The 49ers are now 0-6, but after five straight close losses, are they really deserving of a winless record?
It happened again. For the fifth straight week, the San Francisco 49ers have lost a game by three points or less, setting an NFL record.
The team went down 17-0 in the first half Sunday afternoon before starting quarterback Brian Hoyer was benched in favor of rookie C.J. Beathard, who led a strong second half push but was ultimately unsuccessful as the team fell 26-24 and to 0-6 on the season.
So at this point six weeks into the season, the team remains one of three winless teams, along with the hapless Cleveland Browns and the miserable New York Giants (who later got their first “W” against the Denver Broncos Sunday night). But after over a month of small margin losses, including two overtime losses, are the 49ers a decent team that happens to be unlucky, or are they truly among the worst in the NFL?
On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers have been mediocre-to-poor. Through five games this season, they had the 19th-ranked rushing defense (116.6 yards per game) and the 26th-ranked passing defense (249.8 yards per game).
Part of the reason the 49ers defense has not played well has been the harmful penalties the team has committed. Through five games, the team committed 38 penalties, eighth-most in the league. More worrisome, 15 of those penalties have created first downs for the opposition, which is tied for the most in the league.
One of the bright spots on San Francisco’s defense has been their defensive line. Through the first five weeks, the 49ers have had the 10th most sacks in the league (13). Superb play has come from veteran edge rusher Elvis Dumervil, who leads the team with 3.5 sacks, and second-year defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who, according to Pro Football Focus, has been the second-highest graded interior defender in the NFL this season behind reigning two-time First-Team All-Pro Aaron Donald.
However, this past week, the 49ers announced the release of four-time First-Team All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman after failing to complete a trade to offload him. Besides being the most decorated player on the defensive side of the ball, Bowman was the heart and soul of the 49ers defense and has been defensive captain for a number of years. Without Bowman, the defense may fall to among the worst in the league.
On offense, the team has been mediocre again, gaining the 17th most yards (1,593) and first downs (92). However, the team has not been as effective at scoring, tying 24th in points. Part of the reason they are not scoring is, again, penalties. The 49ers offense has committed 49 penalties through five weeks, the most by a wide margin. The next-most penalized offensive team, the Kansas City Chiefs, have only committed 42 penalties, seven fewer than San Francisco.
Despite the costly mistakes, there have been a few bright spots on the 49ers offense. Offensive tackle Joe Staley remains a force protecting the quarterback’s blind side, and running back Carlos Hyde has proven his consistency, rushing for four touchdowns in six games. In addition, wide receiver Pierre Garçon has helped the passing game, as the free agent signee has 434 yards in the team’s six games.
After replacing Brian Hoyer and impressively almost leading the team to a comeback win in Washington, quarterback C.J. Beathard has been named the starter for at least the near future.
Though the 49ers are not an impressive team by any measure, they are not worthy of being 0-6. In terms of point differential, they only have the sixth worst mark, even better than the division rival 3-3 Arizona Cardinals.
Though they have lost to some poor teams, including the Indianapolis Colts in overtime, they have kept it competitive against better teams, like the L.A. Rams, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Washington Redskins. In fact, according to Pro Football Reference, through five weeks they had an expected win-loss record of 1.6-3.4, significantly better than the 0-5 record they owned at the time.
If Beathard can continue improving on offense, and the team can cut down on costly penalties, the 49ers should be able to earn their first win of the season before too long and prove they are a better team than their record shows.
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