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49ers 2018 Postmortem Recap

February 4, 2019

 Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

 

 

 

What went wrong, what went right, and what looms on the horizon

 

Well, Faithful, that didn’t go quite as expected.

 

If you had told me in August that Jerick McKinnon would tear his ACL before the season even began, that Jimmy Garoppolo would tear his ACL in Week 3, that a whole bunch of other guys would follow suit with one injury or another, and that the 49ers would finish the season with a 4-12 record, I would have banished you from all forms of existence and memory. 

Instead, all that – and then some – is exactly what transpired.

 

Raise your hand.  You had the Niners going around 8-8, and at the very least in the conversation for a playoff berth – maybe even snagging that final seed.  Don’t be shy.  In fact, I’ll raise my hand, because that was pretty much how I envisioned the 2018 campaign going: more or less a stepping stone to greater glories in 2019, 2020, and beyond. 

 

In the wake of all the offseason hype and hope, what followed was a pretty frustrating season.  Not that there weren’t some great moments, because there were certainly those, but befitting a team that lost three-quarters of its games, there was no shortage of mistakes that left many-a-Faithful cursing at the television, angrily crushing beer cans, pulling hairs out, and perhaps even swearing fealty to football abstinence.

 

What Went Wrong?

 

Injuries!  Lots of them! The 49ers ended the season with 14 players on the injured reserve list, and cycled others on and off in the weeks prior. Impact players such as McKinnon, Garoppolo, Matt Breida, Adrian Colbert, Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin (who also missed time due to personal reasons), Raheem Mostert, Weston Richburg, Richard Sherman, Trent Taylor, Jaquiski Tartt, and Ahkello Witherspoon were all rendered hors de combat at one point or another during the 2018 season, either being placed on the injured reserve list or having their snaps reduced in acquiescence to their respective afflictions. To add further injury to injury, starting guard Laken Tomlinson tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL) during the season finale against the Rams, but is expected to heal and recover in time for OTAs.

 

The injuries had a profound impact on the wide receiving corps, which was largely MIA for stretches; the defensive back group, which struggled to find any level of consistency; and, as we all saw, the quarterback position.  For the second season in a row, the 49ers were forced to start three different quarterbacks; C.J. Beathard, who took over after Garoppolo went down, suffered a wrist injury in Week 8, paving the way for practice-squadder-turned-second-stringer Nick Mullens to grab the reins for the balance of the season.

 

There were plenty of other issues to point to.  The defensive backfield, particularly in the early stages of the season, was aggravating to watch, with frequent miscommunications and breakdowns in coverage.  Safety Adrian Colbert, who won the starting free safety job on the strength of a strong late-season audition in 2017, struggled mightily, so much so that he was Pro Football Focus’s lowest-graded cover safety out of 89 qualifiers.  He suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 7 against the Rams.  Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, tasked with guarding the boundary opposite Richard Sherman, was picked on mercilessly and burned often, though he began to rebound before incurring an injury of his own.  Veteran Jimmie Ward, penciled in as a backup cornerback and safety, did not do well either; he too got hurt. A pending free agent, Ward has likely played his last game as a 49er.  In the end, the Niners had to turn to 2018 draftees Marcell Harris, Tarvarius Moore, and D.J. Reed, plus veteran backups such as Antone Exum Jr. and Greg Mabin, to absorb the lion’s share of the snaps later in the season.  The pass defense did look noticeably better, though admittedly it was a low bar to clear.

 

Linebacker Reuben Foster, who a lot of people had high hopes for, started slowly after returning from his suspension during Weeks 1 and 2, injured his shoulder, then, while the 49ers were in Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers, was arrested at the team hotel on domestic abuse charges (which were later dropped).  He was waived the next day.

 

The Niners spent the 2017-2018 offseason looking for someone – anyone – who could ambush opposing quarterbacks with the sort of brio typically exhibited by the likes of Von Miller or Khalil Mack.  The 2018 draft had a paucity of pass rushers, so attention turned to the free-agent scrap heap, from where they selected Jeremiah Attaochu. The ex-Charger failed to impress the Niners’ brass and was cut before the season even began.  Other than a breakout season by DeForest Buckner (more on him later), the Niners had a fairly nonexistent pass rush, which was no great aid to the plight of the defensive backs.

 

On the other side of the ball, the wide receivers were often able to gain adequate separation from defenders by appearing on milk cartons instead of on the gridiron.  Take the Week 7 game against the Los Angeles Rams, in which Garcon, Goodwin, Taylor, and Kendrick Bourne combined for just 35 yards receiving and zero touchdowns.  You may feel compelled to make the argument that it was because the Niners had an ineffective C.J. Beathard slinging the rock. While there may be some truth to that, dumping it entirely on the QB isn’t fair.  Recall that George Kittle, a tight end, racked up 98 yards through the air all by himself that day.

 

Weston Richburg, inked in the offseason to shore up the center position, played poorly, particularly in pass protection.  Once considered among the best centers in the game, Richburg earned a “below average” 51.9 grade from PFF in 2018.  Cut him some slack, though: Richburg was dogged by a balky knee from Week 4 on, and he admittedly put a ton of pressure on himself to live up to the five-year, $47.5 million contract he signed back in March.

 

It wasn’t just Richburg.  The pass-blocking, as a whole, was atrocious, as the Niners quarterbacks were hit 125 times (second-most in the league) and sacked 48 times (ninth-most).  The 49ers’ adjusted sack rate of 8.0 percent ranks among the NFL’s dregs; for comparison, it was only marginally better than that of the Seahawks (10.4 percent), whose offensive lines are constructed using Swiss cheese, bailing wire, and Telfa bandages discovered four years ago in Tom Cable’s attic.

 

Four of the biggest issues plaguing the 49ers were red zone efficiency, third-down efficiency, penalties, and a historically bad turnover differential.  From inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, the 49ers crossed the end zone just 41 percent of the time (the league median is around 57 percent), and far too often – with drives militated by penalties or lack of execution (or both!) – had to settle for field goals.   This would certainly help explain why, despite the Niners’ offense putting up a middle-of-the-pack 360.6 yards per game, their Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), per Football Outsiders, was a ghastly minus-14.9%, sixth-worst in the NFL.   Robbie Gould was able to be the year’s most accurate kicker because he was presented with so many chip-shot opportunities; the average line of scrimmage for Gould’s 34 field goal attempts was the opponent 17.5 yard line, and 59 percent (20 of 34) of his attempts were from within the red zone. 

 

The 49ers converted 37.8 percent on third down, which was just below the league median of 39.0, but pales in comparison with the likes of the Rams, Ravens, Falcons, Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Colts, all of whom converted at or above a 45 percent rate.

 

Are you suffering from tinnitus?  Two things your parents should have told you while you were growing up: listen to rock music at only moderate levels, and for heaven’s sake turn down the sound on the television when the 49ers are playing, because the constant din of referee whistles will either cause hearing loss, or send you scrambling for cover, Cold War-style.  In 2018, the Niners were called for 112 penalties for 982 accepted yards. More than a third of them (40) were pre-snap, indicative of a lack of a discipline.  In addition, San Francisco ranked among the league leaders in defensive pass interference flags (11 for 183 yards).  However, as Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders points out (see page x of their 2018 Almanac), there is actually little correlation between defensive penalties and losses, because they represent good, not bad, play; DPI calls are sometimes the result of tight coverage that are borderline deserving of flags.  Nonetheless, it is maddening to see what initially looked like a good downfield defensive play penalized for 30 yards (in contrast to the NCAA, where DPIs are a maximum of 15 yards no matter how far downfield they occur).

 

There is, Schatz says, strong correlation between false starts and losses, and the Niners were hit with 25 such whistles – seven more than the league average – losing 126 yards in the process.

 

Finally, the 2018 San Francisco 49ers were benevolent givers, and loath to take anything in return.  They coughed up the ball 12 times to go with the 20 combined interceptions from their three quarterbacks.  They were on the receiving end of a pair of picks (bonus if you can name who got them without looking it up), and recovered just five opponent fumbles.  All in all, it accounted for a negative-25 turnover differential, five off the pace of the worst in modern history: the 1965 Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

What Went Right?

 

Not all was bad!  Despite the unsightly record and those unflattering statistics mentioned above, the 49ers were actually competitive in many of their games, and in back-to-back weeks defeated teams with playoff aspirations in the Broncos and the Seahawks.  They also hung tight with a very good Chicago Bears team before ultimately falling.  They very nearly pulled out victories over the Packers (in Lambeau) and the excellent Los Angeles Chargers.   Those two losses against the Cardinals should have been wins, especially the Week 8 contest down in Glendale.

 

The defense, even after factoring in all the aforementioned concerns, has improved appreciably since the days of Chip Kelly on the sideline and Jim O’Neil not knowing what “gap integrity” meant.  Remember in 2016 when the 49ers couldn’t stop the run?  The 2018 edition was magnificent at stopping the run (11th best, by Football Outsiders DVOA).  The pass defense yielded 3,732 yards, eleventh-lowest in the NFL (better than the Cowboys, Colts, Rams, Seahawks, Patriots, Texans, Eagles, and Chiefs – all playoff teams), and although the pass defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, was an awful 19.6%, it represented an improvement over the 23.1% mark from last year (for defense, the lower the DVOA, the better; negative numbers are above-average to elite).  It may not look that way to the naked eye, but the 49ers are trending upward in this regard, if gradually so.  A better pass rush will help immensely and immediately.

 

On an individual level, there were plenty of positives to take away from the season.  DeForest Buckner played in every game and recorded a career-high 12 sacks.  His fellow Oregon Duck, Arik Armstead, was fully healthy for the first time since his 2015 rookie year, and was able to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks to the tune of three sacks and 12 hits. He was also tremendous as a run stopper, alternating between defensive end in base and as a nose tackle in nickel packages (to avoid being double-teamed as a DE).  Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh wisely made some late-season adjustments, giving Solomon Thomas more snaps as a 3-technique interior lineman than as a 5-tech end. Finally, youngster D.J. Jones saw an appreciable uptick in playing time as the base-formation nose tackle at the expense of the veteran Earl Mitchell, performing admirably, and still has plenty of upside to be tapped into.

 

Nobody bothered to attack in Richard Sherman’s direction, so they picked on Ahkello Witherspoon instead.  The second-year cornerback, as mentioned earlier, struggled early on, but began to put it back together and regain some of the confidence that he showed in 2017.  Being a cornerback in the NFL is a lot like being a closer in baseball: a short memory is a requirement, an attribute that the up-and-down 2018 campaign should help Witherspoon develop.  When Witherspoon went down with a knee injury, his replacement, rookie third-round pick Tarvarius Moore stepped in and played well enough that, according to Shanahan, merits his consideration for a starting role in 2019. 

 

After years of terrorizing the 49ers, Sherman was a welcome addition.  Not only did he lock down one boundary, he was a valuable peer-coach and mentor to the young players.  He also showed that he had their back, taking on several Chicago Bears players in a sideline brawl that was ignited when rookie safety Marcell Harris hit Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the fourth quarter of their Week 16 tilt.

 

Rookie middle linebacker Fred Warner made a smooth transition from college to the NFL, registering 124 tackles (85 solo), including three for loss of yardage.  Pro Football Focus awarded him an “average” grade of 63.3, though he figures to continue growing into the role. Fellow rookie D.J. Reed, a cornerback in college, was excellent alternating as a safety and as a slot-cornerback.  In the short term, he should be a huge help in taking away the short and intermediate routes in the obvious passing situations.  For the long term, it will be interesting to see if he is deployed more in his natural boundary position instead of over the middle.

 

Taking Mike McGlinchey, a tackle, with the ninth overall pick in the draft caught people by surprise, but he emerged as one of the more promising rookies from his class.  He was an outstanding run-blocker at Notre Dame, and he continued that into the professional ranks.  It is imperative that he improve on pass-blocking, since he lines up on the offense’s right side, opposite of where defenses tend to position their best rushers.  Still, he held his own against some of the toughest competition he has ever seen, and should be an important cornerstone for years.  He may move over to the left side once Joe Staley retires.

 

McGlinchey’s line neighbor Mike Person, an unheralded free-agent pickup, was awarded an “above average” 67.2 grade from PFF, mainly on the strength of his run-blocking.  He was on a one-year contract, so if there is an upgrade available via free agency, the Niners will go in that direction.  If not, you could certainly do worse than bringing Person back for another go-around.

 

Speaking of the run game: how about Matt Breida?  Going into the season, he was slotted to be Jerick McKinnon’s backup, then was promptly elevated to the feature back after McKinnon’s unfortunate injury, and at one point was the NFL’s leading rusher.  Then, he began experiencing the ankle problems that forced the Niners to reduce his workload.  Still, he played in 14 games, piled up 814 yards (5.3 per carry), and would’ve reached the thousand-yard mark if it weren’t for the trick talus.  Jeff Wilson Jr., who began the season on the practice squad, averaged four yards per carry as Breida’s backup, serving up a chip-on-the-shoulder tenacity with a side of slippery fingers.  If Wilson can improve his ball security, he could be a useful third running back.

 

Then, you have the incredible exploits of second-year tight end George Kittle, who obliterated any thoughts of the canonical sophomore slump.  He finished the 2018 campaign as the all-time single-season leader in yards receiving for a tight end, with 1,377, breaking the mark set earlier in the day by the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, who had broken Rob Gronkowski’s seven-year-old record.  Nearly two-thirds of those yards, 870 to be exact, were accumulated after the catch, which led the NFL. 

 

Finally, there was the ascension of Nick Mullens from practice-squad denizen to starting quarterback.  The University of Southern Mississippi product, who broke Brett Favre’s records there, started eight games, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,277 yards and 13 touchdowns.  Extrapolate that over a full season, and he would rank sixth in the league – just below Andrew Luck – in yards passing, with Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Phillip Rivers all gazing up at him.  He will go into 2019 as the favorite to back up Jimmy Garoppolo, and, as an exclusive-rights free agent (ERFA) in 2020, he is all but certain to remain in the red and gold for at least two more years.

 

As we look ahead to the 2019 season, let’s examine some reasons to get pumped, and also some reasons why we may want to temper expectations.

 

Reasons to Temper Expectations

 

Injuries!  Yes, they are a huge part of football, and every team has them, but it does seem like the Niners have had a disproportionate amount of them recently. Kyle Shanahan believes so, and the 49ers have since jettisoned both the strength coach and the head athletic trainer, in the hopes creating a new training staff whose methods can minimize and treat soft-tissue injuries. 

 

By their very nature, injuries in football are as common as they are random; they can happen in any way to anybody.  Recently-retired Joe Thomas, the longtime Cleveland Browns offensive lineman, had played in over 10,000 consecutive snaps before blowing out a triceps muscle, so even those with a proven track record of health are not immune.  Until we see what the new training staff brings to the table, it’s prudent to exercise cautious optimism, until we begin to see results.

 

If Jimmy Garoppolo is slow to return to form after sitting out most of the 2018 season, and not yet mentally and physically ready to execute the full offensive scheme at combat speed, as opposed to running plays in unpadded 7-on-7 drills on the fields next to Levi’s Stadium, we could see another rough start.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s a possibility.

 

Gregarious stalwart left tackle Joe Staley has been with the Niners so long that he can claim the likes of Frank Gore, Maurice Hicks, Arnaz Battle, Zak Keasey, and Tony Wragge as teammates.  He will return in 2019, his age 35 year.  While he still is very capable at his job, Father Time, who is presently undefeated, is equally capable at his.  If Staley hits that age wall in 2019, it could spell trouble for the 49ers’ offense, and we will be mentally transported back to when Mike Nolan, in all his sartorial splendor, was the head coach and Jim Hostler, whose play-calling drove Gore insane, was the offensive coordinator.

 

While on the subject of offensive linemen, it is important to mention that there is very little depth behind the Staley-Tomlinson-Richburg-Person-McGlinchey starting five (remember that Person is a free agent).   Perhaps some palatable backup options will emerge over the offseason and during training camp, but the current situation does not look terribly appetizing.

 

Although they showed intermittent improvement in the latter half the season, it’s natural to be suspect of the 2019 edition of the 49ers’ defense until they prove that: one, they can stay healthy as a unit; and two, they can get consistent pressure on the quarterback. 

 

As it stands now, the Niners are razor-thin at linebacker.  Fred Warner, coming off a strong debut season, anchors the middle, but he is surrounded by a bunch of question marks.  Will Malcolm Smith, who has alternated between injured and uninspiring in his two years here, be retained to play the weak-side position?  Will Elijah Lee, who took over after Reuben Foster was waived, continue to hold his own?  Is there still a place for Brock Coyle, who signed a multi-year deal last offseason only to suffer a concussion and back fracture in September?  How about Mark Nzeocha or Pita Taumoepenu as possibilities for the strong-side position?  Who will the Niners take in the draft, if anybody?  What free agents will they target? Why does the question mark key on my laptop feel like it wants to pop off?

 

As mentioned, the Niners have struggled in the red zone for two straight seasons.  In 2017, they ranked 27th in NFL with touchdowns in just 47 percent of their red zone appearances (the best: Jacksonville, with 69 percent).  In 2018, they fared worse, finishing dead last NFL with a 41 percent touchdown rate from inside the opponent 20-yard line (Pittsburgh led the league with 74 percent).  We may debate among one another whether the 49ers should hire a big-bodied possession receiver to handle all the goal-line grunt work, but it has been the penalties and a general lack of execution that have been the frequent causes of such futility over the last two seasons.  We can always hold out hope that they will improve, but until they can consistently cross the goal line instead of settling for another gimme field goal, let’s not hold our breath.

 

The last point is the lack of draft capital that the Niners will have, just five picks in seven rounds (barring a draft day trade).  The Niners will have single picks in rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6.  The fifth-rounder was traded to Detroit for Laken Tomlinson, and seventh-rounder was sent to Cleveland for offensive lineman Shon Coleman.  Having so few picks with which to further augment this young roster, especially with this being the third year of the rebuild, places more pressure on the brain trust, since having so few opportunities means less room for error.

 

Reasons to Be Hyped

 

Humor me for a spell, and allow me to point out the silver lining in the Niners’ 2018 roster resembling a MASH triage tent, it’s that a lot of young players, many of whom were originally penciled in as backups, got significant playing time over the course of the season.  Nick Mullens emerged as a very capable backup quarterback.  Having Breida and Wilson behind a healthy McKinnon could give the 49ers a redoubtable three-headed hydra coming out of the backfield.  Young defensive backs such as Marcell Harris, Tarvarius Moore, and D.J. Reed were pressed into duty and while the outcomes were varied, such experiences can truly be a boon for the players’ development.

 

Jimmy Garoppolo now has a full year with Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme under his belt.  In 2017, we watched him work with only a sliver of the playbook at his disposal.   In 2018, he operated the unabridged version to mixed results before the Week 3 knee injury truncated his season.  Going forward, he should have a better conceptual grasp of the system that can be parlayed into success on the field (and let’s hope he doesn’t need much time to shake the rust off).

 

Speaking of the scheme, we’re all aware that Shanahan is some kind of sorcerer, conducting an offense capable of pushing the ball up and down the field even with second- and third-stringers all over the damn place.  Be that as it may, disregard that wretched bouillabaisse of ridiculous “hot seat” opprobrium that was served forth during the season.  It boggles the mind that a head coach would be under such scrutiny in Year 2 of a six-year contract, given the sad state of the roster that he inherited.  Just because Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly were one-and-done head coaches does not mean the plug should be pulled on Shanahan so easily.

 

Saleh, the “all gas, no brakes” defensive coordinator, also received his share of criticism – some of it could be justified – but the defense actually looked somewhat competent late in the year, especially compared to those early weeks with all the missed tackles, miscommunications in coverage, and players gesturing angrily at one another.  Saleh also made some late-season adjustments, giving Solomon Thomas more snaps on the interior and young defensive linemen D.J. Jones and Ronald Blair greater chances to contribute. He also began deploying more two-deep safety looks in addition to his preferred single-high base formation, but that could be chalked up to the churn of young and inexperienced defensive backs being pressed into duty.

 

As mentioned earlier, center Weston Richburg struggled in his first season in Santa Clara, but he was very recently regarded as one of the best at his position.  There is no reason to believe he is incapable of rebounding.

 

In just his second year as a pro, George Kittle emerged as a bona fide star player who will be a main cog on this team for years to come.  Rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis showed flashes of brilliance that portend a bright future, and the receiver group, which also includes Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, and Richie James Jr., should be better.  Greater production from the WRs may translate into lesser outputs from Kittle, but having multiple threats – something that was sorely lacking last season – will be better for the team overall.

 

With the second pick in the 2019 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers select…

 

Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa is the odds-on favorite, and there are tons of other skilled pass rushers in the upcoming draft.  Zach Pratt does a magnificent job discussing them here. Unless they decide to trade back and acquire more picks, it’s incredibly likely the 49ers will grab Bosa or one of the others on the list, such as Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell or Kentucky’s Josh Allen.  With two high-profile quarterbacks, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, having declared for the draft, it may be really tempting for the Arizona Cardinals, holders of the top pick, to flip it to a QB-needy team (such as the Giants, with whom Haskins hopes to play for), which would pave the way for San Francisco to have their choice of edge rushers. 

 

While the pass rush was pretty nonexistent, Buckner’s performance represents a beacon of hope, while Armstead looks to have a similar breakout: in addition to his aforementioned stout run defense, eventually he, like Buckner, will be able to convert those hits into sacks of his own, but he is entering the fifth-year option of his rookie deal and is slated to become a free agent next offseason unless the 49ers can extend him.

 

While they wait for free agency and the draft, the Niners did make one move: hiring Kris Kocurek, late of the Miami Dolphins, as the new defensive line coach.  He replaces Jeff Zgonina, who was fired earlier in the month.  The 40-year-old Kocurek had also spent nine years in the same capacity with the Detroit Lions, while current 49ers senior personnel executive Martin Mayhew was the general manager there.  During his time in the Motor City, Kocurek’s charges ranked in the top 10 in sacks four times, so he brings an encouraging résumé to the Niners’ defensive staff.

 

Turnovers are a fickle thing.  They are a byproduct more of luck than of skill, plus being in the right place at the right time and needing a fortuitous bounce from an oblong-shaped object. As a result, giveaway-takeaway stats can fluctuate wildly from team to team and year to year.  Take the Jacksonville Jaguars, for instance: in 2017, the Jags had a plus-10 turnover margin.  In 2018, they plummeted to a minus-12 differential.

 

Ouch.

 

The 49ers, with that horrific minus-25 turnover margin, were the worst in football in this regard, but the fact that they were competitive in most of their games is very encouraging.  The 2017 49ers were less awful, with a minus-3 mark.  The last time the Niners were in the black was in 2014, Jim Harbaugh’s final year and the team’s first season at Levi’s Stadium, when they recorded 29 takeaways against 22 giveaways, a plus-7 differential. 

 

But, again, turnovers aren’t easy to predict.

 

However, we can make assertions based on what the team had in 2018, and their obvious needs for 2019. 

 

First, let’s break the turnovers down into takeaways versus giveaways.  The 49ers defense snatched the ball away from opponents just seven times (two interceptions, five recovered fumbles), the fewest in the NFL.  The Niners’ offense gave the ball away 32 times (20 picks, 12 fumbles lost), the second highest total. 

 

Offensively, it’s complicated and it’s not.  The 20 picks – 17 combined from C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens – were partly a byproduct of ill-thrown passes, but there were also a number of instances in which a proper throw was mishandled by the intended target, leading to an easy ball gathered by a defender who happened to be in the right place at the right time.   Fumbles are a little more cut-and-dry: hang onto the damn ball, and protect it with your life.  It’s safe to say that, barring another deluge of injuries, we can expect steady quarterback play from a healthy Garoppolo, which will help appreciably with reducing the number of giveaways.

 

The defensive side of the ball – the lack of takeaways – is easier to diagnose. The lack of a pass rush hurt San Francisco dearly, as unbothered quarterbacks had no trouble hanging out in the pocket long enough to allow the routes to develop and execute the throws.  The Niners improving their QB-harassing ability – which, as mentioned earlier, is a strong likelihood given the deep edge-rusher draft class –will go a long way towards forcing errant throws that become inviting fruit for the DBs to pick, plus sacks that can create long-yardage situations reduce opposing offenses to predictable play-calling.

 

Good health and continuity in the backfield will also help.

 

Aggressiveness in tackling, and punching at the ball, the latter of which we saw in the season finale against the Rams, will yield a surfeit of fumble opportunities, and with them, some favorable bounces. 

 

We can look forward to seeing more malevolence and less benevolence.

But, please, don’t ask me to render a prediction on what the Niners’ 2019 turnover margin will be.

 

Do you want one more reason to be pumped about 2019?  For the second offseason in a row, the Niners will have ample room under the salary cap, more than $60 million (according to Over the Cap, as this is written) with which to navigate roster construction.  That is the eighth-highest total in the league, and will be an important asset as the 49ers’ personnel department looks to continue seeking the necessary improvements. 

 

Enjoy the offseason, let’s put this 2018 season in the rear-view mirror, and look forward to what could be in store in 2019.

You can follow Steve on Twitter here!

 

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