Thursday Night Football has come to be defined by lousy play and awful viewing experiences. Don’t expect that to change this week.
After the 49ers’ 12-9 loss in Seattle on Sunday, there’s little reason to believe San Francisco’s Thursday night showdown with the Los Angeles Rams will offer a national audience incentive to tune in.
Though San Francisco was more competitive than Las Vegas oddsmakers expected it to be on Sunday, the 49ers have yet to find the end zone through 120 minutes of inconsistent football and could struggle again this week against a Rams’ defense that will challenge the team’s offensive front.
There were a handful of positive takeaways for San Francisco to glean from their battle with Seattle on Sunday, but nearly all of those came on the defensive side of the ball, where the 49ers limited an offense led by Russell Wilson to two field goals and a touchdown. On offense, however, head coach Kyle Shanahan clearly has his work cut out for him as his unit failed to find the end zone for the second consecutive week.
While running back Carlos Hyde rushed for more than 100 yards for the second time in his career against the Seahawks, nearly half of Hyde’s 124-yard output came on one 61-yard carry that helped set up one of kicker Robbie Gould’s three field goal attempts. In the passing game, San Francisco took a step backward, as quarterback Brian Hoyer completed 15-of-27 attempts for just 99 yards.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin dropped a critical pass for the second week in a row, and the rest of the 49ers’ receiving unit lacked the explosiveness to test Seattle’s secondary. Goodwin and Pierre Garcon tied for team highs with three receptions and 26 yards apiece, and for an offense that was supposed to be able to take advantage of defenses with play-action passing concepts, the 49ers have yet to live up to expectations.
There will come a point in the season where San Francisco can break out of its early offensive funk. It would be foolish to expect Shanahan to inherit an offense devoid of premier talent and expect an immediate turnaround. Still, 49ers’ fans shouldn’t expect that breakthrough to come this week.
Instead, 49ers’ fans should lower their expectations for this week’s Thursday night contest against the Rams, particularly because Los Angeles appears to have enough weapons to stress San Francisco’s defense. Given the recent track record of Thursday night games, this week’s matchup could look a lot like the 49ers’ game in Seattle on Sunday.
San Francisco has encountered its fair share of growing pains early on, and short weeks rarely give coaches an urge to gamble. Even though the Texans were willing to start rookie Deshaun Watson this week against the Bengals, Houston’s offense was still limited and largely ineffective in a narrow 13-9 victory. If not for an improvised 49-yard touchdown run that showed of Watson’s elite speed, Thursday night’s game would have been devoid of any true offensive highlights.
Last year, the 49ers may have considered changing quarterbacks earlier, but because their early October contest against Arizona fell on a Thursday, Chip Kelly kept Blaine Gabbert in place and opted to wait until the following week to tab Colin Kaepernick. Thursday nights lead to decisions like this because Thursday night games are cruel on players’ bodies, cruel on a coach’s preparation process, and cruel on fans, who watch the competitive balance of a game diminished to satisfy television ratings.
The point in all of this is that while Shanahan and Co. have under-performed –even relative to low expectations– there’s no reason to believe that Thursday night will yield an offensive epiphany. Sure, the 49ers might win, and yes, they may even score their first touchdown, but prepare for a game lacking quality and lacking ingenuity on both sides.
If the 49ers’ offense possesses the requisite talent to become more efficient and more productive, in time, Shanahan will probably make this happen. Just don’t expect that to happen this week. Not on a Thursday night.