Small sample shows Kelly's 49ers can be Year 1 of Harbaugh


Small sample shows Kelly's 49ers can be Year 1 of Harbaugh

Chip Kelly is a lucky man indeed, in that he never had to field the burning question of the night, namely:

“Since the 49ers won by the largest margin of Week 1 and also were the only team to use two quarterbacks, can we infer that there is a quarterback controversy? Oh please say yes, oh please say yes, oh please oh please oh please.”

But no, his night went so delightfully that he fielded no such idiocies, nor faced any great existential issues. His first game as 49er coach got him 28 points, cost him zero points, and unlike his Los Angeles counterpart Jeff Fisher, his short week will be a largely pleasant one.

In fact, these were his stated complaints after Monday’s 28-nil pillow-smothering of the utterly gormless Rams: The team ran the ball indifferently in the third quarter (seven carries, seven yards, all by Carlos Hyde), and his kick return defense (all two of them), which allowed the Rams to start their drives at the Los Angeles 31.

In other words, he has actually nothing of substance about which to grouse.

[RECAP: Instant Replay: 49ers' defense dominates in shutout vs Rams]

Oh, he will find some thing or things, to be sure. The 49ers handled an excruciatingly bad Rams team (or an excruciatingly badly coached, taught or motivated Rams team, choose your weaponry), and he has to convert a potentially complacent team back into a hungry and angry one against Carolina Sunday.

In other words, he has to prove that this game was not the same sackful of fool’s gold that last year’s 20-3 win over Minnesota was. In that game, the 49ers outgained the Vikings by 147 yards (against the Rams, it was 135 yards), Carlos Hyde rushed for almost twice as many yards (168-88) and Colin Kaepernick’s quarterback rating of 83 was essentially that of Blaine Gabbert’s (84.2) Monday. In sum, they were never truly threatened until . . . well, until Week 2. And then Week 3 and Week 4 and on and on and so forth and so on . . .

And therein lies the conundrum for Kelly, for his fellow coaches, the roster, the front office and the customer base: To believe that this game is not an outlier at all, but a sign that the S.S. York is again not only seaworthy but worth the bother of booking a cruise.

And there is no way of knowing that without knowing if the Rams are really as hideous as they performed. Because they were, very much so. So much so, in fact, that Fisher cited the fact that the team has had to move four times in seven months as a reason for their masterpiece of ineffectiveness. I mean, if that’s the best you can do, you have problems even HBO can’t gloss over.

But as a matter of raw data, the 49ers defense was wall-to-wall superb, holding running back Todd Gurley to a desiccated 47 yards on 17 rushes, quarterback Case Keenum to 130 yards on 17 completions in 35 attempts, and Tavon Austin, the inspiration for Fisher’s possibly ill-fated and surely oft-cited “7-9 Bulls---“ quote, caught four balls (in 13 targets) for a miserable 13 yards. The Rams averaged a hideous 3.1 yards per play, which explains why punter (10 times, in fact) Johnny Hekker put himself in contention for Player of the Week.

Indeed, the only crypto-drama of the evening, other than, say, the drunken fan who was immortalized by ESPN Radio’s Kevin Harlan, was whether Colin Kaepernick, who came in for the last 49er series of the evening, would not only take a knee before the game but one of the final play of the game.

He didn’t.

Indeed, Kaepernick was but a very minor sidelight on a night that belonged . . . well, it’s actually hard to say who it belonged to, really. Few players who weren’t Rams committed egregious errors, and in fact one of San Francisco’s two five-yard penalties came on a botched play call by Kelly. On the other hand, he converted one of two high-risk fourth down calls and gave at least some indications that he still has a swashbuckler’s soul, which is surely going to be more fun in success and failure than the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-despair offense of a year ago.

[WATCH: Kaepernick sends message to Dilfer after criticism of protest]

But again, the Rams aren’t the Panthers, the road isn’t home, and 2015 is only a bad memory away. This could be a massive false positive.

It could also be the sign of the 49ers in Kelly Year 1 – a very good defensive team that will need that defense to hide the deficiencies of an iffy offense. You know, the way they were in Harbaugh Year 1.

That’s the beauty of a small sample size – you can make it into anything you want, and have the lack of data to prove your point either way.

But what you don’t have is a quarterback controversy. Yet. And if the new 49ers still are in their larval stage, they can still fall back on that time-honored football stratagem – “If you can’t be good, you may as well start some bar fights.”

And either way, it sure as hell beats being the Rams right now.

Richard Sherman explains why players should always worry about their jobs


Richard Sherman explains why players should always worry about their jobs

SANTA CLARA — 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan gave the team a message before the bye week for players to use the time off for self-evaluation. He emphasized that they should be focused on what they want to prove in the final six games, especially in regards to their future with the team. 

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman believes that playing for your future spot should really be a focus no matter what the team’s record is. He believes that’s the mark of a professional. 

“That’s how it always should be,” Sherman said, “no matter what time of the season, and no matter what the record is.”

“When you’re on a good team and things are going well, you’re still playing for your job, it’s just a little bit more secure, guys feel more secure. But either way, when it’s going good, you shouldn’t feel secure either." 

Sherman practices what he preaches and does not rest on his laurels. The last game before the bye was one of his best since coming to Santa Clara, allowing two completions on four targets for 10 yards. In his eight games as a Niner he has only allowed 11 receptions on 24 targets for 153 yards. 

“Kyle and those guys are obviously evaluating who is going to be here and who’s not,” Sherman said. “Myself included, we have to play great football, and as always do my job at a high level and help my team win.” 

Arriving at Week 12 with only two wins has been frustrating but Sherman sees growth and potential in the young secondary. 

“It’s frustrating but it’s one of those things that comes over time,” Sherman said. “I’ve been through it multiple times, especially with young guys playing substantial minutes, you’re going to have that. They learn from their mistakes and move forward.” 

[RELATED: 49ers 'definitely' want Sherman back]

“I think that’s what we have. We’ve had guys improve throughout the season.”

The goal is not to play a perfect game but to play mistake free, sound football. Sherman sees the team getting closer to it, but recognizes the mistakes that have happened in crucial moments of games. 

The secondary has had the additional challenge of players changing positions throughout the first 10 games. Jimmie Ward moved from cornerback back to safety during the offseason, and rookie D.J. Reed has played corner, slot and safety. 

Sherman believes that staying at one position helps a player master his craft, but also sees the drive in his young teammates adapting to new roles. 

“It’s tough enough in your rookie year, going through the transition of getting into the NFL," Sherman said. "It’s tough for even a veteran to do. But I think everybody has worked very hard to give it their best shot.”

49ers GM John Lynch won't label Solomon Thomas a bust, still a 'big believer'


49ers GM John Lynch won't label Solomon Thomas a bust, still a 'big believer'

The 49ers have received little return on the investment of their 2017 No. 3 overall draft pick.

General manager John Lynch acknowledges defensive lineman Solomon Thomas has not produced to the level expected of a player selected so early in the draft. But Lynch said he has not given up on Thomas, who ranks 17th on the team in tackles and has one sack as a part-time player through 10 games.

“A lot of people use the word ‘bust’ or whatever,” Lynch said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “He’s not that. He’s a good football player for us.

“I think a lot of people struggle when you have the No. 3 pick. ‘Why isn’t he in there more?’ And that’s something we have to answer. But you have to earn those opportunities. That’s something Kyle (Shanahan) has always been clear on. Solly needs to continue to earn those. And we need to continue to put him in position to thrive.”

Thomas appeared in 14 games with 12 starts as a rookie. With 41 tackles and three sacks, Thomas showed signs he could take his game to a higher level. But Thomas’ production has regressed in his second season.

Thomas, 23, faced tragedy in the offseason when his older sister, Ella, died from suicide on January 23. Thomas has used his platform as an NFL player to bring awareness to mental health issues. It is only reasonable to assume his real-life anguish has impacted his on-field production.

[RELATED: Whitner: Thomas not a fit]

“It’s been tough on Solomon,” Lynch said. “I can’t even imagine. I often try to put myself in his position, and I know the struggle that he’s going through. Solomon is very aware that the struggle is real, that it’s something he deals with every day.

“But, also, he needs to find a way to come and be the best he can be at his job.”

Thomas has two years remaining on his rookie contract after this season, and Lynch said he expects the former Stanford star to come back from the bye week and make an impact as the 49ers close out the season.

“I’m still a big believer in Solomon Thomas,” Lynch said. “A lot of people say, ‘Why?’ You go back and study the history of defensive linemen in this league. A lot of them don’t figure it out in Year 1. They don’t figure it out in Year 2.”

Lynch added, “In this second half of this Year 2 for him, he’s got to really start being the player we all know he can be. Some of that is opportunity, and putting him in situations where we think he can thrive. And I think we’ll see that in the second half of this year.”