I have picked the 49ers to win three games so far this season. I’m not making that mistake again this week.
The Niners are playing the Redskins. The Redskins are good. They beat down the Raiders, who were supposed to be the emerging bullies in the NFL. The Niners are no bullies.
The Redskins are coming off a bye week, so they’re physically ready to play. And they should be mentally ready, too. They have to keep pace in their division with the Eagles, whose record is 5-1. If the Redskins lose, their record will be 2-3. They can’t afford to be 2-3. They have a big incentive to win.
The Niners may not be prepared to play this game. It’s their third road game in a row, and it’s a 1 p.m. start on the East Coast. That means it will feel like a 10 a.m. start for the 49ers — their body clocks will be on Pacific time. They may not wake up until the second half.
Some West Coast teams prepare for a day game on the East Coast by practicing at 10 a.m. all week. The early workouts help adjust the players’ body clocks. But the Niners didn’t practice at 10 a.m. this week. They practiced at 2 p.m. like they always do.
There’s no good reason to pick the 49ers to win this game.
That doesn’t mean they can’t win. Every team always has a chance to win in the NFL, and the Niners have a chance Sunday, even though the chance is very small.
Here are the five things the 49ers must do to beat the Redskins.
1. Improve third-down defense.
By some measures, the 49ers defense is good. It’s allowing 3.6 yards per carry, which ranks eighth-best in the NFL. And it’s allowing 5.2 yards per play, which ranks 14th-best in the NFL. For comparison, the Seahawks defense also is allowing 5.2 yards per play.
But on third down, the 49ers defense is giving up first downs 47.4 percent of the time. That’s the second-worst rate in the NFL. The Niners defense can’t get itself off the field. It’s playing a ton of snaps.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said his defensive players will “all perform at a great level if we can get their snap counts down.”
Buddy, you’re the defensive coordinator. What do you mean “We”? You have to get their snap counts down. That’s your job.
Here’s what you do, and it’s very easy. All that stuff you call that’s not working — stop calling that. Call something else.
On third-and-more-than-7, don’t rush only four defenders like you usually do. Rush five. And if five can’t pressure the quarterback, rush six. Force the quarterback to throw the ball quickly before he gets hit. He’ll have to throw to a receiver in front of the first-down marker, and your defense can tackle him and force a punt.
On third-and-less-than-7, don’t call soft zone coverage like you usually do. Don’t concede the first-down catch. Call man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage with “inside leverage.” That means instead of aligning your corners face to face with receivers, align them slightly to the inside of the receivers. This will take away the slants, crossing routes and all the short stuff offenses like to use on third-and-short.