There is nothing more frustrating in sports than losing an entire season. The San Francisco 49ers have a plan. And they were starting to execute it. Then Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a torn ACL. Tom Brady’s longtime understudy went 5-0 in five starts for the Niners to end the 2017 season. Sparks flew and emotions ran high. Many people were all in on San Francisco in 2018 as a team that would surpass its win total and could maybe challenge the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC West title.
Garoppolo lasted three games and 89 pass attempts. He wasn’t particularly good before the injury, as he was sacked 13 times and had completed less than 60% of his passes. The injury took away a year of development for the 27-year-old in his first season as a full-time starter and set Kyle Shanahan’s team back.
But, when you’re given bad ingredients in pro sports, you’re still expected to make something that resembles a decent meal. The 49ers did that. The defense only allowed 5.4 yards per play. Of course, the defense also only forced seven turnovers, but losing the field position battle badly and not getting off the field makes that 5.4 number that much more impressive.
With Jimmy G back, an improved defense, and one of the best schemers in the game, last season’s expectations are now this season’s for the 49ers.
Super Bowl Odds: +2500
Odds to Win the NFC: +1200
Odds to Win the NFC West: +500
Season Win Total: 8
(lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
|1||@ Tampa Bay||+1||.49|
|6||@ LA Rams||+8.5||.20|
|9||@ Arizona (TNF)||-3||.59|
|14||@ New Orleans||+8.5||.20|
|17||@ Seattle||+5.5 (est)||.31|
Total Expected Wins: 7.54
The 49ers had a strong offseason. The Garoppolo injury stunted progress in a lot of ways, but it is impossible to hide bad players when that is the case. The 49ers were able to trim some fat and isolate positions of need. Linebacker was undoubtedly one of them and Kwon Alexander was an outstanding pick-up at a very expensive cost. Jason Verrett and David Mayo are solid additions in the back seven. Dee Ford is a big help in a hybrid role in the 4-3. The 49ers are going to get after the quarterback this year.
Offensively, the 49ers picked up a couple of pieces for Garoppolo. Tevin Coleman will get more touches in San Francisco now that he’s not in Devonta Freeman’s shadow. Jordan Matthews is on a one-year deal in hopes of getting a bigger pay day following a big season.
Another silver lining to losing your starting quarterback in Week 3 is typically a high draft pick. The 49ers got arguably the best player in the Draft in Nick Bosa. In a league where rushing the passer is so important, he’ll fit in nicely with DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead in Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme. The 49ers only had 37 sacks last season and didn’t generate enough big plays on defense as a result.
Along with Bosa, the 49ers got faster and more athletic on offense with Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd. Samuel and Hurd are two extremely versatile players that will be fun out in space with an elite play designer like Shanahan.
Look, for all the hype about Garoppolo when he was acquired and during his five-game audition in 2017, it’s fair to say that we don’t know what the 49ers really have. He’ll turn 28 in November and he only has 10 starts to his name. He’s got a 12/8 TD/INT ratio in his nine games with San Francisco. The physical tools are there and the Patriots certainly set him up for success on the mental side, but the rubber will meet the road this season if he stays healthy. Is he a dude? Or merely a guy? Let’s hope we find out.
It’s a good thing that the 49ers isolated wide receiver as a position of need in the Draft. George Kittle caught 88 passes and had 136 targets last season. Undrafted free agent Kendrick Bourne out of Eastern Washington was next with 66. Marquise Goodwin had trouble staying healthy and so did Pierre Garcon.
Matt Breida had over five yards per pop and over 1,000 all-purpose yards and he’ll get some help from Tevin Coleman, but the running game for the 49ers only found paydirt seven times. San Francisco quarterbacks were also sacked 48 times. Some of that was a tendency to hold the ball too long. Some of that was a lack of separation from the wide receivers. Some of that was the offensive line. There is a lot of work to do here.
There is a lot of work to do with the defense, too. In particular, the secondary has to find a way to flip the field. The 49ers had TWO interceptions last season. That’s not a typo. They had TWO interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks only completed 63.5% of their passes, but did throw for 35 touchdown passes. If DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead didn’t get to the quarterback, bad things were happening. Now they add Nick Bosa and Dee Ford into that pass rush mix.
Amazingly, with only TWO interceptions, the 49ers only allowed points on 39.8% of opponents’ drives. That’s something to build off of for 2019. Also, the 49ers held the opposition to 4.1 yards per carry. Not being -25 in turnover margin would go a long way in helping this team over the hump. A rotating door at safety and cornerback didn’t help last season. Somebody has to step up. I guess Saleh and Shanahan are content with the in-house options, because no defensive backs were drafted before the sixth round and Jason Verrett was the only notable signing back there. At least Jimmie Ward returns from injury.
Notes & Nuggets
The Garoppolo hype has reached the major networks. The 49ers play in primetime on three occasions, including two Monday Night Football appearances. The early bye week does the Niners no favors. Furthermore, the schedule off the bye is brutal. Cleveland on Monday Night turns into a short week against the Rams and then a cross-country trip to Washington.
The home game against Carolina will be brutal and physical, only to turn around and play a very winnable road game on Thursday against Arizona. That may end up the swing game on this win total.
I am an unapologetic fanatic about Kyle Shanahan, but he’s got his work cut out for him here. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the 49ers aren’t -25 in turnovers this season, so that’s a major step in the right direction. I have more questions about Jimmy Garoppolo than most people seem to and I’m not sure he’s set up for a ton of success with these weapons.
A lot of winnable games are in bad spots for the 49ers. They play Arizona twice on short weeks. They play Washington with cross-country travel. They spend the first two weeks of the season on the road and those are both coin flip games.
I have to lean under here. There is no rush and we’ll have to see how Garoppolo looks in the preseason, but this schedule does the 49ers no favors and this is a league of big plays on offense and defense and I don’t see many either way.