Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Five Qualities that Make the 49ers Great

Feb 1, 2020 at 11:48 PM0


As 49er fans, we teeter on the cusp of history. With the Super Bowl simply hours in our future, some of us may be shaking the disorientation from our brains after the whirlwind season that now seems like a dream. What we may forget is this dream was born out of a nightmare.

A year ago at this time, players and fans alike sat at home trying to fathom a lost season that had led many to believe that Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch had no clue what they were doing. That team, so full of potential and ready to make history, limped to the finish without its starting quarterback, without other key members of its team and without hope that any of this would change anytime soon. It was tough being a 49ers fan.

That was our outlook last February. What a difference one season makes.

Now the national media bandies back and forth about how "brilliant" John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan are in turning this once forlorn franchise into a legitimate contender. They gush over the lockdown defense Robert Saleh and company have crafted. They marvel at the ingenious play-calling wizardry Shanahan conjures seemingly out of thin air. Things have changed for the better for those of us who remain faithful.

But one question still remains: how did we get here in one short season? To put it more precisely, what sets the 49ers apart from other teams and makes them this good? Let's look at five qualities that set this team apart and have propelled them to Super Bowl contention:

Approach


The simple fact is Shanahan doesn't approach the game like other coaches. His unique outlook on football, born from the birth pains of his father's own coaching history, has created a system both broad in its scope and specific in its application.

Shanahan retains the traditional trappings of an NFL offense but applies them in a very different way. With so many moving and interchangeable parts, he baffles even the sharpest of defenses. When they adjust to his system, he simply reaches into the New York City Phone Directory he calls his playbook and uses another method to get the job done. What makes him unique is that he constantly evolves over the course of time, making no qualms about scrapping what doesn't work.

But it isn't his unique outlook that makes his system so ingenious. Chip Kelly (Yes, I just uttered his name.) had a unique system, and he flamed out gloriously. What sets Shanahan and his system apart is that it works, and the franchise has bought into that vision.

Ability


We sometimes forget this all started with Shanahan. He had an opportunity most coaches never get: to tailor his franchise by appointing his own GM, someone who would share the same vision he proposed. That man was John Lynch.

But Lynch had to buy into that vision, and Shanahan had to sell it. At first it looked as if Shanahan was the world's best snake oil salesman with Lynch footing the bill. Now Shanahan and Lynch are the Amazon of the football world, a powerhouse built on one simple concept: find people who can make that dream come true. Lynch fell for Shanahan's plot.

They didn't pursue big names or known quantities. Lynch and Shanahan found players who fit the system and believed in it as much as they did. In short, they pursued players who would get the job done rather than feed their own egos.

All those moving parts we've already talked about had to work with machine precision. It takes a special player with a high football IQ to execute this system. Shanahan and Lynch sought players who could execute that plan.

The best example of this is the running game. Shanahan doesn't need a feature back to carry the ball twenty plus times a game. He looks for someone who can hit the holes his system creates and out-maneuver his pursuers in space.

Could a feature back do this? Certainly. But that's not the point. The point is Shanahan looks for players who are able and eager to make it happen. It takes a special kind of player to pull this off, and sometimes a feature back isn't the best fit for Shanahan's system.

The same argument could be made for Saleh's defense, which centers on athleticism and a high football IQ. But the point is Shanahan and Lynch have crafted a team with personnel unique to the demands made on them whether offense or defense.

Attitude


This is huge. I'm convinced Shanahan daily instructs his players to leave their egos in their cars before practices and games. This team drips a selfless attitude.

Case-in-point? Look no further than Ahkello Witherspoon who insisted he take Emmanuel Moseley's special teams snaps so the latter could focus on a starting position Witherspoon owned at one time. That's the opposite of ego. That's championship attitude. This team wants to win so badly it's willing to stifle personal pride and settle for a personal second-best.

It also proves another important fact: the 49ers aren't just a team. They are family. While other players are celebrating their own personal success after a touchdown, Raheem Mostert is handing the ball to an offensive lineman to spike. Often the offense will run to the end zone for a "team pic" after a score. Why? Because its members understand that touchdown wasn't about one person. It was about their football family making it happen.

While the pundits pick at Jimmy G. for throwing the ball less often than they think he should, the 49ers franchise quarterback is quietly doing his job and besting the competition with no complaint. George Kittle would rather block than catch catch the football. This isn't NFL business as usual. This is championship football that few teams know how to reproduce.

Adjustment


On the flip side of the family concept is the coaching staff's propensity to make some pretty vicious in-game adjustments. The aforementioned Witherspoon found himself benched when he struggled in coverage at the end of the season and into the playoffs. Matt Breida, who looked like the closest thing to a feature back at the beginning of the season, rode the pine after catching the contagious "fumble bug" and has hardly been heard from since.

To put it simply, this coaching staff seems to express no timidity about benching an ineffective player. Because it refuses to cater to ego, coaches simply replace a faulty part with a pristine piece. Most teams don't or can't do this, but this is what sets the 49ers apart and makes them winners.

Accountability


This point is best illustrated rather than explained. Aldon Smith looked like the second coming of Bryant Young, except better. Then, the character issues began. What started as a trickle before his NFL career gushed forth in a torrent of bad behavior, leading to a flood of bad publicity and Smith's ultimate release.

There's really no reason to second guess a coaching staff that has long since fled the franchise. But, for sake of argument, let's critique the situation. The franchise was willing to take a flyer on a prospect who had already displayed character issues. When it found out he was really that good, it held on to him until it was too late, probably hoping its star player would make a turnaround. He gave the franchise a black eye it wore with shame, branding it for years to come.

Fast-forward to this administration. Reuben Foster could have been that player, someone who would label the franchise as nothing more than an incubator for bad boys. It's certainly true the team took a flyer on an Aldon-like personality with Foster. And he looked good, really good. He looked to be the cornerstone of a budding 49er defense. But when Foster and the 49ers found their marriage on the rocks, the team quickly filed for divorce, leading some to proclaim that the honeymoon was too short, and that Foster should have had a second chance.

However, that's the point. The current administration understands there's an important factor called "character" that Foster didn't display. Had he stayed, he would have become a distraction, and distractions can subvert a squad's chances to win. Too many teams miss this idea, gravitating rather to players with great football skills but no real-life character. Character is as much a part of winning as skill is.

Lynch and Shanahan have done a great job holding their players accountable both on and off the field. The result is a strong team from the inside out and a winning attitude that seemingly won't quit. That's what accountability will do.

Simply put, things have changed for the better. This franchise has found the success that eluded it for so long. It's a good time to be a 49ers fan because Lynch and company have crafted a contender that we as fans can take pride in, and at the end of it all is another chance at a Super Bowl title.
  • Written by:
    With fifteen years of writing experience, Bill has been around the block a time or two. Other than that he's written for a wide variety of online publications, ranging in topics from academics and education to life management and public speaking. He has also written for regional publications. However, one burning passion drives him more than most others: his obsessive loyalty to the 49ers franchise. Practically born into it, he bleeds red and gold. He also enjoys public speaking and talking about himself in the third person.
The views 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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