The 49ers dismantled the Los Angeles Rams handily on Sunday, winning 34-13, punctuating a remarkable finish to the 2017 season. The team won their final five games in a row, and 6 out of the last 7, to finish 6-10. They are the only team in the Super Bowl era to start a season 0-9 and finish with 3 or more wins.
This game was over from the first play, as it was clear the 49ers came to dominate, and the Rams came to treat this more like a preseason game. The Rams’ only points came off of 49ers’ turnovers and a garbage time touchdown. 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan really got into a groove with the play calling. As the players get more comfortable with his offense, and more of the playbook becomes available, the offensive play calling is becoming a thing of beauty to watch.
At times it seems as if Shanahan gets into a kind of sub-conscious zone; as if he is some sort of football mad genius or brilliant artist, and his instincts and reflexes simply take over. Particularly impressive to watch in this game was the run game. San Francisco had 90+ yards on the ground at halftime, good for over 6 yards/carry, and they finished the game with Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida nearly evenly splitting 27 carries for 162 yards (6 yards/carry). The offense was 4/5 in redzone efficiency, which included going 2/2 in goal-to-goal situations. The unit tallied 25 first downs. The offensive line continued its steady improvement and gave up no sacks. Save for two errant throws by Jimmy Garoppolo that resulted in interceptions, balance and efficiency was the name of the game.
The 49ers’ defense was equally impressive in this game, and featured individual stand-out performances all over the field. The defense gave up 13 points, but 6 of those points were a direct result of 2 turnovers by the offense. With a group of rookies like Ahkello Witherspoon, Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and Adrian Colbert coming into their own and getting better each day, additions such as Cassius Marsh finally providing a bit of a spark off the edge, Deforest Buckner wreaking havoc in the middle, and savvy vets such as Eric Reid, Earl Mitchell and Elvis Dumervil providing leadership and solid play, this is a defense set up to be absolutely terrifying to opposing offenses next season. Combine all this with the fact that the 49ers still have Jimmy Ward, Jaquiski Tartt and Malcolm Smith coming back from injury, plus a plethora of draft picks and a bunch of money, and we could legitimately be looking at a top-five defense in 2018.
Eric Reid was all over the field during this game with a game-high 6 tackles. He flew around and played with an intensity and violence that had to make Robert Saleh proud. He is an emotional leader, versatile player, and the 49ers’ top defensive back. He played like he wants to stick around in San Francisco for a long time, and I sure hope he does.
Earl Mitchell does not pop off the stat sheet, but this guy is solid in his assignments, disrupts running plays in the back field and gobbles up double teams. What a great addition he’s been to this team.
Sheldon Day recorded a sack and 4 tackles, and popped off the screen several times during this contest. He is a player the 49ers should definitely keep around.
K’Waun Williams is an underrated player. He recorded several big tackles in this game, and plays with ferocity and tenacity. He also seems to be a “right place at the right time” type of player, which means he is doing his job. It’s always good to have those types of players on the team.
Carlos Hyde ran for 90 yards on 15 carries, and continues to impress each game. He improved remarkably this year as a receiving threat out of the back field as well, and successfully completed his first full, healthy season. He has bought in mentally and emotionally to what the 49ers are trying to build. He could use some work on his pass protection this off-season, and I hope to see him in the scarlet and gold next year.
Brock Coyle provides a dependable, calming presence in the middle – as he is rock solid technically and does a great job of making sure everyone is in the right place before each snap. He gets lost in the wash a bit to often, and he has some physical limitations, but he is almost like an extra coach out on the field. He is definitely a player the 49ers want on the team in some capacity next year.
George Kittle recorded a 100 yard game, primarily as a result of two big catches and runs. He continues to show steady improvement as a tight end, and makes a great counter-part to Garret Celek. He has solid hands and nifty run-after-the-catch ability.
Rarely has a football season ended in 6-10, yet been steeped in so much joy and hope for both the team and its fan base. The finish to this season was fascinating in so many ways (many of us expected to be fascinated, but none of us expected the fascination to come from such unexpected places): Jed York finally showed some competence with a clear, methodical approach to finding a great head coach/GM combination. The Niners had a franchise quarterback dropped into their collective lap, and it made an instant difference. The team got better every week as they learned to play together and became more confident in a complex offensive scheme. A young defense continued to gel, and now looks to dominate as they have become accustomed to their roles, and to the type of attitude and play that is expected of them. Rookies got onto the field in droves and came into their own, as the squad grew into a tightly knit unit. This group now seems to be a true brotherhood of players who believe in themselves and each other, and they are already thinking playoffs and beyond for the 2018 season.
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