There’s no reason to panic about the 49ers’ slow start

Depending on how much stock you put in preseason football, you may or may not be worried about the two eggs the San Francisco 49ers have laid over their first two exhibition games.

How bad has it been?

The team is yet to score a touchdown and has been outscored 57-3. On the surface, it looks like the defense has been pushed around and the offense can’t get out of its own way. Jim Harbaugh himself even admitted that the team is just not clicking right now.

“It’s off. It’s off right now,” said Harbaugh. “It’s definitely off in little correctable ways. That’s what I see. I feel like we can get it corrected. I think we need a great week. We need to get better in all phases. It’s a guy here or a guy there. We’re taking turns with it. Can’t really pin it on one spot right now. Believe it will be a big week for us, an important week to make strides.”

Despite the negative vibes and lopsided losses, things are not nearly as bad as they seem.

The 49ers are a team that has been excruciatingly close to a championship the past three seasons. They have definitive starters at virtually every position, and very few questions on a loaded depth chart. To this team, the preseason is nothing more than a dress rehearsal they are obligated to participate in that has to be completed without any of the major participants getting hurt. 

Given that mindset, it’s easy to see why the first two games have gone so poorly. After all, it’s almost like they’ve been approached like a practice.

In Week 2’s loss to the Denver Broncos, San Francisco rested it’s entire starting defensive line, Patrick Willis, and Tramaine Brock. With five defensive starters not in the lineup (six if you count NaVorro Bowman who is out until at least midseason), it’s easy to see why the unit looked so soft. 

The starting offense has played a total of three series combined through the first two weeks, and despite only putting up three total points, they have moved the ball well.

Colin Kaepernick has completed six of his 10 throws for 56 yards, and just missed Brandon Lloyd in the end zone on what would have been a 37-yard touchdown pass. Maybe most importantly, Kaepernick seems to be doing a better job of going through his progressions and checking down when needed. Last season it seemed his eyes were always locked downfield and he refused to dump the ball off.

The 31-year-old Frank Gore has looked like himself, gaining 12 yards on two carries. Carlos Hyde, who will be a big part of the offense, has 50 yards on nine attempts. Combined, that’s 5.6 yards a tote, and the 49ers will take that all year long.

The offensive line has also been breaking in a new center (Daniel Kilgore), dealing with a holdout (Alex Boone), and playing without its starting right tackle (Anthony Davis). While it’s unknown if Boone will return, Davis should be back for the start of the season.

When the team’s starting units are whole and on the field for a full game, it’s safe to say that most of these ills will remedy themselves.

That’s not to say that they’re aren’t still some issues. Obviously, the status of Boone is one, but the team appears confident in Joe Looney to be a suitable replacement. They also have veteran Adam Snyder and upstart Ryan Seymour who may be able to fill in if need be.

They will have to deal without Bowman and most likely Aldon Smith (who is facing a suspension) for a chunk of the season, but did prove to have suitable replacements last year when Michael Wilhoite had to step in for Willis and Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier subbed for Smith. Those same players will fill in where needed this season.

The backup quarterback competition has been a disaster, with neither Blaine Gabbert or Josh Johnson looking anywhere near competent. Given Gabbert’s salary, it looks as if the 49ers will have to hold their breathe that Kaepernick can stay healthy.

But every team has issues, and truth be told, the 49ers have less than most. What they will be as a unit come Week 1 can’t be defined by exhibitions. Expect San Francisco to look like itself again come the start of the season as the poor play of mid-August slowly fades in the rear-view mirror. 

 Photo: Nick Wass



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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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