Can the 49ers Get in the NFC West Mix?
Before the 2021 NFL season began, hopes ran high in San Francisco as the Niners were just two seasons removed from representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. During the 2020 season, injuries smacked the 49ers right in the mouth, including starting quarterback, Jimmy Garapollo. The lack of viable back ups throughout the roster proved true as the 49ers ended the year with a 6 - 10 record, finishing last in the NFC West. A complete flip-flop from the 2019 campaign.
Enter the 2021 season as the Niners started off with consecutive victories over the lonely, losing Lions and the young, immature Philadelphia Eagles. Both games were on the road where the Niners have had success in recent years. Starting an NFL season at 2 - 0 is a beautiful thing and can provide confidence going forward into the season.
But hold the phone! So we found out that the Niners can beat the teams they're supposed to, however when the big boys came to town, the 49ers showed they couldn't hang with the upper tier teams. Four straight losses to the Packers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Colts suddenly put the 49ers season in jeopardy. Especially with Los Angeles and Arizona having hefty leads in the division.
If San Fran can't beat teams like those then they flat out don't belong in any conversation concerning a title run. Three of those four losses were at home where the Niners have struggled in front of their fans for the past couple seasons. San Francisco bounced back in week 8 on the road against the Bears. Chicago didn't make it easy! The Bears had success running the ball against the 49ers depleted front seven and Justin Fields was able to avoid big sacks by scrambling out of the pocket. Thanks to rookie running back Elijah Mitchell and big bad Deebo Samuel, the Niners were able to come away with a road win to improve their record to 3 - 4.
The biggest problem other than injuries to key players is the fact that the 49ers secondary may be the worst unit in the NFL in what has become a pass happy league. That's a bad recipe! The 49ers lead the league in pass interference calls. Over and over again, San Fran has freely given opposing teams great field position as a result of the lack of coverage in the secondary. Whether the Niners are playing a zone defense or man to man, the result is the same. If the 49ers can't fix their defensive back issues than this season will feel longer than 17 weeks. Quarterbacks like Mathew Stafford, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow will give the Niners secondary fits as the game plays out.
The other issue on defense is the fact that San Fran can't stop the run game either. Therefore the Niners can't sell out against the run or pass! The only solution here is player improvement and better coaching from first year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
Then again, it's not all on the defense. The 49ers have had problems moving the ball after the first 15 scripted plays. Kyle Shanahan is in large part to blame for the Niners offensive issues. San Fran had been doing a great job pre-snap, causing confusion to opposing defenses as players were constantly moving in motion. For some unknown reason, head coach Kyle Shanahan is not implementing these concepts anywhere nearly as much in previous seasons. My question is why? Shanahan was brought to San Francisco because of his offensive mind and creative play calling. The player personell isn't the issue. It's the head coach! Shanahan is pulling another blown lead as he did when he was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons in the infamous 28 - 3 debacle against the Patriots in the Super Bowl just 4 years ago. You'd think lesson learned, but apparently not!
Two years ago I never imagined saying the following words but it might be time for a head coaching change in San Francisco. It is however very unlikely given his contract and ties to GM John Lynch. We can't just blame injuries as the reason why the Niners are playing below par. Every team has significant injuries, especially halfway though the season. It's no excuse! Time for Kyle to get cracking here and open up the offense so the defense isn't on the field for the majority of the game.
The Niners play the division leading Cardinals for the second time this season coming up this Sunday. San Fran played well defensively against a very potent Arizona offense. If the boys in burgandy and gold can visit the red zone a bit more often and play to the standard on defense we have become accustomed to, then just maybe, the Niners can crawl out of the cellar and start banging on the roof.