Times are tough for Niner Faithful. The 2018 campaign has been marred by debilitating injuries, turnovers, heart-breaking losses and, above all else, inconsistency.
But as we’ve noted here at Locked On 49ers, very few teams in the NFL could absorb the loss of their franchise quarterback without their season falling to pieces, last year’s Eagles notwithstanding. And despite San Francisco’s inability to build on 2017’s season-ending five-game winning streak and falling well short of expectations with a 1-5 record, optimistic fans can still find some reasons to stay positive, invested and glued to the TV whenever the Niners take the gridiron. Here are the top five reasons to do so.
1. Of their five losses, the Niners could have won at least three of them
If you subscribe to the “no moral victories” or “you are what your record says you are” mantras, this isn’t what you want to here, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Despite typically being the underdog, San Francisco is taking talented teams right down to the final gun. Unfortunately, it’s also a pattern that’s all too familiar, as five of San Francisco’s first six losses last season were by three points or less, including two in overtime.
And while the Niners certainly need to figure out how to win some of these down-to-the-wire nail-biters, it’s still an encouraging sign when a team that’s been bombarded by injuries nevertheless remains competitive in road clashes against the likes of the Vikings, Chiefs, Chargers and Packers.
San Francisco’s brutal early-season schedule finally softens after Sunday’s home tilt against the Rams – the next three matchups are at Cardinals, vs. Raiders and vs. Giants — so another batch of late-season victories isn’t out of the question.
2. Marquise Goodwin is still one of the most exciting receivers in the league
A relatively unheralded free agent signee a season ago, Marquise Goodwin came to the 49ers with little in the way of hype or fanfare and perhaps wasn’t even a total lock to make the team. Now, other than Jimmy Garoppolo, he’s arguably the offense’s most indispensable player.
Finally healthy in 2018, the Buffalo Bill castoff needed all of one game to remind everyone just how dangerous he can be, as he looked like his usual explosive self against the Packers, hauling in four receptions for 126 yards and scores of 67 and 30 while leaving Green Bay’s defensive backs fruitlessly trying to keep up.
For as long as the 27-year-old is rocking the red and gold, 49er Faithful will wait with bated breath every time he runs a deep route because he’s truly a threat to explode through the secondary and haul in a long touchdown pass every time he does so, and more will be coming in 2018.
3. The Niners boast an elaborate and diverse ground attack led by Matt Breida
Speaking of exciting skill-position players, how about Matt Breida? After taking the rock 14 times for 61 yards and a touchdown in Green Bay on Monday night, the second-year undrafted free agent is averaging an absurd 6.8 yards on his 63 carries, which is easily tops in the league for any running back with more than 16 runs. And he’s done all this while fighting through ankle and shoulder injuries. Wow.
Furthermore, San Francisco is staying committed to the ground attack, running the ball on nearly 43 percent of its snaps. Though that may not seem like a lot at first glance, it makes the Niners the 13th most run-happy team in the NFL, and that run-to-pass ratio would probably be even higher if they weren’t 1-5 and spending a significant chunk of their games in catchup mode.
While the Niners’ offensive line has experienced ups and downs through the first six games, four of the five starters have received plus marks for their run-blocking (Joe Staley [68.8], Laken Tomlinson [69.7], Mike Person [64.8], Mike McGlinchey [88.4]), and McGlinchey is the top-graded run blocker in the NFL, regardless of position. Only Weston Richburg received a subpar run-blocking mark of 52.7.
With so many new faces (Staley is the only offensive lineman remaining from last season’s Week 1 starting lineup), the unit entered the season with some question marks, but they’ve done a nice job working out the kinks and paving the way for Breida to enjoy a breakout season.
4.The Niners know how to stop the run
Football is a game of wills, and perhaps the only thing better than seeing your team run the ball down everyone’s throat is witnessing your squad’s defense form a brick wall as soon as an opposing ball-carrier receives a handoff.
While it’s fair to suggest that Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead have each underachieved relative to when they were drafted, the two former first-rounders have each made significant contributions to shutting down opposing ball-carriers. Armstead has been nothing short of phenomenal in run defense, as he’s earned an 86.0 grade from PFF, which makes him the league’s third-best edge defender against the run. Fellow defensive lineman Cassius Marsh is 12th with an 80.2 mark (though he’s only been on the field for 46 run plays compared to 163 pass plays), and Thomas is 36th out of 103 qualifiers with a 71.8.
At linebacker, Fred Warner has also been a stout run-stuffer for the 49ers, notching a grade of 72.1, good for 16th out of 79 qualified players at the position.
Tackling remains an issue for the Niners, but they consistently get penetration into the backfield, and Melvin Gordon is the only running back to enjoy a big day against San Francisco this season.
5. San Francisco will have a chance (or two) to ruin Seattle’s season
Not a Seahawk fan? Tired of losing watching your team lose to Seattle year after year after year?
Then stay tuned for the Niners’ two clashes with the Seahawks in Weeks 13 and 15 when San Francisco will have the chance to end a nine-game losing streak against Seattle that began with the painful 2013 NFC Championship. The 49ers and their fans certainly had loftier aspirations than playing the “spoiler” role, but finally claiming a win (or two) against the despised rival would be extremely satisfying, particularly if Seattle’s playoff hopes take a major hit as a result.
Considering that the undefeated Rams are unlikely to be caught by anyone in the NFC West, Seattle may only be able to reach the postseason by way of one of the two wild card spots. And since the NFC playoff picture is likely to be a jumbled mess when the Niners and Seahawks are playing each other on Dec. 2 and Dec. 16, San Francisco will have every chance to deliver a serious knockout blow.
PODCAST: Weekly Wink, Trade Rumors
- Guest: Nick Winkler
- Jalen Ramsey trade rumors intensify
- Is it worth spending on offensive tackle Trent Williams?
- Could young star safety Jamal Adams hit the trade market?
- 49ers primed for a 3-0 start
PODCAST: 49ers-Steelers Crossover
- Guests: Tony Serino and Christopher Carter of Locked On Steelers
- What to expect from second-year QB Mason Rudolph, who is starting in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger
- How new Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick fits in
49ers vs. Bengals: San Francisco Week 2 Game Balls & Highlights
Game balls and highlights from the San Francisco 49ers’ 41-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 of the 2019 NFL regular season.
On yesterday’s Locked On 49ers Podcast, host Brian Peacock provided a rundown of the Niners’ game — including game notes and key takeaways — and handed out four game balls to the San Francisco 49ers from their Week 2 blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The 49ers made a statement to the rest of the league during their second consecutive road victory to start the 2019 NFL regular season. Outside of a long garbage-time touchdown given up in the final minute of the matchup, the 49ers’ defense was dominant, finishing the game with four sacks, nine tackles-for-loss and one interception.
But despite holding the Bengals to just 25 yards on 19 rushing attempts, San Francisco’s offensive unit shined the brightest in Week 2 — which brings us to our first game ball:
49ers HC Kyle Shanahan
San Francisco’s offensive attack was nearly unstoppable in Week 2, and much of their success should be credited to 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who called one of his best games since arriving in the Bay Area over two seasons ago. The Niners tallied 572 net yards on offense at an 8.4 yards-per-play clip, and were forced to punt the ball just once during meaningful play, prior to the final two minutes of the game.
Shanahan — the 49ers’ de facto offensive coordinator — was always one step ahead of the Bengals’ defense, which was constantly confused by the Niners’ flurry of misdirection plays. With Cincinnati’s defenders forced to play both passively and reactionary, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took advantage by throwing for 297 passing yards and three scores. Garoppolo executed on the field, but he had Shanahan’s superb game plan to thank for his FexEx Air Passer of the Week nomination, as well as his 131.2 passer rating and his 11.9 yards-per-pass-attempt — both of which were tops in the NFL in Week 2.
49ers RB Matt Breida
Prior to the beginning of the regular season, many analysts wrote 49ers running back Matt Breida off as either a potential change-of-pace option in San Francisco’s backfield or a player who would simply ride the bench in 2019. But just two games into the season, Breida has officially put that talk to rest by claiming his well-deserved spot at the top of the 49ers’ running back depth chart, even after fellow RB Tevin Coleman eventually returns from injury.
Breida was electric on Sunday as he tallied 121 rushing yards on only 12 carries, and added 11 yards through the air on one reception. The former undrafted free agent may never be a 25-carry feature back, but it’s hard to ignore a runner who averages over 10 yards-per-touch. Breida’s outstanding Week 2 performance was highlighted by a 34-yard gain on a third-and-short run, where he looked a lot more like Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders than a bench player who should be relegated to the sidelines:
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 16, 2019
49ers Offensive Line
Although Breida has the speed and agility necessary to break off long runs after making defenders miss, he surely didn’t mind running through some of the gaping holes the 49ers’ offensive line provided on Sunday. Breida wasn’t the only beneficiary of San Francisco’s big men up front, as the 49ers’ trio of running backs graded out as the NFL’s top unit of the week by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Recent practice-squad RB Jeff Wilson found the end zone for a pair of scores in the contest, and dual-threat running back Raheem Mostert followed his blockers on long runs and screen passes en route to a spot on PFF’s “NFL Team of the Week” for Week 2:
#49ers RB Raheem Mostert @RMos_8Ball, LB Kwon Alexander @kwon and EDGE Ronald Blair @superblair are all featured in @PFF‘s NFL Team of the Week. The @49ers‘ running backs also graded out as the #NFL‘s top group of RBs in Week 2. https://t.co/zbfzmMtEs0
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 18, 2019
It was a near-perfect day for the Niners’ offensive line, as they also kept Garoppolo’s jersey clean for the vast majority of the game. But a dark cloud fell over the group in the third quarter of the team’s Week 2 victory, when left tackle Joe Staley sustained a fractured left fibula which will keep the 49ers’ top lineman out of action for approximately six to eight weeks.
49ers LB Kwon Alexander
Last week, linebacker Kwon Alexander received a game ball from Shanahan in the 49ers’ locker room after the team’s 31-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite his early exit from his Niners debut. Alexander was ejected from the contest when his helmet made contact with the helmet of former teammate Jameis Winston, when the quarterback awkwardly went to the ground at the end of a third-down scramble. In the limited time prior to his questionable ejection, Alexander looked like the player Shanahan and general manager John Lynch hoped to sign, as the 25-year-old linebacker flew around the field making plays and hyping up his teammates.
Last Sunday, Alexander earned his 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room and his passion for the game. This Sunday, Alexander earned Locked On 49ers game ball for his leadership in the locker room, his passion for the game and his production on the field. Alexander not only brought the same level of intensity to Cincinnati, but the linebacker was also one of the best — and most productive — players on the field in Week 2. With a key interception, three defended passes and six tackles, Alexander earned PFF “NFL Team of the Week” honors, and our final game ball of the week:
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) September 16, 2019
Listen to Locked On 49ers host Brian Peacock’s review of the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 2 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals — including game notes and key takeaways from the Niners’ second matchup of the 2019 NFL regular season — on yesterday’s Rapid React podcast:
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PODCAST: Week 1 Win vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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PODCAST: Rapid React Week 2 Win in Cincinnati
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PODCAST: 49ers-Bengals Crossover