Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
In some ways, Year 2 of the ShanaLynch Rebuild has been worse than Year 1.
Last year, the first season under rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan and rookie general manager John Lynch, could be chocked up as an adjustment period for the 49ers. The team lost its first nine games and suffered a number of injuries to its reconstructed roster, but several rookies stepped up and played well enough to put forth a sense of team confidence. And, when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was acquired, he helped them win their last five in a row, sending expectations for 2018 through the roof.
This season, the Niners have taken a major step back with only two wins through the first ten games. Since Garoppolo went out with a season-ending ACL injury during Week 3, the team has lost six out of their last seven behind backup quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. And, in almost every statistical category, the 49ers have regressed, with the worst coming in turnover ratio (negative-15 compared to negative-3 in 2017).
What’s worse is that out of San Francisco’s eight losses this year, seven were close – and winnable. In four of these games, the 49ers led in the fourth quarter, but ultimately could not hold the lead due to critical errors. This inability to close out games, even against inferior teams, has been the albatross around the neck of this 49ers team this season. Whether or not they lack essential playmakers in certain positions due to injury or otherwise is debatable. But, making mistakes at pivotal junctures is a huge part of why they are losing and needs to be resolved before San Francisco heads into a tough final stretch of the season.
Luckily, the Niners have a much-needed bye week until their next game, on the road against the Buccaneers on November 25. During this span, it will allow for the players to rest, reinvigorate and collect their thoughts. Coach Shanahan said this week that he hoped they would “reflect on the season so far and what they want coming back on these [next] six games… I want them to sit there and really think of what their goals are the rest of the half. Do they want to solidify themselves as a starter, [or] a backup? Do they want to be a part of it here? Do they want to be one of the answers or solutions to what we’re going through? And when they really think about that and they understand it all and what they want which I’m sure they all have high aspirations, I want their actions to come back and show that.”
The extra time will also give Shanahan and his coaching staff a duration with which to look back on what’s gone wrong and try to make adjustments. The bad times should not only be on the players, which Coach did admit this week as well.
One thing is for certain: For a losing team with a great deal of potential and the developing players who need to prove themselves, this is a very important time.
Each and every player on the 53-man roster will be under scrutiny over these last six games of the season. Shanahan has made it clear that he wants players to “step up” and play as well as they possibly can so he can determine who stays and who goes next year. Perhaps this is also a way for him to continue motivating the locker room for what remains of the season. But, like all of us, he certainly wants to come back in 2019 with a healthy Garoppolo, the best roster he can put together, and win.
In the meantime, the 49ers need the bye week to prepare for three roads trips and opponents like the Broncos, Seahawks, Bears and Rams. It just might be their biggest test yet.
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