INDIANAPOLIS —We've got the San Francisco 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts matching up on Sunday in their 2017 Week 5 showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Walker:It's the Colts and the 49ers matching up on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Joe, it's obvious that this 49ers team is scrappy, it's obvious they're going to be competitive each week — that's been a theme. But what's been the difference so far when it comes to getting a win versus a loss? They're coming into Sunday's game at 0-4, but they've lost those games by an average of 4.5 points per game, and in the last three weeks, all in the NFC West, that margin is cut pretty much in half.
Fann: **"I think it just comes down to winning close games. I mean, in all three instances this team had a chance to win. Against the Seahawks they were head 9-6 in the fourth quarter and allowed a touchdown on the next drive, right? You look to the Cardinals' game: Arizona never led in that game until they scored that walkoff touchdown in overtime. You look at the Rams: they got off to a terrible start, played catch-up, ultimately had a two-point conversion to tie the game, didn't get it, then recovered the onside kick needing a field goal to win, and couldn't get that either. And so it's just learning how to win close games, and that's part of the process with a young team and a new regime. You know, it's finding those ways to close because the margin's so small in the NFL, and you've seen that the last three weeks — three games decided by eight points; the 49ers losing all three. You've just got to find a way to get on the other side of that. That just only comes with experience; it only comes with doing it."
Walker:What's the situation at quarterback for the 49ers? I mean, obviously I can look at the boxscore and see that Brian Hoyer is their starter, and I know head coach Kyle Shanahan reinforced that this week. But you've got this rookie in C.J. Beathard that I know fans are excited about, and the offense has frankly struggled all season to this point. So what's Shanahan's reasoning behind sticking with Hoyer?
Fann:"Yeah, I think his idea is that Brian Hoyer still gives this team the best chance to win, and he believes it'd be a drastic change to go with Beathard at this juncture. I think he's acknowledged that Brian Hoyer needs to play better, but guys around him need to play better, as well. Brian Hoyer's made some great throws that have been dropped — in all three games. Drops have killed the 49ers. So there's blame to go around on both sides. You've just got to be able to throw and catch. That's just, basically, how Kyle Shanahan put it: when guys are open, Hoyer's got to hit them; when you're open, and Brian Hoyer hits you, you've got to be able to catch the ball. And some guys haven't been able to do that as well as the 49ers need them to. I think, in general, the most popular guy in town for a losing team is going to be the backup quarterback, especially so when it's a rookie quarterback who had some success in the preseason. And I don't want to diminish the success C.J. Beathard had in the preseason, but at the same time, it is the preseason; 87 yards and one of his touchdowns came on a 3rd and 23 screen play to Raheem Mostert, right? So there were great moments, but there were also moments where he looked like a rookie. And so I think before you pull the trigger and make a change, you really challenge Brian Hoyer and the rest of the offense to improve."
Walker:Sticking with Shanahan, he's a guy I know from my own days with the Redskins, and he's someone that you know is eventually going to get this figured out. What have you seen out of Kyle since he took over the team — and remember, this is his first head coaching job in the NFL. So there's lots more that goes into it other than just running the offense. So what's been his style so far handling all that?
Fann:"I think he's learning. I think he's learning a ton. I think he hasn't been too proud in the role, if that makes sense, in terms of taking advice from others and learning from mistakes. But he's also been very level-headed — I mean, very even-keeled — throughout the whole process. There's been very little getting too high, very little getting too low. He's been pretty much across the board, and he's been very honest. What I love about Kyle Shanahan, and (general manager) John Lynch, as well, is they're transparent, and you look at both of those guys, they came in acknowledging it would be a process, but that they're going to work their tails off to get it turned around as soon as possible. But with Kyle Shanahan, someone's asking him, 'You're so much more honest than most other head coaches,' … and even the ones that have come through these doors the last couple of years, and his response was great; it was like, 'I'm not a good liar, and I'm not good at talking — you know, I'm not good at just filling air time, and so if you ask me a question, the easiest way for me to get through it is to answer the question,' right? And when he can't answer a question, he tells you, right? I mean it was before Week 1 he had that flub-up that went viral, but everyone loves that because he was just like, 'Listen, like, I can't tell you who my starters are. I'm not trying to be mean, but it doesn't do me any good,' essentially is what he was trying to say, but he obviously used more colorful language, which we all enjoyed — the team included. The locker room loves that. But, yeah, he's like: 'Listen: I'm not going to tell you who the starters are. It doesn't do us any good; it doesn't give us a competitive advantage. So I'm sorry — I'm not trying to be mean — but that's just how this one's going to be.' And I just love that; it's just that honesty, that being up front, so much less of just the standard coachspeak that you hear a lot of places, and so I think that's been appreciated by the media, it's been appreciated by the staff, it's been appreciated by the players."
Walker:Defensively, the 49ers really look like they've turned a corner from last year's unit, which, we know just wasn't all that great. But what's been the difference this year? Is it talent? Coaching? Scheme? What is it?
Fann:"Just for starters, there's nowhere to go but up given last year — I think 32nd in yards, 32nd in points. And so I think defensively things have certainly been better. It hasn't been completely consistent, and, again, they've had opportunities to win games for this team and haven't been about to come through, but overall, yes, it's drastically improved. The front seven is much improved. Looking for consistency out of the pass rush, which is, again, a young team, young players, a big rotation — that's something that's going to be one of the biggest points of emphasis. But you look at a guy like Deforest Buckner, who is an absolute animal, and what Pro Football Focus put out: he's got more quarterback pressures than any other interior defensive lineman, and he's in second to all edge defenders, as well. So he's been dominant. I think (defensive coordinator) Robert Saleh, his scheme, that Seattle-type defense, has really been adopted quickly here. Players enjoy it; I think he's a great motivator. He's got future head coach written all over him. And so I think it's part-coaching and part-young pieces starting to figure it out, with a little bit of veteran leadership from guys like Elvis Dumervil and Navorro Bowman."
Walker:Frank Gore faces his former team on Sunday for the first time in his career. What do you think Frank's legacy is in San Francisco and within the 49ers organization?
Fann:"Oh, man. I mean, you have a GOAT (greatest of all time) at quarterback, whether it's Joe Montana or Steve Young; you have a GOAT at wide receiver at wide receiver with Jerry Rice; I mean, (Gore's) the GOAT at running back. Absolutely an unbelievable career here, he's here for a decade, the franchise's all-time leading rusher, a future Hall of Famer, great person — I mean he is 100 percent beloved here. I know it was a really hard day when he put on an Indianapolis Colts' jersey for a lot of people here — understandably so. I mean, people love Uncle Frank out here. He was on the conference call this morning and he was just fantastic. He's just a great dude — I'm sure you've obviously experienced that as well. He's about to pass Eric Dickerson on the all-time rushing list, and I know we've talked about it as a content team in terms of giving him some love. But, I mean, that guy was a legend, absolutely. He was a 49ers legend, he'll be in the Hall of Fame some day — both Pro Football Hall of Fame and the 49ers Hall of Fame. He's a special person, a special player, and, yeah, very much beloved."