Normally, I’d tell you how the 49ers can win on Sunday and give technical, inside-football strategies the coaches should use.
Forget all that.
The 49ers aren’t going to win in Philadelphia. The Eagles are going to destroy them. You know it. I know it. The 49ers know it.
The Eagles are too good. And the 49ers aren’t even trying to win anymore. The coaches’ new goal is to evaluate their players and decide which ones to keep for next year, and the players’ new goal is to stay healthy so they can get new contracts with different teams when the 49ers cut them.
Kyle Shanahan sees his team as the reincarnation of the 1979 49ers, which is quite a low bar — that team won only two games. But Shanahan’s Niners aren’t close to clearing that bar. They’ve won no games.
The 49ers need to make significant strides before they can compare themselves to the 1979 team. Here are five things they can do to show improvement this week.
1. Catch the ball.
Leading the league in drops hasn’t helped the 49ers win this season. Maybe they should try a new strategy. Maybe should they should try not dropping passes. It couldn’t hurt.
Granted, the Niners are very good at dropping passes and you never want to take athletes out of their comfort zones. But with just a few minor tweaks to their technique, the Niners might become good at catching passes, too. They could add to their skillset.
First, they should try watching the ball. It’s much easier to catch it when you look at it. Then, the Niners should put their arms up and open their hands before the ball arrives. Hands can catch a ball better than a chest or a face.
Once the ball arrives, the Niners should watch it hit their hands and squeeze it. I know it’s tempting to glance up field first to find defenders and start to run, but that’s the technique for dropping passes. We’re talking about catching passes, which is different.
2. Don’t fumble four times.
I know this is asking a lot. Catching the ball is hard enough, now I’m telling the 49ers not to fumble it more than three times. I’m a stickler.
Last Sunday against the Cowboys, the 49ers almost didn’t fumble four times. They were so close. But punt returner Trent Taylor fumbled once, running back Matt Breida fumbled once, and quarterback C.J. Beathard fumbled twice, and one plus one plus two equals four.
The Niners can reduce that number to three this Sunday. All they have to do is carry the ball high and tight when they run with it. Don’t carry it like it’s a baton or a loaf of bread. Don’t let the ball flop around. Someone will rip it out. That’s called a fumble.
For Beathard, he should try dropping his right elbow and pulling the ball into his torso when he’s shuffling around the pocket avoiding pressure. I see quarterbacks on other teams do this all the time. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to fumble.
3. Pick up the blitz.
This is advanced stuff here, so bear with me.
Sometimes, defenses will rush five or six defenders. I know, it sounds excessive and unfair, but there’s no rule against it. I looked it up.
When defenses bring extra rushers, that’s called “blitzing.” They’re trying to “sack” the quarterback. “Sacking” is sort of like tackling. That’s a lot of football jargon — please forgive me. You may not be familiar with these terms. The 49ers probably aren’t familiar with them, either.
The key to stopping the blitz is to “block.” That’s when someone on the offense gets in the way of someone on the defense and “blocks” his path. Get it?
The Niners should definitely do that.
4. Don’t grab the receiver while he’s running his route.
I’m looking at you, Rashard Robinson.
You’re an extremely talented cornerback. You’re fast, you’re tall and you have long arms. You’re the total package. You could be elite if you make one minor adjustment.
Right now, your favorite move in man-to-man coverage is an arm bar, which is great in wrestling. In football, it’s a penalty. That’s why people in zebra stripes keep throwing those little yellow flags in your direction every Sunday. Flags are bad.
Instead of grabbing the receiver, try a new technique called “running.” It’s like walking, but faster. There’s no rule against it. You should take full advantage of this loophole. Pump your arms, raise your knees and get to where you’re supposed to be.
5. Tackle someone.
This might be too much to ask. The 49ers already would have their hands full trying to catch, run, block and not fumble. Let’s make tackling extra credit if the Niners are feeling ambitious.
They haven’t seemed interested in tackling this season, and I understand that. Tackling is hard. It involves knowing who has the ball, running toward him, grabbing body and wrapping up. That’s four steps.
Maybe the Niners shouldn’t worry about tackling this week — they’re going to lose, anyway. We don’t want to overload their circuits. They can practice tackling next week.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.