SANTA CLARA — On Thursday, head coach Kyle Shanahan insisted the 49ers are a disciplined, fundamentally sound team, even though they rank among the league’s worst in giveaways, pre-snap penalties, total penalties and missed tackles.
“I don’t think we’re undisciplined,” Shanahan argued at his press conference. “I don’t think tackling is discipline. I don’t think turnovers are discipline. It’s called making a bad play or missing a tackle.”
Shanahan spoke with an edge to his voice.
He continued: “I think we did get a lot better last week in terms of tackling, and we’re going to try to get better at it this week. When it comes to turnovers, we had our worst turnover game of the year last week. We had two fumbles in the pocket. We had a fumble by a running back and we had a tipped throw and a throw behind someone on fourth-and-20.
“You can make it whatever you want to make it, but we actually make it what it is. You look at why the picks happened, why the turnovers happened, why a missed tackle happened, you address that and you try to get better.”
According to Shanahan, there is no theme or common thread to the 49ers’ mistakes. They all happened for different, fluky reasons.
Since Shanahan took over in 2017, mistakes have defined his team. Last season, the 49ers turned the ball over 23 times. They also committed 46 pre-snap penalties and 123 total penalties, which cost them 988 yards. All three penalty stats ranked among the league’s seven worst teams in those departments.
This season, the 49ers are on pace to commit 35 turnovers (second-most in the NFL), 45 pre-snap penalties and 125 total penalties, which would cost them 1,114 total yards. The 49ers have gotten sloppier by the week under Shanahan, both on offense and defense.
The 49ers currently lead the league in missed tackles with 58. And last Sunday, during their humiliating 10-point loss to the winless Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers committed nine penalties and five turnovers. Backup quarterback C.J. Beathard committed four turnovers by himself. He fumbled twice in the pocket and threw two picks. Of all the 49ers’ mistakes, Beathard’s were the most egregious.
Since the 49ers drafted Beathard in 2017, he has turned the ball over at least once in every game he has played. Total, he has committed 14 turnovers through just seven career starts. That’s two per game. That’s hard for the 49ers to overcome.
“C.J. has to protect that ball better and not let guys get hands on it,” Shanahan said.
How can Beathard protect the ball better?
“Carry it high and tight,” Shanahan explained. “Five points of pressure (on the ball).”
In other words, squeeze it.
Is there anything else he can do to protect the ball?
“It’s not rocket science,” Beathard said. “It’s just little stuff. It’s a game of inches. When I step up in the pocket two inches more, the ball doesn’t get taken out of my hand. With the interception off the end of Pierre Garcon’s hands, that’s a game of inches. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed. It’s just little stuff.”
The phrase “game of inches” is sports code for “bad luck.” Beathard meant the 49ers are victims of circumstance — a bad bounce here, a tough break there. Nothing more.