clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How the 49ers ended up losing more than 2/3rds of their starters in less than one year

And why the Seahawks are partially responsible for this fiasco.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On November 23, 2014, the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Washington Redskins in a matchup of two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III. What an incredible 365 days it has been ever since.

The 49ers won that game 17-13, pushing their overall record to 7-4. The Seattle Seahawks, as you may remember, were also 7-4 after beating the Arizona Cardinals 19-3. Not only that, but the very next week was a matchup between the 7-4 Seahawks and the 7-4 49ers in San Francisco on Thursday Night Football. At that time, it certainly seemed like these were still two very evenly matched teams and that Seattle could miss the playoffs if they lost that game and that the 49ers could be winning a wild card spot.

That actually kind of slightly absolutely maybe did not happen.

The Seahawks won the game 19-3, holding San Francisco to 164 total yards. Kaepernick went 16-of-29 for 121 yards and two interceptions.

Two weeks later, the 7-6 49ers went to Seattle to face the 9-4 Seahawks, a much different scenario than the one only a fortnightish earlier, but still San Francisco had some semblance of a chance to save their season. Except that they really never had much of a chance at all, ultimately losing 17-7. Kaepernick was 11-of-19 for 141 yards, no touchdowns.

Over his last six starts against the Seahawks, Kaepernick has two passing touchdowns and eight interceptions. His highest passing yardage total in any of those games is 175. Over his last four starts against Seattle, dating back to the NFC Championship game, Kaepernick is averaging 134.7 passing yards per game with one touchdown and four interceptions.

I mean, no wonder you would find out what Blaine Gabbert could do because Kaepernick was "pure Gabbert" against the one team that stood in their way of Super Bowl XLVIII and the 2014 playoffs. He "Gabberted" their chances in both cases, if you will, and if you're gonna "Gabbert" something, might as well use the real deal Gabbert himself.

So, the Seahawks played a not-small part in both the firing of Jim Harbaugh and the benching of Kaepernick. The number one external reason for those two things happening is that Seattle won the "arms race" of 2012-2014.

Which pretty much means that the real culprit here is Trent Baalke but what me worry?

Because of that, I want to go back to that November 27, 2014 game in San Francisco in which the Seahawks effectively ended the rivalry, and I want to go player by player to show just how different this team is today (probably the worst team in the league at this moment) compared to what they were less than a year ago as playoff contenders.

It is perhaps the greatest (worst?) single turnaround in recent NFL history.

QB Then - Colin Kaepernick

QB Now - Blaine Gabbert

Benched this week for Gabbert, Kaepernick not only had six touchdowns in eight starts, but he failed to throw a touchdown in five of those games. He's averaging a career-low 6.6 Y/A, and in three divisional games he had 3.53 Y/A, 3.95 Y/A, and 5.17 Y/A. Overall, his rushing numbers were roughly what they always were, but he hasn't had any explosive runs this season, with his longest being 15 yards.

Basically, we have two sides of the coin: Kaepernick with Greg Roman and Kaepernick without Greg Roman. Not always well-liked by 49ers fans, we can't say for sure that Roman's absence is the difference, but it is a difference to consider. It might turn out that Kaepernick is going the way of Josh Freeman and we never hear from him again.

Gabbert made three starts for the Jaguars in 2013, throwing one touchdown and seven interceptions. Yet the decision to start him over Kaepernick actually makes some sense.

RB Then - Frank Gore

RB Now (Kind of) - Carlos Hyde

RB Now (Active starter?) - Kendall Gaskins/Pierre Thomas

Since Week 2, Hyde is averaging 3.4 YPC with one touchdown. However, the 49ers of today aren't even using Hyde, who missed last weeks game and is expected to miss another due to a foot injury.

They lost Reggie Bush with a torn MCL, cut Jerryd Hayne, and lost Mike Davis (who had 24 yards on 25 carries) to a broken hand. That forced them to sign Pierre Thomas this week, and he basically shoots to the top of the depth chart. Gaskins was an UDFA in 2013 who got his first action this season, carrying it five times for six yards.

So as of now, they've gone from Kaepernick and Gore to Gabbert and Gaskins.

FB Then - Bruce Miller

FB Now - Bruce Miller

Woo! Same fullback!

WR1 Then - Anquan Boldin

WR1 Now (Kind of) - Anquan Boldin

WR1 Now (Healthy) - Torrey Smith

So, Boldin is still around but let's consider two things: A) Nquan and B) Oldin.

I just wanted to do that one time, now I'll give serious answers.

A) Ggraveted Hamstring

B) Olden Days

Boldin missed last week's game against the Rams and is questionable to play this week. He's also 35 and averaging 53.1 YPG, his lowest total since 2010 and the second-lowest of his career. Boldin's days are just about up in San Francisco.

WR2 Then - Michael Crabtree

WR2 Now - Torrey Smith

WR2 (When Boldin is out) - Quinton Patton

Smith is still the same, inconsistent, frustrating receiver that the Ravens let get away, while Patton is still really just nothing at this point. He's had 14 catches for 164 yards this season. He had six catches in two seasons coming into the year.

TE Then - Vernon Davis

TE Now - Vance McDonald/Garrett Celek

San Francisco drafted McDonald in the second round two years ago thinking that "of course this guy is gonna replace Davis" but probably didn't think that the "of course" would be due to the fact that Davis got terrible and McDonald was simply younger. He has seven catches for 45 yards.

Garrett is better than Vance, but he's no Brett.

Celek has 15 catches for 139 yards, but is questionable this week with a head injury. The number two tight end in that case is Blake Bell, a fourth round rookie with three catches for 17 yards.

LT Then - Joe Staley

LT Now - Joe Staley

Staley is 31, so it's not like it's necessarily the end for him, though by the time the 49ers are in a championship window again it probably will be.

LG Then - Mike Iupati

LG Now - Alex Boone

Boone switched from the right side to the left side after Iupati signed with the Cardinals.

C Then - Marcus Martin

C Now - Marcus Martin

Another thing that stayed the same. So far, it's fullback, left tackle, and center that's the same as it was less than a year ago. Just those three positions unless Boldin is good to go.

RG Then - Alex Boone

RG Now - Jordan Devey

An UDFA out of Memphis several years ago, Devey made a few starts with the Patriots last season and now is full-time with the 49ers.

RT Then - Jonathan Martin

RT Now - Erik Pears

Pears had made 56 starts for Buffalo over the last five years and is now replacing Martin, who wasn't very good, but was only in there because of injuries to Anthony Davis, which is the much bigger loss. When the 49ers started to rebuild, they did it with Iupati and Davis as first round picks, putting together one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Staley is all that remains of that.


RE Then - Justin Smith

RE Now - Quinton Dial

Dial was a starter in that game against the Seahawks, but according to my records he was the nose tackle. Smith's retirement was not entirely unexpected, but it's still a massive loss. First round pick Arik Armstead is still very deep on the depth chart, a consistent M.O. for players Baalke drafts early.

LE Then - Ray McDonald

LE Now - Glenn Dorsey

Dorsey has been with the team since 2013, but he missed all of last season. He's been playing the left end for them this season and he has 15 tackles with no sacks. He's a cool run blocker or whatever, but Dorsey has to be considered one of the most disappointing top-5 picks of this century. He was unstoppable in college, and now he's quite stoppable. Very much so stoppable.

NT Then - Quinton Dial

NT Now - Ian Williams

Williams is in his fifth season with San Francisco after being signed as an UDFA. His career has not been very noteworthy, though this might be his most productive season to date. You can understand why they took a defensive lineman in the first round this year, because nothing they have at the moment is worth talking about.

The 49ers have 14 sacks in eight games, compared to 28 sacks allowed.

LOLB Then - Ahmad Brooks

LOLB Now - Ahmad Brooks

I don't know that Brooks can have the same kind of impact he had when he was a part of the best linebacking corps in football. Before Harbaugh arrived, he was just a backup. Then he was a very good starter in the prime of his career. Now he's 31 and Harbaugh is gone and the production is waning.

Brooks is on pace for fewer than 30 solo tackles and 5.5 sacks.

ROLB Then - Aldon Smith

ROLB Now - Aaron Lynch

It's safe to say that Lynch is an "up and comer" in the pass rushing ranks. A fifth round pick last year, Lynch is on pace for 10 sacks, 42 tackles. But Aldon Smith (14 sacks as a rookie, 19.5 sacks in year two, 8.5 sacks in 11 games in year three) he is not.

There are of course some "downsides" to Aldon, I guess, like ... I don't know ... bomb threats. But as a football player, the derailment of his career has been very costly to what was working in 2012 when Smith had almost 20 sacks and the 49ers fell just shy of winning the Super Bowl.

ILB Then - Michael Wilhoite

ILB Now - Michael Wilhoite

Wilhoite is probably too old (29) to be a "breakout" player. He's on pace to record over 130 tackles, a substantial increase over what he had last season, but Patrick Willis is only 30 and his importance to the field stretched much further than just a bunch of tackles.

ILB Then - Chris Borland

ILB Now - NaVorro Bowman

Hey, it's actually a difference of a "then and now" starter comparison that kind of doesn't hurt! Except the pain of knowing that one of your best young talents retired after one season must still be really painful!

Bowman was one of the best players in the NFL when his knee was destroyed (against the Seahawks, no less) and he missed all of last season. There's no doubt that the 49ers would have been a much different team in 2014 if they had Bowman and Willis healthy for the whole year. Bowman's back and while the tackles are there, he hasn't been as productive as he used to be.

In 2013, he had two interceptions, nine passes defensed, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and five sacks.

So far in 2015 he has no interceptions, no passes defensed, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, and one sack.

LCB Then - Perrish Cox

LCB Now - Tramaine Brock

Brock was suffering from a toe injury that kept him out for most of last season, so they put Cox on the outside. This is actually an upgrade for San Francisco, and Brock has three interceptions, seven passes defensed this year.

RCB Then - Chris Culliver

RCB Now (Maybe) - Kenneth Acker

RCB Now (If Acker can't go) - Keith Reaser

Culliver and Cox both left via free agency, Culliver being the better of the two. Acker, a sixth round draft pick last year, has been starting on the outside and has three interceptions, five passes defensed. Not bad at all. However, he is questionable to play this week due to a concussion. If he can't go, then they'll turn to Reaser, a fifth round pick last year with almost no experience. Or maybe Dontae Johnson, a fourth round pick last year (God damn, I hadn't even noticed how many DBs they took last year, including Jimmie Ward in the first.) who played some in 2014 and seems okay.

That's the other thing. The 49ers took A CORNERBACK in the FIRST round last year, and their attitude about it seems to be like, "Yeah, he's a nickel. That's cool. Look at all the decent slot receivers out there. Gotta have a good nickel!" Yeah, slot receivers are more dangerous now than they were before. But you know who else is dangerous? Larry Fitzgerald. Jordy Nelson (when his ACL is there.) Odell Beckham, Jr. I mean, this season they'll also be facing Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, they already faced Steve Smith, and Travis Benjamin (on a different level.)

Maybe shoot a little higher with a first round pick. (Not that the Seahawks necessarily always did that (James Carpenter alert.)) They took Ward over some pretty good players that could have been starting for them almost immediately. This is a major part of why I think Baalke is such a poor GM and why things got this dark, this quickly.

FS Then - Eric Reid

FS Now - Eric Reid

Reid made the Pro Bowl as a rookie with 91 tackles, four interceptions, 12 passes defensed, two fumble recoveries.

The next year he had 41 tackles, three interceptions, seven passes defensed, no fumbles forced or recovered.

This year he has 24 tackles, no interceptions, four passes defensed, no such fumble numbers.

Reid has had issues with concussions, but has only missed one game in his career so far. Things just go better for most players when they are surrounded by a bunch of talent. Reid isn't anymore.

SS Then - Antoine Bethea

SS Now - Jaquiski Tartt

Bethea was a sneaky good free agent signing last year, making the Pro Bowl as a strong safety after playing most of his career at free safety with the Colts. He wasn't having much of a repeat season this year before going on IR with a shoulder injury in Week 8..

Tartt (who played high school ball with Ward, both starting safeties, playing alongside each other for all four years) was a second round pick this year. In 2014, he was playing at Samford. Not Stanford ... Samford. Now he's starting for the 49ers in place of a guy who was a Pro Bowler last season.

See how much crazy shit can happen in one year?




Special Teams BONUS

Most snaps on special teams in the game against Seattle last year:

Craig Dahl (Gone)

Kassim Osgood (Gone)

Dan Skuta (Gone)

Corey Lemonier (Still around)

Punter Then - Andy Lee

Punter Now - Bradley Pinion

Lee averaged 46.8 yards per punt last year and is up to 48.9 YPP with the Browns this season.

Pinion, who was actually DRAFTED in the FIFTH round this year, is averaging 43.9 YPP. Five yards per punt, on this many punts, is a huge difference. Lee hasn't averaged that few YPP since 2005. It's especially important when you consider that Pinion has had to punt 18 times over the last two games. That probably won't be changing any time soon.

Kicker Then - Phil Dawson

Kicker Now - Phil Dawson

Actually, things are quite stable. The kicker is the same. What else could matter?

Dawson is on pace to attempt 16 extra points this season, which would be the lowest of his career, which happens to go back to 1999.