Niners embarrassed at home: Time to blame the braintrust

It all looked good for San Francisco, until the game started

It was all looking good for the 49ers Sunday. Then they played the game.

A injury-depleted Cardinals team limped into Levi’s Stadium, without their two-way threat superstar quarterback Kyler Murray. Monster pass rusher J.J. Watt was also out. And so was dangerous wide receiver Deandre Hopkins.

On the Niners side of the injury report, only the oft-absent Dee Ford sat out among notables. All-Pro tight end George Kittle was coming back. Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell were questionable, but ended up strapping it up. And Jimmy Garoppolo was hoping to maintain the hot hand he established the previous week in Chicago, quarterbacking the team to glory.

Then they played the game. Final score: Arizona 31, San Francisco 17.

And it wasn’t that close.

Arizona trotted out Colt McCoy to play quarterback against the vaunted Niners defense. He picked them apart all afternoon. This from a guy who came in with an 8-22 record as a starter, amassed playing for three different teams. He’s now a career backup whose always looked a lot better holding a clipboard than wearing a helmet.

That didn’t stop the Cards, now 8-1. McCoy handed the ball off a lot, exploiting the Niners’ defensive front repeatedly, using James Conner and Eno Benjamin as battering rams, running behind Arizona’s massive offensive line. The running backs gave supreme second effort, constantly finding a few extra yards to keep the drive going. Simply put, they looked like they wanted it more. San Francisco went into this season touting its defensive front as the team’s true strength. On paper, it should be. On the field, it’s not.

At least not on Sunday.

Garoppolo had a decent outing, showing resilience and accuracy at times. But he was also sacked five times, showing little elusiveness as his offensive line collapsed, over and over again. Arizona’s Markus Golden led the charge, bulldozing his way into the pocket all afternoon and creating generalized havoc for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s once highly regarded offense.

“It’s tough,” said Garoppolo. “We’re all in this together right now. And we gotta figure it out.”

Turns out, if you’re not running the ball well. And if your quarterback is getting mugged. And your receivers are fumbling the football. Well, you add that all together and you have a 3-5 team with little or no hope of mounting a playoff push.

“It was extremely disappointing,” said Shanahan, whose team has lost five of their last six games. “I think we made it pretty easy on those guys.”

“I know our fans are disappointed. And I’m disappointed, too.”

The team is 1-8 at home in the last nine games played at Levi’s. That’s just horrible. “We gotta play a lot better on the road, and at home, to become a better football team,” said Shanahan.

So, what did we learn on Sunday? We learned that the NFL is all about roster depth. It’s a brutal game and you have to plan for disaster. Back in Jim Harbaugh’s heyday, the Niners were stacked two-deep at most impact positions, with second-stringers that would start for most teams. On Sunday, you could say the same about Arizona.

How did the Cardinals come in that banged up and dominate San Francisco? On their home turf? It’s simple. They have more talent.

It’s well past time to take a long and hard look at the John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan regime, and start asking the relevant, tough questions. After some early success, and even a trip to the Super Bowl in 2020, the once-promising brain trust has failed to deliver. Their draft picks have not resulted in the depth needed. They picked a guy who hasn’t played in nearly two years with the overall No. 3 pick this year. Trey Lance may become great, but not anytime soon from what I’ve seen this season.

This is the last thing Jed York wants to hear. The Niners’ owner thought he’d found a solid front office, after years of wrestling with the mediocrity of Trent Baalke and his predecessors. But he has to realize, at this point, that Lynch & Shanahan might not be the law firm he needs.

If he doesn’t realize it yet, then the 49er Faithful will make sure he hears it in the stands and feels it in his wallet.

The fans don’t play the games. But they have to watch this mess.

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