While it is always fun (and easy) to pile on the quarterback after a loss, I’m sure they are plenty of people doing that. So I’d like to go in a different direction.
Following the sound thumping the Saints put on the 49ers Sunday, the team gets some R & R. With the bye week, they will have time to heal up, take a break, and re-commit to the season.
And, hopefully for God’s sake, to do something about the offensive line. Everyone understands this is a patchwork group that has lost not one, but two, starting centers and has been rotating players in and out all year.
But just take some numbers from the Saints game (per Pro Football Reference). The Niners gave up nine tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, two sacks, a quarterback pressure that led to an interception, and a failed fourth and one.
Or go back to the Green Bay game where Nick Mullens was hit five times, sacked once, threw an interception under heavy pressure, and gave up a fumble on a strip-sack.
And stay with us here because we’re building up a point. It all goes back to the Seattle game that started this little three-game, 0-3 march of misery. That game says a lot about where the 49ers are now and where they are likely to end up.
A little background . . . you remember that coming in, Seattle was one of the least effective pass defenses in the NFL. A big reason was a lack of a pass rush.
And as you will recall, the 49ers started out relatively well. The defense made some stops and although the offense didn’t capitalize right away, it looked like a reasonably close game. With about two minutes left in the half, the Seahawks were ahead 13-7 and Jimmy Garoppolo was 9-14 for 84 yards and an interception.
According to The Athletic’s David Lombardi, from that point until he left with a recurrence of his ankle injury in the third quarter, Garoppolo dropped back to pass seven times and Seattle blitzed on six of them. Garoppolo was sacked once and Lombardi calculates the plays accounted for -18 yards.
That was the game that set the pattern. Knowing they had a poor pass rush, Seattle started to blitz and struck gold. They had three sacks — two by Bobby Wagner who came up the middle untouched on one — eight QB hits and according to ESPN stats, “put pressure” on the quarterback(s) on 17 of 45 dropbacks. Sop over a third (37.8 percent) of the times a San Francisco dropped back, he was under pressure.
Since they are no dummies, other teams watched the video and got the message – put the pressure on the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan knew what was going to happen after that Seattle game.
“When you don’t make them pay for blitzes,” he said, “guys are going to keep bringing it.”
And not only are the 49ers not making them pay; they are handing out free tickets. It had to be galling to watch the tape from the New Orleans game and see Chauncey Gardner-Johnson get to Mullens untouched on a safety blitz – on two consecutive plays.
No one even accounted for CGJ as he sacked Mullens on one play and then got in Mullens’ face to force an incompletion.
Full pressure shouldn’t be a surprise at this point. Mullens and Garoppolo are averaging a little over eight blitzes a game according to Pro Football Reference. Stats say they’ve been hit while passing 46 times.
That’s got to take a toll. And if you’d like some numbers, interceptions are always the by-product of successful pressure. The 49ers have thrown 11 picks, tied for the third most with New England and behind Eagles (12) and Broncos.
Not that you need to be told, but good teams throw fewer interceptions. And, no surprise, there’s a correlation between good teams and giving up fewer sacks. The Steelers have only surrendered ten sacks, the Packers 11, and the Saints 13.
And just to be clear. This isn’t a matter of “hanging in there” or getting a pass off quickly. OK, there are some times when they could get it off quicker, but an awful lot of the time the rusher is on the QB before he has a chance. And it seems once a game it is a blind-side, head-snapping shot from a full-tilt defender.
When we say those hits “take a toll,” it isn’t bumps and bruises. Mullens earned two roughing the passer penalties and one was direct head-to-head contact. What happened to the NFL’s enforcement of targeting? Disqualification is still in the rule book. Why isn’t it enforced?
And not to throw any shade, but it almost looked like the Saints were OK with the 15-yard penalty if they had a chance to put the quarterback out. The Saints were called for five penalties in the game. Two for illegal shots on the quarterback and another for helmet-to-helmet contact with head lowered on Kendrick Bourne.
You know what they say Saints – you’re either coaching it or you’re allowing it.
Besides, no need to break the rules. You can get to the 49ers’ quarterbacks the old-fashioned way. Just bring the heat.