San Francisco and Cleveland have developed quite a rivalry, just like Golden State and Cleveland. The only difference is that one is vying for the #1 draft pick while the other for the #1 seed throughout the playoffs.
Kidding aside, the Niners have now lost their last 5 games by a combined total of 13 points. A break here and a break there could have found the Niners record at 5-1 instead of 0-6. They should have beaten the Seahawks in Seattle, the Rams at home and the Cardinals in Arizona and be sitting atop the Western Division. Having said that, good teams find a way to win while bad teams find a way to lose. The Niners are clearly still a bad team with much rebuilding still left to be done. They are two years behind the Rams and hopefully become as good as the Rams in 2019.
A few of the signs attributed to young and bad teams are that they have too many penalties, drop too many passes, and give up too many 1st downs on 3rd down plays. The Niners are near the top in each of these categories. Some of these issues are on the coaching staff but the reality is that players need to be smart and make plays. These issues will be fixed over time.
Also, bad teams don’t get any breaks from referee calls. In yesterday’s game, they had a legitimate chance to win as they were on the Redskin’s 40 yard line with 0:28 seconds left in the game (and behind by 2 points). At that point, Pierre Garcon was called for an offensive pass interference when the defensive player ran into him. So instead of a potentially game winning field goal, they suffered their 6th loss. A similar call was made in the last minute of the Niners/Rams game that resulted in a loss instead of a win.
In this first year for Lynch and Shanhan, W’s serve no purpose. They are determining which players they want to keep and build with. The fact that they have 30 new players and kept only 23 from the Baalke disaster regime tells me that Lynch and Shanahan had eye opening experiences to see how bad this roster really was. They released NoVarro Bowman because as good as he was in his hey-day, he was no longer an impact player and sadly no longer even a good player. In the coming weeks, you will see them trading or releasing Aaron Lynch and Eric Reid. Lynch is still over-weight and looks very slow. They will promote Pita Taumoepenu (this year’s 6th round draft pick) to take Lynch’ spot. Jaquiski Tartt is much faster than an injury-prone Reid. A possible trade partner for Reid are the Cowboys. They were set to draft Reid when Baalke moved above them via a trade and stole Reid from Jerry Jones in 2013. Another possible trade bait is Carlos Hyde as he is in his contract year. It would be wise to trade him now while his value is high. He will not be on the roster next year as the Niners will not offer him a new contract.
In the 2nd quarter of yesterday’s game with the Redskins, Shanahan made the tough decision to replace Hoyer with C.J. Beathard (this year’s 3rd round draft pick). He came into the game behind 17-0 and brought new life to the team and lifted them to a 17-17 tie with a potentially game winning drive at the end of the game. Beathard will play for the remainder of the year to allow Shanahan to see if he can become their QB of the future. Whether he shines or not, the Niners should draft a QB with their first pick next year.
Another change that Shanahan made yesterday was to activate and play Ahkello Witherspoon at Corner Back (this year’s 3rd round draft pick). He played soft and didn’t show any toughness. Witherspoon appears to be the only bad pick from this year’s draft.
While this year appears to be lost from a wins/losses perspective, there are many good things going on rebuilding this team. Reuben Foster will be a star, Soloman Thomas appears to be getting better each game along with the rest of the defensive line (Buckner, Armstead, etc.), Tartt and Jimmy Ward are starting to play better, and the offensive line is starting to gel (although they need to replace their interior line next year and begin thinking about replacing Joe Staley). LB Malcom Smith will be back next year after suffering a season ending pectoral injury during training camp. Smith was the Super Bowl MVP when the Seahawks won it all in 2014. He along with Foster will hopefully remind us of Patrick Willis and NoVarro Bowman. As painful as this year appears on the surface, Lynch and Shanahan will turn this ship around.