SAN FRANCISCO—1998. That was the last time the San Francisco 49ers had a season with a 3-0 start.
I know you can do the simple math in your head, but that’s 21 years. It’s been a long time. This Sunday, during Week 3, the Niners have the opportunity to go 3-0 in their home opener against a hobbled Pittsburgh Steelers squad. Las Vegas and top online sportsbooks believe it will happen. They opened with the Red and Gold as 7.5-point favorites.
If any team should get the most improved award from Week 1 to Week 2, it should be San Fransisco. They went from a solid, yet sloppy win in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a clean, trouncing of the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
Week 1’s win was heavily reliant on the defense. Three interceptions and a pick-six from Richard Sherman made all the difference. But in Week 2 the offense clicked. Jimmy Garoppolo went 17 for 25 and put up 296 yards along with 3 touchdowns and they also pounded out 259 yards on the ground which yielded 2 additional TDs.
In short, they had their way with the Bengals. The O-line shoved the opposing defensive linemen around like they were little kids trying to play with the big boys.
Jimmy Garoppolo came out and stated during a recent press conference that it was his offensive line’s play that allowed them to score at will. But we can’t give all of the credit to the big uglies up front – though a massive amount needs to go to those guys. The Niners were running chunk offense plays and executing deception extremely well. On the fourth play of the game for the 49ers, almost the entire Cincinnati defense was crowded in the box to defend against the run on 1st and 10. Shanahan had his men in the I formation and when the entire offensive line broke left, pushing in a run-block scheme, Jimmy Garoppolo sold it perfectly and boot-legged out to the right while Goodwin ran a delayed drag route directly behind the linebackers. Nobody was there to pick him up, and the Niners had their first score of the day.
That said, this wouldn’t have been possible without already establishing the run. A well-balanced offense that can hammer you up the middle and also pass effectively is a nightmare for DCs. The Bengals defense was respecting the 49ers run game and ended up getting burned with a pass.
It went like this with chunk yardage all afternoon for the Bengals because the play-calling was excellent and the execution was fantastic. The Steelers will have to deal with this in Week 3.
The Steelers had massive problems with the Patriots defense while they still had Ben Roethlisberger taking the snaps. Now that Mason Rudolph will be starting his first game in a hostile environment, we should expect the Steelers to have quite a few offensive stumbles. Furthermore, the Steelers defense couldn’t keep the Pats or the Seahawks off the boards, allowing 33 in Week 1 and 28 in Week 2. So, we should expect the Niners to put up under the lights at Levi Stadium.
The question then becomes, will the Steelers offense be able to keep up? The answer to that question is no. The San Fransisco 49ers are going to start the season 3-0 for the first time in over twenty years.