Going into the Week 2 tilt against division rivals and strong competitors in the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers seemed to have little to no chance at pulling off a win. Therefore, while the tick in the loss column comes as little surprise, the competitive nature of the bout tells a far deeper story than an 0-2 record can.
To be sure, injuries have played their part. The loss of rookie Reuben Foster will reveal with time how much of a difference it has made on the defensive side. Despite his absence, the 49ers are currently 10th in the league in points allowed per game, and seventh in passing yardage per game. These numbers do not necessarily stand out, though they do show a marked improvement over last year’s abysmal defensive effort. Meanwhile, stalwart lineman Joe Staley’s ability to hit the field despite his unspecified ailment did not prove to have the effect that the team hoped for on the offensive side. Currently, the team is 31st in the league in points scored per game, and last in offensive yardage per game.
The team has the advantage of a softer schedule compared to 2016. Are the changes implemented on both sides of the ball enough to tip the balance and lead to a better record in 2017? Is that necessarily what the team wants out of this season, if playoffs are not really a realistic goal? Are playoffs a realistic goal?
Against a stout defensive in the Seahawks, the offense looked lost. They had no answers, and mustered up merely nine points by the end of the contest. The defense made an impressive effort against a Seahawks team that was missing some pieces on the offensive line. That effort, unfortunately, came up just short. Holding a Russell Wilson offense to 12 points is typically a recipe for success, but the deficiencies on offense proved too big to overcome.
That said, Kyle Shanahan’s influence on the team is not to be underestimated. Shanahan is praised for the offensive success of his past teams, and looks to capitalize on a familiar talent in Brian Hoyer and Pierre Garcon. With a strong performance from Carlos Hyde and the run game to this point, there are definitely indications that this is a team on the upswing. Time will tell if the 49ers double down on their run game, or make a push to establish Hoyer in the offense.
Based on Hoyer’s history in the league, the concern is that, rather than provide stability, he will fall apart down the stretch. The likelihood in that event, however, of C.J. Beathard stepping into the starter position are muted by the tandem of Shanahan and John Lynch, and their commitment to long-term planning and sustainable success. Shanahan, in the past, left the Cleveland Browns organization due to their insistence on then-rookie Johnny Manziel starting ahead of Hoyer.
The goal for players every week is to win, but management sees long-term winning as the ultimate objective. Hoyer is not exciting, which does not appeal to fans, but he is safe. Growth for the team is safe, but is safe all the team can hope to accomplish?
At this point, the question becomes what the goal is in the foreseeable future? Winning enough to earn a playoff spot seems far-fetched. Tanking the season does not do the team any favors if they expect to evaluate talent legitimately, while also enticing free agents to their team, come 2018.
Meanwhile, the team has some assets and questions to address as they consider their long-term prospects. Navarro Bowman has been at the helm of an underperforming defense, and may be moved in light of his trouble staying healthy, as well as the high cost, seven-year contract that has him locked in until 2023. Eric Reid has had similar trouble staying on the field, and is set to hit free agency at the end of the year. Weighing the cost of retaining their key players will be crucial if Lynch and Shanahan look to stay competitive. For better or worse, how the team’s ownership handles this off-season is very much in the air, and looks to be one of the more interesting stories once 2018 rolls around.
The 49ers are slated to return home to Levi’s Stadium in Week 3. They have a short week, but will look to rebound in their first match-up against sophomore quarterback Jared Goff, and the Los Angeles Rams. Their Thursday Night kickoff is scheduled for 5:25 p.m. PST on September 31st, on NFL Network.
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