The 49ers' special teams hasn't been ... well, special this season, especially against the Seattle Seahawks.
During the 49ers' Week 4 loss to the Seahawks at Levi's Stadium, Trenton Cannon had a rough day as the return man that included losing a second-half fumble that led to a Seahawks touchdown. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky was pressed into action after kicker Robbie Gould sustained a pregame groin injury, and missed a 41-yard field goal and 38-yard PAT.
This past Sunday in Seattle, the 49ers' special teams had another horrific outing against the Seahawks. After the defense stopped the Seahawks their first possession of the game, the 49ers were caught off-guard by a fake punt attempt and surrendered a 73-yard touchdown run to Travis Homer. Kick return man Travis Benjamin fumbled the kick-off to start the third quarter which would have led to points had K'Waun Williams not intercepted Russell Wilson in the end zone.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was not pleased with the special teams in the loss and knows it's something that has to get cleaned up.
“Well, yeah, two weeks in a row they've given up some bad plays," Shanahan said, alluding to the kick return touchdown the 49ers surrendered in Week 12 vs. the Minnesota Vikings. "We know it happened last week versus Minnesota. Team played good enough around it to overcome it. We went into this week knowing how big of a deal it is, how good Seattle's been, how we were a little undermanned with some injuries that we had, which usually is a chain reaction down to special teams.
"So we knew how big of a deal it would be. And to miss that, for them to get that fake punt on the first special teams play of the game was huge. The fumble that we had was even bigger. And then the missed extra point, big deal too. So we definitely have to play there better and we're trying to work at it.”
As far as the fake punt, Shanahan could only tip his cap to the Seahawks.
“No, they just got us on it," Shanahan said. "They made a good play call, a risky one, backed up like that. But it was a good one. We had two guys doubling the gunner and we had a guy in the six-man box. And as you run that, you run the risk of a guy coming off the gunner unblocked, which would be a dead play. And they rolled the dice on it and we didn't have a guy come off and that's what happens.
"So there's nothing the players could have done differently on it. I'd like [WR Brandon] Aiyuk to make the tackle down the field so it's not a touchdown and we could live another day. But they got us on that and that's something we have to look at in our tendencies and everything like that.”
The special teams damage in two losses to the 4-8 Seahawks this season has been massive. On Sunday, the 49ers lost 10.9 expected points on special teams and have lost 23.7 expected points on special teams vs. Seattle this season.
Outside of the two Seahawks losses, the 49ers' special teams have performed better than you might think. The 49ers' special teams rank 22nd in DVOA and are ranked 24th by Pro Football Focus. That's not good, but had you only watched the 120 minutes against the Seahawks, you'd think they were dead last.
What is saving the 49ers is that their punt coverage, outside of the Homer touchdown Sunday, has been good. The 49ers' punt coverage is fourth in DVOA and the punt return unit ranks eighth. However, the kick return unit has been horrible as the 49ers rank 30th in coverage per DVOA and 31st as a return unit.
At 6-6, the 49ers currently occupy the No. 7 seed in the NFL, but the Philadelphia Eagles, Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints all are within striking distance. With five weeks left in the season, the 49ers must be cleaner on special teams and play better complementary football in order to punch their ticket to the postseason.