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The 49ers’ New Path to the Super Bowl

Brian Renick
Sep 24, 2020 at 2:47 PM0


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Alright, now the sky does feel like it's falling a bit. After the final whistle blew last week against the Jets, the 49ers hobbled to the locker room, heads spinning from the sheer volume of injuries that occurred to key players. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an ankle injury, superstar edge rusher Nick Bosa was lost for the season with a torn ACL, two plays later defensive line cog Solomon Thomas was also lost for the season with a torn ACL, running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman both left with knee sprains, defensive lineman D.J. Jones suffered an ankle injury, and linebacker Dre Greenlaw suffered a deep thigh bruise. Add all of those to the list of players who were already sidelined: George Kittle, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford, Deebo Samuel, Weston Richburg, Jason Verrett, Ronald Blair, Jullian Taylor, Richie James, Jr., and Jalen Hurd, and it feels like any hope for a Super Bowl run this season has been dashed by the end of Week Two.

After I took some time to digest the horrors from MetLife Stadium, and a little bit of therapy, I am here to tell you that all hope is not lost and there is still plenty of room for optimism this season! I'll give you some time to celebrate after reading that line…

Okay, now that you're back from cleaning up all of the champagne you sprayed around your living room, let's take a look at the positive news when it comes to the injuries and the path the 49ers can take to fulfill Revenge Tour 2020 and hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa Bay in February.

Only Three Players Have Been Lost for the Season


Of the SEVENTEEN players listed above, only three of them have been lost for the season: Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, and Jalen Hurd. All three tore their ACLs and all three should be available at the start of the 2021 season (Thomas will be a free agent, but the team will probably look to sign him to a small one year "prove it" deal as it did with Ronald Blair this past offseason after he tore his ACL in 2019).

Here are the anticipated returns for the other key players who are currently injured: Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, and George Kittle are week-to-week and should return soon. Deebo Samuel is eligible to return Week 4, Richard Sherman and Richie James, Jr. are eligible to return Week 5, and Weston Richburg, Ronald Blair, and Jullian Taylor are eligible to return Week 7. Reinforcements are on the way.

The Defensive Line Is Still Talented


The 49ers have built one of the most talented, and deepest, rosters in the NFL, especially along the defensive line, but the loss of Bosa cannot be overstated. The reigning Rookie Defensive Player of the Year was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate this season, having entered Week 2 tied with Khalil Mack for the second-best average odds to win the award. However, his absence can be mitigated by a rotation of players picking up the slack in the pass rush. After the injuries to Bosa and Thomas, the team signed edge rusher Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah on September 21st and elevated Dion Jordan, the edge rusher they signed in the offseason, from the practice squad.

Ansah is built in the same mold as Nick Bosa, an edge player who can both rush the passer and play stout against the run. Dion Jordan is built more in the mold of Dee Ford, a speed rusher who will most likely be on the field during obvious passings downs. With Ford suffering a back injury, and no timetable for his return, Jordan is primed to get significant opportunities to contribute, and hopefully, fulfill the potential that evaluators saw in him when he was taken 3rd overall out of Oregon in the 2013 draft. Ansah, drafted two spots later by the Lions in the same draft, has had more of a track record of success in the NFL and is reuniting with Kris Kocurek, his position coach with the Lions until Kocurek left after the 2017 season, and he should fill in adequately for Bosa, though not at the same level of play. Both of these players bolster a line that is already teeming with talented players like Arik Armstead, D.J. Jones, Kerry Hyder, Javon Kinlaw, and Kentavius Street.

Reinforcements are also coming mid-year with the return of Ronald Blair and Jullian Taylor from the PUP list, so this line still has the talent to get pressure on the quarterback, as evidenced by the 15 pressures racked up against Sam Darnold and the Jets on Sunday (47% of his dropbacks), without Bosa, Ford, Ansah, and Jordan. This defense is built from the front to the back, with the philosophy that a quarterback can't beat you if he's on his back. If the team can get anything from Dee Ford, along with Ansah and the rest of the line rotation, this can still be a Top 10 defense, especially if the linebacking corps continues its elite coverage performance and the secondary holds its own.

An Elite Defense Is Not Necessary for a Super Bowl Run


Kyle Shanahan and the coaching staff had an obvious game plan in every game they entered last season: lean on an elite defense, run the ball to control the clock, and pass when necessary. It was an obvious recipe for success until the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl. Without Bosa, Ford, and DeForest Buckner, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts this past offseason, it is unlikely that the defense will reach the same level of production as last season. However, an elite defense is not a prerequisite for getting to the Super Bowl. Here are the past ten Super Bowl winners and losers and their offensive and defensive rankings (points per game) in the regular season:

Season Super Bowl Winner Offense Defense Super Bowl Loser Offense Defense
2019 Kansas City Chiefs 5 7 San Francisco 49ers 2 8
2018 New England Patriots 4 7 Los Angeles Rams 2 20
2017 Philadelphia Eagles 3 4 New England Patriots 2 5
2016 New England Patriots 3 1 Atlanta Falcons 1 27
2015 Denver Broncos 19 4 Carolina Panthers 1 6
2014 New England Patriots 4 8 Seattle Seahawks 10 1
2013 Seattle Seahawks 9 1 Denver Broncos 1 22
2012 Baltimore Ravens 10 13 San Francisco 49ers 11 2
2011 New York Giants 9 25 New England Patriots 3 15
2010 Green Bay Packers 10 2 Pittsburgh Steelers 12 1

As you can see, a Top 10 offense can carry a team to the Super Bowl, and an elite offense can do so despite a lousy defense (hello 2016 Atlanta Falcons!). The 49ers scored the second-most points last season on offense. If they are going to make it back to the Super Bowl, they are going to have to do so on the backs of Kyle Shanahan, Jimmy Garoppolo, and the rest of the offense.

The game scripts will probably look different this season, and some of the games against better opponents may end up being shoot-outs, but outside of the losses of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and left tackle Joe Staley, the offense returns intact and is positioned to have another outstanding season. Garoppolo looked shaky in the first game against the Cardinals, but he bounced back in a big way against the Jets before his injury, and I expect that type of play to continue when he returns.

The NFC Looks Wide Open


Through the first two weeks of the season, there does not appear to be a dominant team in the NFC. The Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, Packers, and Bears have all started 2-0. Of that group, the Rams have looked like the most complete team so far, balancing a potent offense with a solid defense, but the rest of the teams on that list have either played inferior opponents or have displayed a significant flaw.

The Seahawks' offense looks like the real deal, with Russ playing at an MVP level, but the defense has been suspect at best and it just lost its only true pass rusher, Bruce Irvin, to a torn ACL. The Packers offense has looked great, but the defense gave up 34 points in Week 1 to a Vikings offense that could only muster 11 last week against the Colts. The Cardinals have looked good in their two wins, the first coming against the 49ers, but it is probably still too early to determine if they are for real or not. The Bears are quarterbacked by Mitchell "Don't Call Me Mitch" Trubisky so that 2-0 record probably isn't indicative of their contention within the NFC. The Saints are coming off a Monday Night Football loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, the Buccaneers have looked shaky in their first two weeks, and the Cowboys would be 0-2 if it weren't for an epic choke job by the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2.

The path is there for the 49ers to compete for their sixth Lombardi Trophy. The start of the 2020 season could not have gone much worse, but this team is still supremely talented, well-coached, and hungry. The team will compete each and every week moving forward and there is still a strong possibility that Revenge Tour 2020 will result in a 6th Super Bowl Championship.
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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