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Lessons and Takeaways the 49ers Can Takeaway from Other Teams

January 17, 2019

 Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

 

 

 

 

Want a head coaching job this offseason? All you have to do is be linked to Sean McVay somehow. Coach under him? Great. Intern for him at some point? We’ll take you. You’re his barber? Want to run an NFL team? This is no knock on McVay. He’s a brilliant offensive mind; he cut his chops under Kyle Shanahan in Washington and has parlayed that into two successful seasons in the City of Angels. But this really points to a deeper ingrained mentality around the NFL: the NFL for years has been a copycat league. Oh, it worked in New York so let’s try it in Jacksonville. Hey, let’s implement the West Coast offense in New England! When something succeeds in one place, other franchises can’t wait to give it a try. 

 

As Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch head into the most pivotal offseason of their careers, what lessons learned by other teams will they apply? 

 

Two is one, and one is none

 

Truly great teams know you can never have too much of a good thing. In the glorious 1980s the 49ers had Joe Montana, the greatest quarterback of all time, leading the team to multiple Super Bowl championships. But that didn’t stop Bill Walsh and company from sending a second and fourth round pick to Tampa Bay for Steve Young. 

 

The L.A. Chargers came into the offseason absolutely stacked at pass rusher. The roster boasted Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, possibly the best pair of edge rushers outside of Houston. They easily could have been content with the roster and decide to address another need with their second round pick, instead they selected outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu from USC, because the only thing better then two guys getting after the quarterback is three guys getting after the quarterback.

 

When the Seahawks were at the height of their powers they had Richard Sherman playing at a Hall of Fame level opposite Brandon Browner, who made the Pro Bowl in 2011. But that didn’t stop them from spending sixth-round picks in back-to-back drafts on Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. Pete Carroll and John Schneider knew that in today’s NFL cornerback was one of the most valuable positions on the field, and even though they had two playing at a high level, more would only be better.

 

You need an alpha wide receiver

 

Heading into last offseason Kyle Shanahan said, “…we need good receivers. They come in all shapes and sizes.” That’s true and Shanahan has the offensive playbook to scheme anyone open. But it seemed that the belief around the team was that they were going to take more of a committee-type approach at receiver: get everyone open, spread the ball around, and you don’t need that big receiver. Teams have tried this experiment in the past and have failed. 

 

With the exception of New England, every playoff team has a “go to” wide receiver capable of handling 125 or more targets over the season. On the flip side of that coin are the 49ers, with Kendrick Bourne leading all receivers in targets with only 60. Not surprisingly, George Kittle led the team in total targets with 138, but as we saw in the second half of the Giants and Broncos game, it’s much easier to take away a tight end then a top-flight wide receiver. 

 

The 49ers have been in on a few playmakers at the receiver position, having pursued both Allen Robinson and Josh Gordon. Though the team has seemed unwilling to overpay in the past, that may change this offseason. Shanahan has shown he has the scheme to turn a good receiver great. In Shanahan’s two years as offensive coordinator in Houston, Andre Johnson was first-team All-Pro both years. Julio Jones set career highs in yards and catches in Shanahan’s two years in Atlanta, also being named first-team All-Pro during that span. 

 

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have already taken the first few steps to build a playoff team. Kyle took the lessons he learned from Dan Quinn in Atlanta and brought the Seattle scheme defense to San Francisco. John Lynch used his relationship with John Elway to facilitate Adam Peters changing front offices. But as Shanahan has said in the past, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. You never stay the same. It’s time for the front office and coaching staff to apply even those lessons learned from around the NFL to finalize the roster and make a push for the playoffs in the regime’s third season.

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