason Verrett has come in and arguably been an upgrade over Sherman, and the injury to Solomon Thomas has allowed the 49ers to get rookie Javon Kinlaw and Kevin Givens more snaps in the rotation than they likely would have otherwise.