In losing three straight games since a 23-3 loss to Carolina to open the season, the San Francisco 49ers have been outscored by a total of just eight points.
First came a 12-9 loss at Seattle, followed by a 41-39 decision to the Rams and Sunday’s 18-15 overtime defeat at Arizona. Though the 49ers are 0-4, it appears the team is showing improvement, especially on defense. In 2016, the 49ers were the worst defense in the NFL, giving up 406.4 yards per game while also giving up a league-worst 30 points per game.
This season the 49ers are 19th in total defense (allowing 346.2 yards per game) and 23rd in scoring defense (23.5 points).
With a couple of breaks – and one key offensive play in each of those most recent three losses – the 49ers could have posted a win or two.
“The 49ers haven’t been an easy out for any of their first four opponents and have the look of a team that’s going to get better as the season goes on,” wrote Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com.
In fact, in all but one of those losses – the shootout loss to the Rams – it was the lack of good quarterback play that was likely the difference in the game.
Though veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer has played well at times, the overall grade for him isn’t good. His quarterback rating of 67.9 is far below his career rating of 83.0, as his yards-per-pass attempt of 5.8 (his career mark is 7.0.) He’s been hurt by drops, a less-than-elite offensive line and having to play from behind, but his failure to complete deep throws, especially, has hamstrung the offense.
Wrote the analytic website Pro Football Focus, of Hoyer’s work Sunday in the loss to the Cardinals: “Hoyer was able to move the ball well in spots, but couldn’t sustain and finish drives throughout the game because of his struggles with pressure and the blitz. He completed just three of 11 passes and took three sacks when under pressure, and against 20 blitzes completed just 31.6 percent of his throws and had a passer rating of 43.1.”
The 49ers took a 15-12 lead late in overtime on Robbie Gould's fifth field goal, but that kick came after marching all the way to the Arizona 5-yard line, where Hoyer threw incomplete on third down.
“I was disappointed,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the game. “I thought we had the opportunities there to win the game on both sides of the ball a number of times throughout the game and we didn’t get it done. So, disappointing.”
Hoyer completed less than 50 percent of his throws (24-of-49) Sunday vs. Arizona.
Said Hoyer: “I probably missed a few throws. Got to figure that out. You just keep going.”
For now, at least, it’s probably too soon for Shanahan to go to rookie C.J. Beathard. Hoyer has shown through his career that he can be an effective quarterback, and he can still get back on track. But if not, Beathard may eventually get his chance to play as a rookie.
The 49ers will travel to Indianapolis this Sunday to take on the 1-3 Colts. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m. in the Bay Area.