After a good all-around showing by the 49ers last Monday night, all signs pointed to a hard-fought game in Pittsburgh where the Niners would have a reasonable chance to put up 24 points and let their defense pound the Steelers into submission.
That scenario was not to be in this universe as the 49ers defense was virtually invisible for the entire game. Let’s start with the bad and move to the good on this review:
Ben Roethlisberger was able to stand in a very clean pocket and pick apart the 49ers defense all day, but the damage was done in the first half as he led the Steelers to four touchdown drives that ended in 29 points (2 point conversion).
With running back DeAngelo Williams keeping the 49ers defense honest and the total lack of pass rush, receivers Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Heath Miller were able to find gaping holes in zones and beat the coverage any time they felt like it.
The stat of the day is 4 quarterback hurries by the 49ers defense. 4! They will have a lot of difficulty beating teams without pressure.
The 49ers’ first half offense wasn’t much better than the defense. The offensive line did not protect quarterback Colin Kaepernick very well, nor did it open running lanes for running back Carlos Hyde.
If you watched the game, you could tell that the offensive game plan was very conservative and depended heavily on Hyde’s ability to run for large gains. When that didn’t happen and when they fell behind, the Niners needed to be able to push the ball upfield, which they were not able to do until the second half, but by then, it was too late.
Every player on the offensive line received negative ratings from Pro Football Focus and they will need to play much better if the Niners expect to save their season over the coming weeks.
With the offensive line playing the way it did and the conservative game plan, the Niners needed a lot more out of Kaepernick and he was underwhelming in the first half. The drops by the receivers did not help either.
Yes, there were positives in this game.
First, no major injuries. Carlos Hyde avoided a major scare when he took a helmet to his knee and it bent inward. It looked awful, like a season-ending injury. Fortunately, it is just a contusion and he will be fine. He also was cleared from the concussion protocol and was just dizzy.
The passing offense showed flashes of what it can do. After getting into a large hole, mainly due to the defense, the 49ers started pushing the ball up the field in the second half.
There were a number of plays of note, including a 75 yard catch and run by Torrey Smith that had to make Niner fans feel good about picking him up this year. But the one play that got my attention was the 43 yard gain by Vernon Davis.
As you can see in this graphic, defenses have to respect Smith’s deep play ability. The safeties stay home and it clears major space for Vernon Davis to work in. By the time he caught the ball, there was no one in sight and he was able to get all the way to the Steelers 26.
Thanks to David Neumann from NinersNation.com for the graphic! (click on it to see it larger)
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, Torrey Smith will open up the offense for Vernon Davis, Reggie Bush, Anquan Boldin and plays out of the backfield as the safeties must stay home and respect the big play. This should get better as the season progresses.
Another positive was that Kaepernick does not appear to have his legs tied for the regular season this year. They ran several read option plays and he also was able to scramble for sizable gains. This should bode well for the offense moving forward.
The season is certainly not over, but the 49ers will need to play much better, especially on defense if they’re going to win in Arizona on Sunday.