Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers Season was Doomed from the Beginning

Nov 9, 2021 at 1:54 PM--

The 49ers are a bad football team. They are undisciplined, uninspired, and unwatchable. They are all of these things because the team's leadership, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, set the team up for failure from the beginning.

Kyle Shanahan has been on record as believing that the 2019 San Francisco 49ers were the best team in football that season, and he may have been right. A few bounces here or there and they likely would have won that Super Bowl against the Chiefs, led by a ferocious defense and an efficient offense. The moves that Lynch and Shanahan have made since that Super Bowl loss speak loudly to their belief that, if they simply "run it back" with the majority of that team still intact, they should automatically be Super Bowl contenders.

And therein lies the rub.

As legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler (and a certain former 49ers head coach) said: "Every day you either get better, or you get worse. You never stay the same."

This 49ers season, and last season if we're being perfectly honest, was doomed from the beginning because John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan keep trying to run out the 2019 version of the team.

Here are the problems with simply trying to run out some successive version of the 2019 team in 2021: there isn't the same veteran leadership as 2019, Shanahan has mismanaged the quarterback position in 2021, and the team hired DeMeco Ryans to run the defense without any previous experience as a defensive play-caller.

Veteran Leadership

The 2019 49ers had three prominent and vocal veteran leaders on the team: left tackle Joe Staley, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, and cornerback Richard Sherman. Those players were the glue that held the whole team together, and you could see and feel the impact they had on the field, on the sideline, and in the locker room. Many stories were written about the 49ers' locker room culture, how tight-knit they were as a team, and that can be attributed to the leadership those players provided.

After the 49ers' heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs, Staley retired and the team traded Buckner to the Colts. Sherman remained for the 2020 season but was not re-signed prior to the 2021 season. Over the span of 12 months, the 49ers lost all three of their leaders, and it seems that no player has stepped up to fill the void. Fred Warner has been trying his best, especially in press conferences, but it doesn't seem to be manifesting itself on the field. Where was Warner on Sunday when Josh Norman committed his ridiculous taunting penalty? Why was Tavon Wilson, a backup safety signed this past offseason, the only one in Norman's face trying to calm him down and get him off the field?

Where are players like George Kittle, Trent Williams, Nick Bosa, etc. stepping up to the podium and taking accountability for the seeming lack of urgency or pride in the team's play thus far this season?

Until the veteran leadership void is filled in the locker room, this team will continue to spin its wheels and put out performances like they did this past Sunday against a Cardinals team missing their starting quarterback, two prominent wide receivers, and their starting running back after the first series.

Quarterback Mismanagement

This is not going to be about reasons why Trey Lance should have been starting since Week 1 (though I believe that to be true). This is about the idea that, after spending two offseasons trying to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, eventually ending in a massive trade up in the draft to select Trey Lance out of North Dakota State, Garoppolo could come in as a lame duck and lead this team to the playoffs.

Why should Jimmy Garoppolo have any investment whatsoever in the outcome of this season for the 49ers? The answer is he shouldn't, and his play on the field, and his demeanor in the media, shows that he doesn't. I don't blame him for that. I blame Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch for believing that he would.

The minute that, as an organization, the 49ers decided to trade up to draft Trey Lance, the focus of the season should have shifted to the development of the future (hopefully) franchise quarterback. Because expecting Jimmy Garoppolo to provide any leadership, or consistent play for this team was a miscalculation at best, and complete ignorance at worst. To me, it is a lack of emotional intelligence on the part of Kyle Shanahan to believe that he could get 2019-level production out of a quarterback that he has loudly, through his actions, told the world he doesn't believe in.

Rookie Defensive Coordinator

I am old enough to remember how bad the 49ers defenses were under Robert Saleh during the first two years of his tenure in San Francisco. Saleh was a first-time defensive coordinator when he was hired by Shanahan and had never called plays at any level prior to his hiring. When Saleh left to become the head coach of the New York Jets, Shanahan promoted then-linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans to replace him. At the time, much of the discussion was centered around Ryans' leadership ability, his intelligence and football IQ, and his familiarity with the defensive system the 49ers ran under Saleh.

There was not much talk about Ryans' inexperience as a play-caller and an assumption, at least by many fans, that the defense would simply pick up where it left off under Saleh and would continue to be a strength of the team. There would be some bumps along the way, but largely, based on roster talent, the defense should still be in the top half of the league.

While there have been some impressive games that Ryans has called, with the first matchup against the Arizona Cardinals being chief among them, the defense has largely been average at best, or downright awful, as it was this past Sunday against those same Cardinals, this time without Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, and Chase Edmonds.

I still have faith in Ryans' ability to grow into the position, and his leadership and intelligence will likely help him adapt as quickly as Saleh did, but Saleh's growth still occurred over two full seasons. Expecting a playoff run out of this team, with a first-time play-caller on defense, was yet another miscalculation.

49er fans are frustrated by the team's performance thus far this season, and I believe a lot of that has to do with the unrealistic expectations John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan had about this team and this season. They both told fans this was a Super Bowl-caliber team.

It is not.

Those expectations set the team and the fans up for failure.

This season was doomed from the beginning.
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