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The 49ers need to visit The Adjustment Bureau

Brian Renick
Sep 28, 2021 at 9:00 AM

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The Adjustment Bureau was a 2011 sci-fi/romance film starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. It was a decent film, even entertaining at times, which is very similar to the start of the 2021 NFL season for the San Francisco 49ers, but I left the theater saying "meh." That's the exact reaction I had Sunday night leaving Levi's Stadium after the 49ers dropped their home-opener to the Green Bay Packers 30-28: meh.

So far this season, the 49ers' offense has been efficient, if unspectacular, and the defense has been average at best, especially in the secondary which has already been decimated by injuries. This team, which had Super Bowl aspirations to begin the season, needs to make some adjustments moving forward if it wants to meet its stated goal of lifting that Lombardi Trophy this season and seasons to come.

Defensive Roster Building

The 49ers front office has an obvious roster-building philosophy when it comes to the defensive side of the ball: it builds front to back. When you look at the resources committed to that side of the ball, they are heavily skewed towards the defensive line, and Fred Warner. The resources committed to the back-end of the defense pale in comparison, whether you look at contractual obligations or draft capital.

Since Shanahan and Lynch have taken over in Santa Clara, the earliest they've used a pick on a defensive back is the third round (Ahkello Witherspoon in 2017 and Ambry Thomas in 2021) and the largest contract they've handed out to a defensive back is the heavily incentivized three-year, $39.15 million deal they gave to Richard Sherman in 2018.

After the disastrous 2018 season, 49ers decision-makers knew they needed to invest in the defensive line and the pass rush. They did so by drafting Nick Bosa with the 2nd overall pick in that year's draft, and by acquiring Dee Ford from the Kansas City Chiefs and signing him to a five-year, $85 million extension. They recognized the deficiencies on the roster, and they attacked it with a significant investment.

After another disastrous season in 2020, decision-makers knew that there was not a single cornerback signed for the 2021 season outside of Ken Webster and Tim Harris, Jr. Based on how the front office handled the pass rush situation after the 2018 season, one would assume they would do the same for the depleted cornerback position. Instead, they re-signed two injury-prone outside cornerbacks in Jason Verrett, who tore his ACL Week 1 and will miss the remainder of the season, and Emmanuel Moseley, who saw his first game action of the season against the Packers in Week 3. They also signed injury-prone, and 30-year-old, K'Waun Williams as their starting nickelback, and he left the game against the Packers with a calf injury.

Surely they would fortify the position in the draft then, especially with the injury history of their projected starters, correct? Well, that answer was no as they waited until the end of round three (pick 102) and the middle of round five (pick 172) to select Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir, respectively. Lenoir has been a bit of a revelation so far, playing significant meaningful snaps for the defense as Moseley recovered from his knee injury, but Thomas has been a healthy scratch for the past two games.

The team selected QB Trey Lance with its first-round pick, but in the second round Asante Samuel, Jr. was still on the board when it went on the clock. Instead, the 49ers traded back with the Raiders, and then watched as the Chargers selected Samuel, Jr. one spot ahead of them. They then chose guard Aaron Banks out of Notre Dame, who couldn't beat out Daniel Brunskill for the starting right guard position on the offensive line, and then was injured during the second preseason game against the Chargers and hasn't seen the field since. Meanwhile, through three weeks, Asante Samuel, Jr. is starting for the Chargers and has two interceptions. Ouch.

The NFL is a passing league, and each season it seems to tweak and change rules to make it easier for offenses to create and execute explosive pass plays. A dominant defensive line is important when trying to stop these high flying offenses because a QB can't complete passes if he's on his back, but having defensive backs who can press at the line of scrimmage, hold up in man coverage, and cover for more than three seconds is equally as important, as evidenced by the outcome of Sunday night's game against the Packers.

The 49ers' defensive line was stonewalled all game, by an offensive line with a 3rd string tackle, 2nd string guard, and a center who is new to the team this season, because they were chipping Bosa off the edge, and getting the ball out quickly. As Kyle Shanahan knows, and has proven, you can scheme around offensive line deficiencies, or a ferocious pass rush, so the defense needs answers when that is happening. The answer comes in the form of good coverage, and their lack of meaningful commitment to that area of the roster burned them on Sunday night.

The 49ers still have a playoff-caliber roster, but can this defense stack up against the high-powered offenses in their own division, let alone the rest of the NFC, with an undermanned and underwhelming secondary? Only time will tell, but based on how the first three weeks have played out for the NFC West, it's hard to have confidence.

Regardless of how this season turns out, there seem to be some glaring adjustments that this team needs to make to address the secondary woes that currently plague it.

If only there were an actual bureau that just handed them out.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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  • Charles
    I think the 49ers were thrilled to land Kyle as a HC but it is clear that Lynch is not a personnel/talent guy. He may be a good excutive (name recognician for free agent clout) but the fact that the team had to take the pair as a package deal is going to ultimately cost the team aopportunities in the end. And from what I've seen, Kyle would never throw Lynch under the bus. My only hope is that they quietly come to an understanding and promote or hire a more deserving and qualified talent evaluator that is charge of drafts and let Lynch focus on fere agency.
    Sep 30, 2021 at 12:05 PM
  • Lance
    The cornerbacks have been the prime 49er defensive weakness for decades. The last time the niners had both a cornerback and a safety make the Pro Bowl was in 1984, the year they won their second Super Bowl, which is not a coincidence. The league has been moving towards more mobile quarterbacks which just increases the need for speedy corners and safetys who can play man coverage. And those we do not have.
    Sep 29, 2021 at 5:12 PM
  • Bill
    A 2-1 record? And this columnist believes the 49ers need to visit something called "The Adjustment Bureau?" I wonder what this "lifelong educator" would write after the 1981 squad started out with a 1-2 record, following two straight losing seasons under Bill Walsh? Would it be time to visit the "Fire Bill Walsh Bureau?" The movie the author cites is DUMB, which is why it lost money at the Box Office. I didn't believe it possible, but the author has penned something even dumber. That takes talent. This team is 2-1. This team has a winning record. Relax. Chill. Take a break.
    Sep 28, 2021 at 3:41 PM
    Response: Outside of attempting to insult me, I’m not sure what your comment has to do with the points I brought up in the article. I’m interested to know, what do you disagree with? Please educate me since what I’ve written is so dumb.
  • Ed
    These were known issues before the season when the front office decides what it best to fill out a roster. The person making the decision thought it best to pay players with injury histories who play prominent roles! So now we are three games into a 17 game schedule with injuries once again from those same players. The responsibility of filling out the roster is with the general manager. Lynch is a nice guy who is showing he is not making good decisions. The rest of this year will be a struggle now because of it.
    Sep 28, 2021 at 9:55 AM


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