It spoke volumes that Jim O’Neil’s most effective strategy against the New Orleans Saints — the third team to score more than 40 points against the 49ers — was to have his defensive backs commit simultaneous holding penalties to hold the Saints to a field goal at the end of the second quarter.
However, when teams are able to run the way they have thus far against the 49ers, and nothing changes from week to week, it doesn’t much matter what the 49ers do when teams throw the ball. It doesn’t much matter what the offense does either, especially when they score a touchdown and their opponent rips off a 75-yard touchdown run on the very next play from scrimmage.
This isn’t a “fire Jim O’Neil” post, though. It doesn’t really matter who coaches this team at this point, because the season is lost. It’s possible they’re tanking, especially when you consider how poorly this team seems to play in the second half most weeks. The talent isn’t there, and the desire seems to have vanished as well. At least the 2015 49ers seemed to give a crap during their home games. This year’s squad plays with a level of ambivalence that’s hard to recall, even when looking back at prior cellar-dwellers throughout the York era, but maybe that’s just how a team looks when their roster is terrible and they know it.
The 49ers lost their seventh straight game today, 41-23. It was hard to tell what was worse, their run defense or the ridiculous (and, by the looks of it, cheaply produced) commercial featuring a fake Hillary Clinton smashing hard drives and computers that aired several times during the game. At least fake Clinton — such a mediocre likeness that they have her wearing sunglasses — was bad in a way that was slightly entertaining.
Chip Kelly’s offense racked up yards throughout the first half and intermittently in the second. Whoop-dee-doo. Not so impressive against a New Orleans defense that came into today’s game allowing the most points per game of any team in the NFL … other than the depressingly awful team in Santa Clara. If they can’t beat a team with a defense almost as bad as theirs, after a bye week, at home (and the Saints are notorious for playing worse outdoors), who can the Niners beat?
We’ve been in “looking forward to the 2017 draft” mode with this team for several weeks now, and it’s likely that the 49ers will get a top-three (or maybe even top-two) pick. They play in Glendale next Sunday, so that’s a loss. They host the Patriots a week later — ditto. Even the biggest Niner homers have to admit at this point that there are only two winnable games on the schedule, and they come on consecutive weeks: at Chicago on Dec. 4 and when they host the Jets on the 11th. And assuming victory in either one of those games could very well could be a stretch, since the Bears (2-6) mauled Minnesota a week ago and the Jets (3-6) defeated Buffalo and Baltimore.
More importantly, the 49ers don’t look like a team with the ability to beat anyone besides themselves.
So a final record of 1-15 is a distinct possibility, and that would be the first season in franchise history in which they finished with less than two victories. They have a great chance at finishing the season 32nd in points allowed, something that has only happened to this team two other times — 2004 (when they went 2-14 under Dennis Erickson) and 2006 (when they somehow finished 7-9 under Mike Nolan with a -114 point differential).
Their current differential is -93 after today’s loss, which is remarkable since the Rams gave them a 28-point head start. This is a truly pathetic team. But even though Kelly’s squad has been outscored 72-133 in the second half, and it’s hard to find areas where the team has improved since Jim Tomsula and his band of last-chancers coached the team to a 5-11 season that felt like 2-14, it doesn’t seem right to pin the majority of the blame on the head coach.
This is Trent Baalke’s team, and his defense is especially horrid considering the resources that went into it.
Baalke made 15 draft picks in the 1st/2nd/3rd rounds since 2013. 10 were spent on defensive players. 49ers have allowed 33+ pts in 6 games.
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) November 7, 2016
@BASportsGuy at least he nailed the offensive picks
— Michael Erler (@MichaelErlerSBN) November 7, 2016
Vance McDonald, Carlos Hyde, Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas, Joshua Garnett. The 49ers’ decline is not mysterious. https://t.co/HEgXzaNz2E
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) November 7, 2016
The offensive players haven’t contributed much (or anything, in the case of Brandon Thomas). But Baalke has put so much into this defense, and it’s beyond awful. Every running back they face looks like Walter Payton, Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders or Jim Brown. Baalke is really lucky that his team faces the AFC East instead of the AFC South this season. Because if Frank Gore (two touchdowns against the Packers today) got a chance against his former team, he’d undoubtedly surpass 100 yards and make the fans even angrier than they already are.
Seven straight teams have had a 100-yard rusher against the 49ers, a league record that could swell to 15 at the rate we’re seeing Eli Harold, Nick Bellore, Quinton Dial and others get pushed around. Teams barely need to throw against the 49ers; often that’s the only way teams get into trouble against them, as their secondary isn’t terrible. OK, the corners aren’t terrible. I’m not sure about the safeties.
After giving up 248 rushing yards on 42 carries today, the 49ers are allowing 5.3 yards per carry this season. Those awful defenses in the mid-2000s never gave up more than 4.1. What we’re seeing every week shows a lack of skill, strength, toughness and heart that reflect poorly on every single member of this organization.
This is Baalke’s roster. And as a guy who leans toward defense, his inability to replace Justin Smith and Patrick Willis has created a finesse team. The 49ers and 1980s and ’90s had a “wine and cheese” image that was completely wrong, because those teams were tough as hell and tackled guys — hard. This year’s squad is softer than room temperature brie paired with an oaky chardonnay.
— Colin Kaepernick might have had the worst 398-yard game in NFL history. His interception in the first quarter was an example of Kaepernick’s habit of locking in on one receiver. Saints linebacker Craig Robertson read Kaepernick’s eyes and almost had a pick-6. Kaepernick’s numbers were inflated: his 47-yard touchdown pass to DuJuan Harris was caught four yards behind the line of scrimmage, and his 65-yard scoring throw to Vance McDonald was caught four yards downfield. And Kaepernick’s accuracy — something that was fairly impressive in the first half — escaped him after halftime, most notably when he threw seven straight incompletions in the third and fourth quarters.
— To be fair to Kaepernick and Kelly, Mike Davis fumbling the ball away near the Saints’ goal-line destroyed whatever mojo the 49ers carried with them after halftime. Davis = another wasted draft pick by Baalke.
— Mark Ingram should thank the schedule-makers; he nearly lost his job a week ago due to fumbling too often, and now he’s back in good graces after gashing the 49ers for over 10 yards per carry.
— Antoine Bethea had no chance against Ingram, who made a simple move and breezed right past the 49ers safety during his long scoring run. I’ve asked this before, but at the sake of being repetitive … why does Bethea start over Jaquiski Tartt on a rebuilding team?
— Maybe the 49ers should’ve just let Arik Armstead have surgery on his shoulder in August or September. He was unable to play a single preseason snap and will probably end up getting a procedure done at some point in the coming weeks, based on the way he looked after leaving today’s game early on.
— We thought last season (663 yards) was a down year for Torrey Smith? He’s on pace for 434 yards this season.
— The draft is going to cause conflicting emotions for Baalke. On one hand, Jabrill Peppers is a top-five talent and plays safety. On the other, he plays for Jim Harbaugh.
— I know most of you probably read that last one and screamed something about how I’m an idiot and they’re going to fire Baalke after the last game of the season. That still seems like the smart bet, but I’m starting to wonder if Baalke is truly bulletproof and will survive this disastrous season. If his greatest skills are kissing Jed York’s posterior and never complaining about the Yorks’ spending habits, he might be able to survive anything.