The Niners fall to 0-1 on the season as they lose the season opener at home to the Carolina Panthers. The score was 23-3 as the Niners failed to score a touchdown but were there any signs of improvement for the 49ers? San Francisco have had a major overhaul during the offseason fronted by new GM/HC combo John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan and this was their first chance to showcase their efforts.
The two teams met in week 2 of last year and although the result was the same, the score was hugely different. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 46-23 but what differences are there between now and 12 months ago? The most noticeable difference, was the 49ers run defense. Famously the worst unit in the league last season, the 49ers reduced the Panthers efficiency to 3.1 ypc from 4.8 ypc last year. That’s with the highly rated Christian McCaffery in the backfield. There was also a drastic improvement on the pass defense. The 49ers allowed 70 less yards through the air than they did 12 months ago. Broken coverage and poor tackling from Jaquiski Tartt led to a 40-yard TD from Russel Shephard. Tartt redeemed himself however with a highlight reel one handed interception on the 49ers 1-yard line. However, the standout defensive performer for the 49ers was Rueben ‘Ferrari’ Foster, albeit for just over 11 minutes. In just 11 snaps, Fosters had 3 tackles, one for a loss and he broke a pass up which was nearly an interception. An injury forced him out of the game which is said to be a high ankle sprain likely to side-line him for over a month. The 49ers registered no sacks on Sunday which is something they will have to work on over the season if they want to improve their defense further.
On the opposite side of the ball, Brian Hoyer completed 69% of his passes for 193 yards but 0 TDs. He also turned the ball over twice via a fumble and an interception. It wasn’t the most glamorous of performances, but a good starting point for the 49ers offense. Carlos Hyde impressed on the ground with 45 yards from 9 carries but the game script didn’t go his way which hugely restricted his rushing attempts. However, he did haul in 6 catches for 32 yards. Pierre Garcon led the team in targets, catches and yards as he looks to impose himself as the WR1 in the offense. Although the offense wasn’t disastrous, poor O line play and a lack of playmakers led to a very mediocre stat line. Goodwin has the potential to become a playmaker for the 49ers with his impressive speed. On the first 49ers drive, Hoyer threw deep on 3rd and 2 from the Carolina 46 but the ball fell through Goodwin’s hands. That catch would have fired San Francisco into a 7-0 lead. Later, Hoyer went deep to Goodwin again but ended up over throwing him as Goodwin was impeded by a Panther defender. These big plays will come in time for the 49ers although they have an even trickier matchup against the Seahawks this weekend.
We’re in the very early stages of the Shanahan era and nobody is expecting the 49ers to win the SuperBowl or even finish with a winning record. Rebuilds take time and patience but can be extremely effective as 49ers fans know from the Bill Walsh era. There’s no hiding the fact that Brian Hoyer is nothing more than a stop gap for the Niners until they find their franchise quarterback, but whether it will be CJ Beathard or a 2018 draft prospect remains to be seen. We need to see extended periods of Beathard this season before Lynch and Shanahan plot their 2018 draft. Hyde is another 49er that might not be around next season. He’s in a contract year and is tipped to hit free agency after this season. The Niners invested a fourth-round pick in Joe Williams and signed UDFA Matt Breida to join Hyde in the backfield race. Williams however, is out for the season with an ankle injury after impressing in preseason.
I think 49ers fans are accepting of the fact that we’ll be picking high in the draft next April. We can cope with a losing season if there is hope and trust that our front office will succeed in the off season once again. The 49ers must address their pass rush, O line and quarterback as a matter of urgency. I am confident the 49ers will become NFC contenders under the Lynch/Shanahan duo a lot sooner that others may believe possible.