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Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback Rashard Robinson (33) in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Special- ‘State of the 49ers’ by Josh Slocum

‘The state of the 49ers’

by Josh Slocum

 

Five weeks into the 2016 season it’s time to summarize where the 49ers are at.

Week 1 saw an unexpected shutout thumping of the Rams. Week 3 saw a debacle in Seattle, and weeks 2, 4 & 5 have seen a team play hard for just shy of a half, lose some key plays late in the first half and then be totally out played in the second.

So with a 1-4 record where is the organization at?

QUATERBACK

Blaine Gabbert has played well in small bursts, and has used his athleticism very well overall. His inconsistency with throws on all levels (short, intermediate and deep) and inability to hit the deep open target despite terrific arm strength has meant that open receivers have not been found with completions.

I feel for Gabbert. He has no true number 1 WR who is capable of going up and getting 50/50 balls (or even 70/30 balls for that matter) thus is forced to throw short of the sticks or throw the ball away in order to minimize turnovers.  Perhaps this is why he also only feels comfortable using the middle of the field to target slot WR Kerley and TE’s McDonald and Celek?  The fact that he’s onto his 7th OC in 7 years wouldn’t help either, yet missing as many wide open WR’s as he’s done will see him benched for Kaepernick, most likely this week.

Stats: 5 TDs 6 INTs 890 yards 58% completion ** 172 yards running.

PFF ranking: 34th of 35

RUNNING BACK

Carlos Hyde is the lone offensive star of Pro Bowl level. Healthy for the 1st time in 2 years he is a threat running the ball and receiving.  If the 49ers passing game was at least average then this would result in more yards however opposing defenses know if you can stop Hyde, you stop the 49ers only chance of winning. He sees 8 men boxes every week.  I’m bemused with the PFF ranking as he seems to get the most out of every run and then some.

Stats: 6 TDs (league best) 377 yards (4.0 ypc)

PFF ranking 18th of 44

Shaun Draughn is a capable back up. He appears guilty of trying too hard at times which results in negative yards but is solid both running and receiving.  Lacks a true burst and ability to find an extra yard in tough running situations that prevents him from being a number 1 back.

PFF ranking 40th of 44

Stats: 53 yards (2.3 ypc)

WIDE RECEIVER

Quinton Patton just doesn’t gain enough separation on his route running for Gabbert to throw his way. He has speed but is seemingly never open.  The team needs to move on at whatever cost of getting their QB of the future a legitimate number 1 WR.

Stats: 12 receptions 122 yards

PFF ranking: 101st of 104

Torrey Smith is badly underutilized and this remains my only criticism within Kelly’s offense. As the most talented WR in the corps by a long way (not to mention the highest paid by a long way) he should be the target of at least 5 passes every game.  Where are the creative ways of getting him the ball?  How about 1 WR screen, 1 Jet Sweep and several hitches off Trip Sets per game?  Currently running predominantly deep routes (presumably to open up other routes underneath) he has been open several times but Gabbert has been unable to find him.

Stats: 9 receptions for 106 yards

PFF ranking: 98th of 104

Jeremy Kerley has been a great addition since the loss of Bruce Ellington in the pre season. He’s a nice threat from the slot and is a legitimate concern for opposing DC’s in the passing game.  Needs to be retained at all costs.

Stats: 26 receptions 304 yards 2 TDs

PFF ranking: 17th of 104.

Of the others in Burbridge, Streater & Martin, no-one is doing anything to supplant Patton which should be happening.

TIGHT END

Vance McDonald has shown a little improvement this season, remaining an athlete as opposed to a crafty football player. He still seems to lack any feel for opposing soft spots when up against zone defense.  Injured early in week 4 and missed week 5.  The talk is of him being a capable blocker but PFF have him in the lower ranks (equal 28th) for pass and run blocking.  Time to move on at the end of the year.

Stats: 5 receptions for 93 yards 2 TDs

PFF ranking: 48th of 57

Garrett Celek was hoping to take over the number 1 TE spot but has been average thus far. He has the craft where McDonald doesn’t but is letting himself down with drops and doesn’t appear to be as open as he was last year, particularly in the red zone.

Stats: 11 receptions 135 yards 0 TDs.

PFF ranking of 47th of 57

OFFENSIVE LINE

To the naked eye the line appears much improved from last year. The running game is dependable and the pass blocking decent.  This could be purely a result of the quick timing that Kelly deploys in the passing game.  The line didn’t surrender a sack in the first 3 games but this stat has ballooned the past 2 weeks to 8.  (Gabbert running for less than 0 yards results in a sack too, which was the case fort several against the Cards week 5).

Dion Sanders said on TNF at half time the line was terrible and that Gabbert was running for his life. On the following set of highlights that NBC ran, the line was providing Gabbert with perfect protection on every throw.

The only insight I can glean is that LG Zeadles is struggling and this is backed up in the PFF stats below. With former RT Anthony Davis retiring for a 2nd time after another concussion in week 2 practice, it’s time to insert rookie 1st rd pick Garnett.  I’m also surprised with the ranking of RT Brown who appeared to me to be doing better than his ranking tells us.

LT Joe Staley 15th of 75

LG Zane Beadles 65th of 71

C Daniel Kilgore 23rd of 31

RG Andrew Tiller 33rd of 71

RT Trenton Brown 55th of 75

DEFENSIVE LINE

This unit is the most disappointing of any on the 49ers unit. We all knew there was a lack of talent at the WR corps.  We know the linebackers have lost an incredible amount of talent.  But the defensive line has had 2 high 1st rd picks spent on it the past 2 years and even with both preferred NT’s in Williams and Dorsey out, they should be better than this.

After mauling the Rams in week 1, they have allowed a 100 yard rusher the following 4 weeks to fall to last for defending the rush. The line is being badly pushed around to allow rushers to easily move to the linebackers and beyond.  Further there appears to be little pass rush presence gleaned from the line either (although in a 3-4 that’s not their expressed purpose).

Armstead at this points looks like a bust. Buckner has what it takes but has only played 4 games.  Dial has regressed after finishing last year so well.  Purcell is a 3rd stringer at NT for a reason and can’t hold a double team like a NT is required too.  Others in Jerrod-Eddie and Blair are struggling too.

PFF rankings of 116 are:

Quinton Dial 26th

Buckner 39th

Armstead 78th

Purcell 100th

LINEBACKERS

Have been dealt a massive blow in week 4 losing Pro Bowler, team captain and the most talented player on the team NaVorro Bowman to an Achilles injury. Two weeks earlier the other starting ILB Armstrong was lost to a pectoral injury.  Aaron Lynch was back at OLB after missing the 1st 4 games to suspension.  His presence was missed and should help hold that side of the line against the run, and also help rushing the passer.  OLB Back ups Harold and Carradine just aren’t good enough to trouble opposing right tackles either rushing or setting the edge against the rush.

With both back ups at ILB in Whilhoite and Belmore starting, the 49ers are in big trouble.

OLB Ahmed Brooks 75th of 91

OLB Eli Harold 58th of 91

OLB Tank Carradine 50th of 91

ILB NaVorro Bowman 11th of 79

ILB Michael Whilhoite 76th of 79

ILB Michael Bellmore 54th of 79

SECONDARY

This could be the best performed unit so far and appear to have benefited the most from the change in DC. Gone are the complex schemes of Mangini that resulted in wide open receivers waltzing in for TDs whilst 49ers secondary members pointed at each other.  Now TDs are at least earned.

Both safeties in Reid and Bethea remain one of the better starting duos in the league. Bethea in particular has been terrific in run support, which he has been required to do far too much.  Whilst it would be great to see Reid back to his ball hawking best, it’s unlikely whilst we see such little amount of pressure on opposing QB’s. Taart has been good in dime situations so far.

The move to starting CB has been great for Ward. He still excels in man except when matched against the larger WRs, however it appears the 49ers may have a player now to match up on those types.

Rookie CB Robinson has been the find on the team thus far the past 2 games and is the highest ranked player on the team according to PFF. His rangy arms and physical play should see him continue to start once Ward returns.  It should be at the expense of veteran Brock, who has given up TDs the past 2 weeks and was badly turned around by Fitzgerald on TNF.  Reaser has been decent in support.

PFF ranking for CB’s out of 111:

Rashard Robinson 8th

Jimmie Ward 13th

Keith Reaser 46th

Tramaine Brock 70th

PFF rankings for safeties out of 81

Antoine Bethea: 15th

Eric Reid: 33rd

Jaquiski Tart: 66th

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter Bradley Pinion has the occasional shank but otherwise has a great length to his punts and is rarely guilty of punting into his endzone.

Phil Dawson has made 4/5 field goals so far.

Marcus Cromartie has been doing a terrific job as a gunner but needs support on the other side.

COACHING

The recent uproar directed at Kelly’s offensive schemes is mystifying. If the team possessed a decent quarterback then there would be at least 2 TD’s more in every game so far.  He has to get WR Smith involved in the offense more though.

It has been a smart move to delay a switch to Kaepernick whose benching has nothing to do with kneeling during the anthem and everything to do with lost weight since undergoing 3 operations in the off season. He needs to be playing better than Gabbert in practice and lack of reps in the preseason has made this difficult.  It appears a matter of time though until he will have a chance at resurrecting his career and hopefully he is healthy enough to give himself that chance.

Until Thursday night, penalties weren’t a factor however those that came were brutal and either killed drives or let the Cards continue theirs.

Defensively the team was completely out schemed in the loss to Seattle, when a large hole on the right side of the line was exploited by Seattle rusher in Michael. Am convinced they saw film that was not corrected after the loss to the Panthers.  Whilst last year’s break downs in the secondary aren’t occurring any more, the talent on the line should be performing better and they need to stop being moved around so easily.  Jim O’Neil has his work cut out for him or he will be replaced next year.

GENERAL MANAGER

Trent Baalke has never been under the microscope more. 1st rd 2015 pick Arik Armstead is on his way from project to disappointment to bust.  Only 2 others are starting from the 2015 class, 5th rd pick Punter Pinion & 7th rd pick RT Brown.

Baalke traded up to select a 2nd player in the 1st rd this year in G Joshua Garnett.  With Beadles struggling and the season gone, Ganett should be inserted into the lineup at LG between veterans Staley and Kilgore.  With offensive lineman Ifedi playing well in Seattle (and he was selected 3 spots after Garnett) Baalke needs Garnett to play and play well or else that could be the final straw for him.

He has found a starter in CB Robinson in the 4th rd and 1st rd Buckner looks like a very good player for future.  But that’s only 2 hits from 11 picks for a team that desperately needed help at WR, ILB and OLB and didn’t get it at the draft or in free agency, despite being $44 million under the 2016 cap.

With his inability to communicate with players (see Kaepernick and Anthony Davis) or the media Baalke must let his players do the talking for him on the field. And despite an unprecedented amount of talent leaving the team two seasons ago via unexpected retirement, he appears undone by what is happening on the field.

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN FROM HERE?

QB Kaepernick needs to start and hopefully play well or else the 49ers will pick a QB early in next year’s draft.

WR Smith needs to be targeted more every game.  Patton is fast and next to useless, so why not let him be a decoy and run the deep pattern and look for Smith underneath to create separation?

G and rookie Joshua Garnett needs to play and justify why Baalke felt the need to trade up from early in the 2nd rd back into the 1st.  He also needs to play at least as well as Seattle counterpart Germain Ifedi.

CB Robinson needs to start over Brock once Ward returns.

Second year man and former 1st rd pick Armstead needs to improve his play on the DL or else he will risk being demoted to the second string- completely unacceptable for a high 1st rd pick.

If the 49ers are going to spend a high pick in the draft, a new GM is required.  Baalke has shown no ability to find a QB or a WR in the 6 drafts he has run (Kaepernick was Harbaugh’s choice) and those 2 positions of potential dire need will tie the next GM to his regime.

Whoever is GM in 2017 should spend money on a starting number 1 WR to supplant Patton and a starting OLB to take over from Brooks.

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Born into the red and white of the South Melbourne Swans, I remember being amazed at age 7 to see a team with our colours that actually won something when the 1984 49ers won the Superbowl. I've been following the red, white and gold ever since. Of recent times my frustrations at not winning a Superbowl since 1994 can be heard occasionally on the aussieguysnfl podcast.

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