The San Francisco 49ers suffered their fourth loss of the season against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday in a 33-19 defeat, as they struggled on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the 49ers threw the ball 44 times and ran just 16 times, which was a problem for many fans, who placed some of the blame on head coach Kyle Shanahan for his decision not to not use Christian McCaffrey more out of the backfield. McCaffrey rushed for 103 yards on just 14 carries in the loss.
However, digging deeper into the film and the numbers, this issue…wasn’t much of an issue for the 49ers. Let’s break it down.
3 first offensive drives
It was no secret that the 49ers implemented a passing-based approach early on to combat the box-stacking Ravens, and it actually quickly led to some offensive success.
On each of their first three drives, San Francisco entered Baltimore territory and threatened to score. However, they were left with just three points.
On their first drive, the 49ers completed all five passes and quickly entered the red zone. But a poor call by quarterback Brock Purdy led to a Kyle Hamilton interception in the end zone, leading to no points.
On the second drive, the 49ers ran the ball five times and punted it four times in a balanced approach, but were ultimately stopped just outside the red zone, settling for a field goal.
My main gripe with Kyle Shanahan here was his pick on fourth down, as the 49ers were swarmed by the Ravens on a dropback, but were saved by a holding penalty on cornerback Ronald Darby.
Then, on the third drive, the 49ers threw the ball three times and ran once, leading them to the Baltimore 37-yard line on three plays before Brock Purdy threw his second interception in a truly unlucky defensive play but excellent.
Once again, the 49ers moved the ball well in the air, but were thwarted by a turnover, and it was truly a great defensive play, as the Ravens got an interception on a deflected pass.
In those three drives, the 49ers punted 12 times and ran just five times. Each time, they entered Ravens territory and showed the threat of scoring. However, they just couldn’t finish practice and put points on the board.
Was the early pass-based approach head coach Kyle Shanahan’s plan?
“No,” Shanahan said after the game. “(The plan) had to be balanced. That’s just how it happened. We ended up with a pick and all that, so we didn’t make a conscious decision to go out throwing. It was the look we had and the feeling that we moved the ball pretty well while doing it.
Readers 4 and 5
The 49ers had two more offensive drives in the first half, the first ending with an interception on the third play.
Here the 49ers ran first with McCaffrey and got two yards. Then came a short pass to Deebo Samuel on third and middle where Brock Purdy threw another interception where George Kittle couldn’t concentrate on the crossover pass.
On the 49ers’ final offensive drive, San Francisco ran four times (a QB sneak) and threw twice for a 67-yard touchdown drive in six plays, ultimately ending the half 16-12.
In total, the 49ers threw 16 times and ran 10 times in the first half, resulting in 12 points (2 on a safety), but the pass-based approach found offensive success.
Unfortunately, turnovers proved deadly, keeping the 49ers away from several scoring drives, despite being in Baltimore territory on four of their five first-half drives.
What changed the game
In my opinion, the 49ers’ three turnovers in the first half were certainly a problem, but not the reason San Francisco lost the game.
Despite three interceptions, the 49ers went into halftime down just 16-12, thanks to mostly stellar defense, and were getting the ball back to start the second half.
However, here is what happened during the first three minutes of the second half:
3:00 p.m.: 49ers three and out. Two penalties on the punt (false start, late kick out of bounds) give the Ravens starting field position at the SF 44.
1:17 p.m.: The Ravens score a touchdown on a 44-yard drive in three plays that lasts 1:10. Baltimore 23, San Francisco 12.
12:07 p.m.: Brock Purdy throws an interception on the first play.
11:49 a.m.: One-play touchdown for Baltimore from Lamar Jackson to Zay Flowers. 30-12 Baltimore.
Over the first 3.5 minutes of the second half, the 49ers went from four points down to losing by three scores.
Their mistakes and lack of response to start the half was the main reason for their loss, and it has been my main reason since the start of the season why I don’t believe the 49ers can win a Super Bowl in 2023.
We’ve seen how the 49ers can dominate teams and take double-digit leads en route to blowout victories.
But, in close, hard-fought games, the 49ers have struggled to find an answer this season, and that continued Monday against the Ravens to start the second half.
While the 49ers may continue to dominate some teams, their level of play and, more importantly, their reaction to mistakes against top contenders such as the Ravens is what will ultimately matter when the playoffs roll around.
As I shared, the 49ers went from 16-12 to 30-12 in a span of 3.5 minutes in the second half, completely changing the storyline of the game.
From that point on, the 49ers were forced to operate with a more passing-oriented approach, leading to 28 passes and six runs in the second half, as San Francisco ultimately lost 33-19.
Looking at the film and the numbers, Shanahan’s approach to starting the game seemed more based on how the Ravens reacted defensively, and it was working before the turnovers.
On several occasions this season, Shanahan has looked to start aggressively, putting the ball in his quarterback’s hands, resulting in early success for the 49ers, which is part of why Brock Purdy was anchored in the MVP conversation before this week. .
He operated with a similar approach on Monday and, unfortunately, the 49ers were unable to close out drives successfully before truly losing the game early in the second half.
Pass-heavy play calling wasn’t the problem for the 49ers; it was their lack of response when their backs were against the wall, and it cost them a chance to potentially win the NFC’s No. 1 seed a week early.
Now, is the season over? No way. The 49ers are still favored to earn the No. 1 seed and could even see the Ravens again in a Super Bowl game.
But there are certainly areas to clean up for the 49ers, who need to find a way to generate better error response moving forward.
Gn En sports