Offensive breakout coming?
The 49ers teased a full-blown offensive breakthrough in Week 3, when they put up 39 points against the Rams. But the fact remains: That game was the only one of the first four this season in which the Niners scored a touchdown.
All week, the Niners believed they were on the verge of getting over the hump and putting it all together. And then ... nothing. Well, at least not for the first three quarters.
The 49ers managed 152 yards and six points in the first half but found what they were looking for in the fourth quarter, when they posted 180 yards of offense and 17 points on the board.
"I think it was just where the game was," quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "We knew we had to score. Whatever it took, we had to get it done and there’s a few breaks. I think Pierre [Garcon] catches a ball that’s tipped. I was throwing to him anyways, I think he beat his guy, and the guy gets a tipped ball and he watched it flutter in the air which seems like 10 seconds. For him to come down with it, I think that got guys jacked up. You look at it like finally one bounced our way and go down and score and be able to do it again. Fortunately, we go to overtime again and just come up one play too short.”
Indeed, it was too little, too late as the Niners still came up short when they couldn't produce the drive they needed to win in overtime. The question now is whether the Niners can build off that strong fourth quarter and start producing earlier in games.
Keep the pressure coming
Before the Week 4 game against Arizona, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said when the sacks start to come for his defense, they'll come in bunches. That proved prophetic in Week 4, when the Niners dropped Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer six times and hit him an additional 16.
Of course, that came against a porous Cardinals offensive line. Entering Sunday, Indianapolis actually wasn't much better when it comes to protecting quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Pro Football Focus ranked the Colts No. 28 in the league in pass-protection efficiency, noting that the offensive line has allowed 48 pressures and eight sacks in the first four games. Overall, with running backs, tight ends and others in the protection mix, Indianapolis had yielded 14 sacks on the season.
The Niners had been hit-or-miss in getting to quarterbacks in the first four games, taking advantage of Arizona and Seattle but not getting home against the Rams or Panthers.
On Sunday, the 49ers made life difficult for Brissett for much of the day, getting to him for four sacks and 12 quarterback hits. However, much like the loss to Arizona, the pressure seemed to go away in the waning moments. The Niners had no sacks in the fourth quarter or overtime, allowing Brissett to make just enough plays to get the Colts the win.
Through the first four weeks, the Niners' most successful unit had been special teams. It comes as a bit of a surprise after that group struggled in the preseason. But any cause for alarm disappeared once the Niners began using players in that phase of the game who were actually on the 53-man roster.
Pro Football Focus ranked the 49ers as the top special-teams unit in the league, a ranking validated by their standing in expected points added, a metric that measures total performance from a given unit. The 49ers were second to the Raiders in EPA with 18.86. They were on a record-setting pace after three games, but that number didn't move much after Week 4 in Arizona.
Sunday offered some good and bad for the special teams. Kicker Robbie Gould continued to produce, making all three of his field goal attempts to go to 14-of-14 for the season. He now has made 31 straight field goals, dating to 2015. He also hit his two extra point tries. And punter Bradley Pinion continued to limit returns, booting six punts that netted minus-1 return yards.
Still, Pinion mishit a couple of his attempts that gave Indianapolis great field position, the punt return team was guilty of a costly holding penalty and the kick-return unit almost committed a costly turnover in addition to limited success on four return tries.
All in all, Sunday was a mixed bag for all three phases of the 49ers and none of them was enough to get them their first win.