How 49ers have changed, mostly for the better, in recent games

DUPLICATE***San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jalen Hurd (17)***San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (17) carries against New Orleans Saints strong safety Vonn Bell (24) in the first half an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

SANTA CLARA — These aren’t the same 49ers from just a month or two ago. This team has fundamentally changed.

Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t the same quarterback who threw five consecutive interceptions during a training-camp practice — he has improved. And the defense isn’t the same group that intercepted him five times in a row, either. It has suffered major injuries.

The 49ers still have the NFC’s best record — they’re 11-2. And most analysts still expect the 49ers to at least reach the Super Bowl. Those things haven’t changed.

But the 49ers’ strengths and weaknesses have evolved in the following ways:

This article has 34 Comments

  1. Over-reacting once again Grant. The defence suddenly isn’t Championship-calibre, and the team needs to be carried by the offence? Based off of… one game? The game before the defence held the hottest offence in the league to 20 points, while the offence was held to 17. The game before that the defence held the vaunted Packers to just 8 points. There are injuries, and injuries will hurt the team. It’s disappointing. But one game does not a trend make. You’ve tried this repeatedly this year Grant – where you make these bold proclimations because you’re trying to get ahead of the curve, to be the first one to say “I told you so”. And all it has done is burn you, when a week or two later, the trend you tried to predict ends up reversed. I still remember you retweeting Ryan Clark who was on his Anti-Jimmy soapbox. How dumb does that look now?

    It almost sounds rich, but this is why you need to be more measured in your analysis. Sometimes it just needs to be about what you see, and not what it might come to mean. I say “almost” because, despite being one of the least-measured posters “in the moment”, as you like to remind your viewers/readers – we are the fans, not you. My job doesn’t rely on me being measured in regards to sports.

    Mediocre stuff. I expect better from these sorts of pieces.

    1. Renas, you made a couple of good points, (only gave up 8 to GB and 17 to Balt.). I however don’t think Grant is all wrong here though. Our defense does have some concerns. Even as far back as the Arizona games. Plus, these gosh darn injuries…….
      I agree 100% with Grant that a big part of the success was the nice rotation we had earlier. I’m praying we get the bye week before the playoffs.

      1. I’m not disputing that the injuries have hampered the defence. But the issue I have with this piece, and Grant’s writing in general this year, is that it always seems to need to reach to a conclusion that simply is not evidenced yet. The team is still defence first. To suggest the offence needs to now carry the team because of a shootout in the Dome, a place littered with shootouts in its history, is way to premature.

        As far as rotation, yes I agree. But this is where we see Salah for what he is. If he can scheme up smartly, he will create openings for players despite them not being fully fresh and rested. This happens a lot to teams during this stretch, I agree a bye week would be great.

      2. Hammer had some interesting figures about the rotation in the previous thread. It’s not as gigantic increase in snaps per player as it would seem. And the last couple of games have been against offenses that are, frankly, hard to get off the field.

    2. Actually Renas, I thought Grant was spot on!

      Key injuries have taken a serious toll on what was the most dominant defense in the league, IMO. The defense is likely still good enough to get them to the big dance, but not without an offense that can keep pace with the league’s top units.

      – The talent has always been there, but Jimmy Garoppolo’s game has, in fact, matured 13 games into his first full season as a starter, and that’s exactly what I expected from the kid

      – Raheem Mostert has been a revelation

      – The Emmanuel Sanders trade was a stroke of genius, and he and Jimmy developed instant chemistry. Sanders was exactly the kind of veteran wideout the Niners’ young receiving corp needed

      – The starting OL unit has been one of the best in the league, and the reserves have, by and large, stepped up when called upon

      – George Kittle is …. well, perhaps the most valuable offensive skill position player in the NFL, bar none

      – And there is no question that Kyle Juszczyk is a rare breed

      – Kyle Shanahan is not only the league’s best offensive mind, he’s also a fantastic motivator of men

      – John Lynch’s success at identifying strong talent in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, has been a master stroke of proper team building

      But make no mistake, it’s a collective effort, and without Nick Bosa’s unworldly motor, and superhuman ability to impact every single game despite demanding double and triple teams, the 49ers wouldn’t be sitting where they are today!

        1. You summed up very well what I was thinking yesterday.

          One reason I love NFL football so much, is the way in which over the course of a long season, as the war of attrition wears on, and opponents figure out ways to counter your schemes, the best teams are able to find new ways to win.

          Not being able to count on Ford, who was the perfect compliment to bookend Bosa, has had a major impact as the season has worn on. Add to that, the thinning of depth along the interior of the DL, and this is simply not the same DL that was able to impose it’s will, and wear down opposing offenses. That’s just a fact!

          But the offense has evolved in their own right. We saw it with the Niners throughout their heyday. We saw it from the Eagles just a couple seasons ago, and now we are witnessing it with the 2019 49ers, and it sure is fun to watch!

          1. BTW Grant, are you as surprised as I am in terms of Deebo’s top-end speed?

            I knew he was a relatively polished route runner coming out of SC, and was extremely strong and explosive for his size, as he put on a clinic during the Senior Bowl week. But what I somehow missed on his game film was just how fast he is at full speed, and he really didn’t show it during training camp either. It’s remarkable that such a compact and powerfully built receiver would also be one of the fastest in the league. He looks an awful lot like KC’s dynamo – Tyreek Hill. If he were a couple inches taller he would have been worthy of a top 10 draft pick, IMO, but as he stands, he’s a perfect fit for Kyle’s motion laden – attack the edges – offensive style!

            1. I’m shocked by his speed. I had no clue he was so fast. He’s not quite Tyreek Hill, but he is one of the best call carriers in the league among wide receivers.

              1. We have a lot speed on the team. Deebo hit 21.1 to tie the fastest player of the week this season. Breida hit 22.3 one week for the fastest player.

      1. I agree that the defence has suffered a lot of injuries, reducing its overall ability. But that’s the NFL. I do not agree with the implication that the offence now needs to carry the team – the offence needed to last game, sure. But I don’t believe the offence needs to be a top 5 unit for the Niners to win games. That fact that it is a top 5 unit is what makes the team so exciting in terms of super bowl prospects. Now against the very, very best, yes the offence will need to show up big. The same was true with the Harbaugh teams.

        I actually think the Saints game was a perfect game to illustrate this. The difficulty the Saints faced to beat the defence was higher than what the Niners faced to beat the Saints D, which allowed the Niners to recover from a two score deficit and have a 9 point lead with less than ten to go in the 4th. While the Saints ultimately got the lead back, the Niners had the chance to win the game at the end. Saints had to play lights out against the Niners D and basically pitch a perfect game in terms of execution. And they still lost. I’m just not buying these Grant takes of it all being on one side of the ball or the other.

          1. Put it this way – if I were a Saints fan, I’d be a lot more concerned about facing the Niners again than I would be about the Saints had the Niners lost. When a team can beat you after you play the kind of game you’ve had repeatedly over the years, it means that team is better. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but I don’t see how there is much bad to take from the win on Sunday. At least in terms of the on field product.

  2. The 49ers gave Denver a 3rd & a 4th round pick next year for Sanders & a 5th round pick… not just a 3rd…

  3. The difference this year is the 49ers have established experienced depth, and the hit show has been next man up.

    The road to the Super Bowl is long
    With many a winding turn
    That leads us to where we want to go
    It’s a heavy load
    But we’re strong
    Strong enough to carry them
    They ain’t heavy, they’re our defense

  4. Thanks Grant : yes the defense is ailing….way too many injuries… so now the games become shoot outs, something we as fans were afraid of because of=Jimmy….now Jimmy is playing well and the defense is running on 4 cylinders…

    Perfect write up Grant

  5. this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, the 49ers might not have seven key defenders, or more than half of the defense.

    This game is on Saleh – Lets see if he can adjust and make the right calls. We already know he sucks with lesser talent, lets see if he has grown…….

  6. « Earlier this season, the 49ers had a rotation of defensive linemen, and this rotation kept the players fresh and made them more effective. Each defensive lineman typically played no more than 45 defensive snaps.

    Now, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead sometimes have to play more than 60 defensive snaps in a game. They’re still good, but not quite as dominant. »

    The increase in snaps for Bosa, Buckner, Armstead can be traced directly back to an increase in snaps faced by the defense overall.

    The defense has also seen a 35% increase in number of snaps faced over the last 5 weeks. Over the last 3 games they’ve allowed 22.7 first downs and been on the field an average of 33 minutes.

    From game 3-8 they averaged 53 snaps per game. That’s jumped to 72 over the last 5.

    Let’s take Bosa for instance. Over games 3-8 he played 78% of the snaps. That’s gone up to 82% in games 9-13. The difference between that 78% and 82% is a whopping 3 plays per game.

    Buckner – 82% games 3-8, 80% games 9-13

    Armstead – 70% games 3-8, 80% games 9-13

    Of the 49ers core 3, the biggest increase is Armstead. His 10% increase equates to 8 more snaps per game.

  7. Great article, thanks Grant.

    I actually said pretty much the same thing on here yesterday. The defense has definitely taken a few steps back and are getting guys healthy. The offense has really stepped up and seems good enough to carry us into the play-offs and hopefully with that 1st round bye. The silver lining here is that this was a big test for this team, this offense had to be better or else we were going to start losing games. I am so impressed with what Shannahan and his coaching staff have done. It seems like teams really honed in on their strengths and figured out this running game. Most coaches, like an Andy Reid or a Doug Pederson, would have wrapped it up for the season. But Shanny evolved his game even more so. Just an amazing season, and if Kyle doesn’t win coach of the year, it’ll be a joke.

    The other thing that was mentioned here, I think by Scooter, is that this team has done an amazing job developing its young talent, far more than the Harbaugh regime ever did. And that’s a big reason why they have been able to weather the storm on injuries and fatigue. That’s a testament, again, to the coaching staff and the Lynch and crew. What’s so exciting about the success of this season also, is that though this season has been a whole lot of fun, there is this big sense that its just getting started in regards to the future. We have a tremendous nucleus, and even with the inevitable departing of some of our talent, we can continue to be successful.

    Last thing (I promise), Jed deserves a lot of credit here. I do think he took a huge swing for the fences on the hiring of Kyle and Lynch together, but it has truly worked. And the awareness he’s had to just stand back and let them figure things out is just underrated. He definitely deserves owner of the year.

    I’m loving every minute of this, and now that my boys are older and understand the game a lot better, especially since they play PeeWee, its been awesome. What a season!

    1. there is this big sense that its just getting started in regards to the future.

      ……. First time in a long time I am struggling on which position we should be drafting for

      Jed deserves a lot of credit here. I do think he took a huge swing for the fences on the hiring of Kyle and Lynch together

      Might end up being the formula going forward – Lynch success has Aikman thinking he can be a GM

  8. DJ Jones is the most underrated player on the defensive line, and there is nobody that can do what he does. He’s a dominant run defender that you’re not going to move. He takes on double teams and is a big reason why Fred Warner can make all those tackles near the line of scrimmage.

    = NO CAP

    Might be out next game – that is a lot of missing talent

    DT D.J. Jones

    DE Dee Ford

    CB Richard Sherman

    SS Jaquiski Tartt

    DL Jullian Taylor

    CB K’Waun Williams

  9. The Niners have improved, and have shown resilience. Greelaw for Kwon. Garland for Richberg. Marcell Harris for Tartt. Emmanuel Mosely for Witherspoon, now Sherman. Mostert for McKinnon. Dwelley substituted well for Kittle. The addition of Sanders and emergence of Deebo,
    Now, with DJ Jones’ injury, they need Street to step up. I also expect more play from Thomas, since Blair and Taylor are down. Hopefully, Thomas can get a sack, and not have it negated by a ticky tacky foul.
    When JG was coming back from his ACL injury, and threw 5 picks in practice, I thought Mullens would be a good replacement until JG recovers fully. Looks like JG can take a hit, is mobile, is deadly accurate, and his leadership on the field has gotten them to a 11-2 season. JG has proved he is fully recovered, especially when he made that crucial third down with his legs.
    Attrition is part of the game. Thankfully, JL has assembled a team with depth, so they are still playing at a championship level.
    Hopefully, they can win out, and get that first round bye. That will rest players, and let others heal.
    However, the total focus right now, should be how to defeat Aylanta. The Saints had 9 sacks against them, so I hope the Niners can get at least 5 to help kill drives.

  10. Grant,
    I know I give you a lot of crap, bad Jimmy and good Jimmy was juvenile especially a QB who played only 20 games and had a major injury and he will be even better next season. but this column is very sound and informative.

  11. Long time 49er fan from Vancouver, Canada chiming in. Great article Grant, most insightful as usual.
    I pay particular attention to the high percentage of undrafted FA’s, mid to high round draft picks and the (few) select veteran FA’s we’ve brought on board the past three years. Reminds me of the championship Sh*thawk teams earlier this decade built by Scott McCloughan. Say what you want about him he built the Niners SB teams and then Seattle’s before he left.
    Anyway, great time to be a 49er fan (finally) and looks like we have a solid foundation to build on for years to come. Solid organization top to bottom.

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