Sometimes a team’s record just doesn’t tell the whole story in football. The Indianapolis Colts should be 2-2, they are 1-3, and even then the team has been so bad in the second halves of football games that you could easily be shocked they have won a game at all.
It is with that in mind that we contacted David Fucillo with Niners Nation to get an idea of how accurate of a depiction the 49ers winless record is of the state of their franchise. After all, San Francisco has lost their last three games by a combined total of 8 points.
BM: Based upon how close the games have been for the 49ers to start the year, it seems like the 0-4 record might misrepresent the state of the franchise. Is this true or do you think the games were closer than they should have been?
DF: I could say the 0-4 record is both an accurate indicator of things, while also not telling the whole story. On the one hand, the 49ers have not shown the killer instinct to close the deal. In all three games, they had opportunities to tie or win the game late and could not do so. The offense has struggled considerably, with only the second half of the Rams game as a sign of what it could maybe become. The defense has shown tremendous improvement, but the pass rush remains a question mark when they face not atrocious offensive lines.
On the other hand, we have seen signs this team is showing improvement. On defense, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is turning into one of the most dominant interior linemen in the game. He leads all interior defensive linemen in quarterback pressures, and only one edge defender has more than Buckner. He is not closing the deal, only getting his first sack this past week, but that is sort of fitting for this defense. It shows a ton of promise but can't quite always close the deal. If the 49ers win this game on Sunday though, it will be primarily because of the defense.
On the offensive side of the ball, Carlos Hyde and the running game have improved. Hyde and UDFA Matt Breida have shown success in the ground game, even as the 49ers end up spending significantly more time passing the ball. It's an odd decision at times, but hopefully we see more on the ground.
Elsewhere on offense, the offensive line is starting to gel to some degree. The interior remains a bit of a question, but tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown are developing into one of the better pair of bookends in the game. Through four weeks, quarterback Brian Hoyer ranks 20th in QB pressures, which is certainly a good sign moving forward.
Strangely, it seems like the Colts and 49ers are mirror images of one another. We already discussed how the two teams strangely have fallen out of playoff contention and league-wide relevance at around the same time.
The similarities even extend to 2017 with similar opponents, poor early season records, what amounts to backup quarterbacks starting for both franchises, broad roster overhaul — particularly on defense, new general managers, and an inability to close out games. The 49ers have a defensive line that is showing some promise, an inconsistent pass rush, and an offensive line that is strong in some places and weak in others.
Where things could be in the Colts favor is that the 49ers ground game is the strongest part of their offense and the ability of Al Woods and Johnathan Hankins to shut down the ground game, especially in the first half, has been a defensive strength. Also, the Colts secondary has started showing some signs of getting more opportunistic and forcing turnovers and quarterback Brian Hoyer has proven likely to make a few mistakes in each game.
The Colts will find out on Sunday if their offensive line is horrible or capable of shutting down the struggling pass rush that David Fucillo identified as a relative weakness. One thing second-year quarterback Jacoby Brissett has showed as a relative strength is standing in the pocket and surveying the field with some success if he doesn’t face a lot of pressure.
Either way, it is clear that two teams who may not be entirely defined by their early season records will have a chance to prove something to themselves and each other this weekend. Which of these struggling franchises is making the most progress?