San Francisco 49ers: Is this early-season success simply a mirage?

The San Francisco 49ers have jumped out to an incredible 3-0 record to start the 2019 season. But much of their early-season success is actually a mirage?

The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2019 season with a revived sense of optimism surrounding the franchise.

After all, the team was set to return countless key starters from injury — including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo — and added the likes of Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Kwon Alexander to their front-seven.

And now after three weeks of NFL action, it’s hard to have envisioned a better start to the season.

The 49ers sit at 3-0 following victories over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers. And while those three teams host a combined record of just 1-8, they’ve still done some pretty impressive things through three weeks.

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Mainly, it’s been the defense that has carried San Francisco to success this season. Robert Saleh’s defensive unit looks completely transformed from last season with the additions up front making the biggest difference.

Battling through injuries, Bosa and Ford have impressed early on and they’ve been joined by 2018 breakout star DeForest Buckner who recorded a sack and a key fumble recovery in the team’s Week 3 win over the Steelers.

But aside from their three stars, it’s been amazing to see the career resurgence of Arik Armstead who is playing the best football of his career right now and the 49ers have even gotten solid production from 2016 fifth-round pick Ronald Blair.

The improved pass rush has allowed Richard Sherman to look like Richard Sherman again and it’s also paved the way for a true breakout year from young cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

Combine that with the devastating duo of Alexander and Fred Warner at linebacker and the 49ers defense has amazingly looked like one of the best in the league through three weeks. Even the most optimistic of 49ers fans probably didn’t see that one coming.

For the offense, it’s been a bit more hit-or-miss but they’ve managed to come through when needed. Weeks 1 and 3 have been struggles but Garoppolo and the offense managed to come up clutch — particularly in Week 3.

Week 2, however, was a completely different story as the 49ers offense exploded for 41 points and 571 yards in the team’s dominant dismantling of the Bengals. For the most part, the offense has gotten the job done — but the turnovers are becoming an issue.

The 49ers coughed the ball up a whopping five times in Sunday’s game and somehow managed to come away with the victory. You could thank the defense and a woeful showing from the Steelers for that.

That said, committing turnovers — especially five of them — isn’t a good way to win football games. Despite how amazing the defense has looked through three weeks, they will eventually face better offenses.

A meeting with the Cleveland Browns on Monday night awaits after the bye week and then they will return home to play the also undefeated Los Angeles Rams and their high-powered offense.

The 49ers offense can’t afford to play as they did in Weeks 1 and 3 if they are to have a shot at keeping up with the Rams. Turnovers aren’t only drive-killers by default, but they’re game-killers.

Still, there’s something to be said about winning ugly and that’s exactly what the 49ers have done in two of their three games. Even the best of teams play some downright ugly football at times. But only the best of the best find ways to win those games.

This likely isn’t as good of a team as a 3-0 start would typically indicate. Their opponents have been inferior and the turnovers on defense simply aren’t sustainable.

That said, the 49ers seem to have positioned themselves right in the playoff hunt, even in an ultra-competitive NFC. And there’s no reason why this can’t be a 10-win team come the end of the season.

Next: The San Francisco 49ers should stay away from the Jalen Ramsey sweepstakes

It’s important to temper all optimism when it comes to sports, but it’s certainly been an incredibly encouraging start to the season for the San Francisco 49ers.