Struggling 49ers stink from the top
Be angry, 49ers fans — you were lied to.
Back in December, general manager Trent Baalke sat in the auditorium at Levi’s Stadium and assured everyone this season would be merely a “reload” situation following the departure of Jim Harbaugh from the team.
That was a lie.
This isn’t reloading. This isn’t reorganizing, recouping, reconfiguring or any other word that implies forward progress. This is a full-fledged unraveling of what was recently a top-tier franchise in the NFL.
And even as the defense regrouped Sunday from being historically awful against the Steelers and Cardinals, their effort was rewarded with a sad trombone from QB Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense, to the tune of a measly three points.
This team’s ‘Quest For Six’ isn’t for rings, it’s for wins. Six victories could be an ambitious goal for the 2015 49ers.
Nobody is happy about this, especially the players. The locker room Sunday postgame was unlike any I have seen during Harbaugh’s tenure, even amid reports of supposed dissent and divide under his watch.
Anquan Boldin told reporters, respectfully, that he had nothing to talk about as he silently got dressed at his locker before departing.
Carlos Hyde walked out without a word before being ushered back in by 49ers staff to deliver a brief, hasty interview.
Torrey Smith — demonstrably frustrated during Sunday’s 17-3 loss — dressed quickly and made it out of the locker room before the majority of the press could track him down, chatting briefly only with Mindi Bach from CSN Bay Area before taking off.
Despite head coach Jim Tomsula dismissing reports of the 49ers being a fractured team, there isn’t a whole lot of meshing right now. Not on the field, and not with the disgruntled veterans in the locker room.
Prepare, 49ers faithful: The media circus, full of reports of internal strife and player angst will be back in full force in Santa Clara this year. Only this time, they won’t have a clear scapegoat — Jim Harbaugh — to blame it on.
So who can we blame this on? Kaepernick?
He has certainly has come under fire, with national pundits proclaiming Kaepernick — just a few seasons removed from heaps of praise and talk of being a franchise player — is no longer fit to run a football team.
The last two games have hardly helped his case. Against Arizona he threw four interceptions, two for touchdowns. Against Green Bay he threw another, while completing 13-of-25 attempts for 160 yards.
And when Kaepernick missed, he missed hard.
Flat footed throws to receivers just ten yards away bounced off the turf before reaching the attempted target. Passes down the sideline landed so far out of bounds that fans in the first row had a better chance of catching them than any 49ers receiver.
Kaepernick defended these passes, saying they were designed to be uncatchable rather than intercepted. But there’s a difference between placing a ball away from a defender and placing it away from anyone in the field of play.
But is it reasonable to blame Kaepernick entirely? Or is he just another casualty of the Baalke lie?
Kaepernick has a heavy load on his shoulders, expected to carry a team torn apart from the inside out to lead a revamped offense that was never the club’s strong point, even at their peak.
This offseason, the 49ers added a speedy wide receiver (Smith) and a pass-catching running back (Reggie Bush). Then Baalke interrupted Tomsula’s press conference to announce that the team plans to “run the ball more,” seeming to negate the potential of his two biggest free agent pickups.
But still, a speedy receiver and a pass-catching back can stretch the field, prevent teams from stacking the box, and provide more versatility to an offense. Not the worst of game plans.
The front office, though, did nothing to assure even their idea of running the ball more would be viable when they refused to address deep problems within the offensive line.
The team lost Pro Bowl lineman Mike Iupati and arguably their best run blocker in Anthony Davis, replacing them with Erik Pears — ranked almost dead last among linemen last year — and Jordan Devey, who would have been cut by the Patriots had the 49ers not saved him.
Baalke did the football equivalent of plugging his ears and stomping out of the room in regards to the offensive line. And the results have been immediately clear.
Kaepernick has been sacked 15 times this year through four games. He’s on pace for 60 sacks this year, far surpassing last year’s 52, abhorrent in its own right. He also led the team in rushing attempts last game, not because he wanted to — though some were designed runs — but because he often had to scramble for his life right when he received the snap.
Kaepernick is a product of his environment. He’s a player who is good when he has good support players and good coaches around him. This team has neither.
So is it Tomsula’s fault? Not really, despite his insistence on taking the blame for every 49ers problem. He doesn’t possess the knowledge or experience necessary to oversee this team’s offense. But this isn’t anything that wasn’t known when he got hired.
After the unruly Harbaugh spurned CEO Jed York and Baalke, the duo elected to make controllability their main priority during their coaching search, not coaching ability.
They then promoted from within for coordinator positions, ignoring the fact that Tomsula needed a premium supporting staff around him to succeed, not a group of familiar faces.
The results so far have been grim, with the 49ers offense consisting largely of under-skilled players executing odd play calls.
An inside handoff to Bush on 3rd and 11? That haunting back shoulder fade in the end zone that Geep Chryst refuses to go away from no matter how many times it fails? Eight carries from Carlos Hyde against an average run defense? From a team that is supposed to run the ball?
The fact is that this team is undermanned in talent. The coaching staff is underpowered and wrongly equipped. This from a team just two years removed from being one pass away from back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
The accountability lies with ownership and the front office. York and Baalke are the architects of everything on display in Red and Gold, methodically dismantling a prospering NFL franchise in a manner close to being historically negligent.
They drafted a punter in the fifth round. They have nothing left over from the 2012 Draft. They thought Devey and Pears would anchor an offensive line that needed to run the ball. They ran Harbaugh out of a league starved for championship-caliber head coaching talent.
And the results have been clear. And fans have every right to be angry.
So when you point fingers at Kaepernick and Tomsula, remember that it’s hard to win on the field when your opponents are on the other sideline — and in your own building.