The 49ers return home to pick up the pieces after 25- and 40-point losses on the road, and they may want to move quickly.
After they fell behind in Pittsburgh, they abandoned their run game. After they fell behind in Arizona on two pick-sixes thrown by an overwhelmed Colin Kaepernick, coach Jim Tomsula purposely abandoned the passing game, comparing himself to a basketball coach calling a desperation timeout. Some sort of offensive balance must return to keep the potent Green Bay Packers offense off the field, which is about the only place All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers can’t put up big numbers.
“People talk about getting into a rhythm, but we’ve had two weeks here where you haven’t seen our offense,” Tomsula said. “The fact is that we’ve put ourselves in that position. We haven’t gotten to that point. Just being honest with you and that’s what we have to correct — starting with me. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
Personnel-wise, the offense has yet to have all of its key components for an entire game. It may get one back with the return of running back Reggie Bush, who sat out the two losses because of a strained left calf.
Bush would give the group something they haven’t had since the first quarter of the first game — an experienced two-way threat out of the backfield.
“I’ve had quite a bit of work with Reggie, so we had a pretty good feel for each other as far as how he was going to run routes, his body language, things like that,” Kaepernick said. “It’s great to have him on the field. Everyone kind of saw [in practices] the effects he can have on a defense and the things he opens up for us as an offense when’s he’s on the field.”
Wide receiver Bruce Ellington also could return from a sprained ankle that sidelined him the last two weeks. The status of tight end Vernon Davis (strained knee) was uncertain after he sat out consecutive practices earlier in the week.
After a 47-7 rout in Arizona last weekend, some Cardinals chirped that their defense knew what to expect before the fact. In a league where there are few deep secrets, offense coordinator Geep Chryst believed the problem was more about execution and less about predictability.
“There’s noise throughout the league about that,” Chryst said. “We knew what they were going to do defensively, and that was predictable as well. But you also have to execute.
“[The Cardinals] didn’t have to go deep into their call sheet. I would say that we knew and that’s where it’s frustrating. You know what they’re going to do. You know about what their mindset is, not just from an approach but from a scheme standpoint. And yet, you’re not executing the plays to beat that scheme. So now you’re in a position where you’re getting away from what your original game plan should be or want it to be.”
Much of the focus will be on Kaepernick and how he bounces back from the worst statistical game of his career. He threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns in the first quarter.
“I’m not too big on feelings,” Kaepernick said. “Feelings aren’t going to help me win a game. I’m focused on doing what I can to help this team win.”
Kaepernick had a signature game against the Packers in the 2012 divisional playoffs. In a 45-31 victory, he passed for 263 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and ran for 181 yards and a pair of TDs in 16 attempts. Much of it came in the Pistol formation.
For better or worse, a lot has changed since then.
“We’ve watched a lot of Green Bay tape because we play them this week,” Chryst said. “[Kaepernick] threatened them both in the run and the pass. But you go back to who he is, and he’s the same guy that … managed himself and managed the passing game [successfully] in the [second] half against Pittsburgh.”
In garbage time, that is. These days, the 49ers search for the smallest of victories.