This past Monday, the future of the NFL was on display. The Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs put on a show in one of the highest scoring games in NFL history. It was a fun experience, but also offered some insight into where the NFL is headed in the near future.
You can’t just put a bunch of dynamic athletes on the field and easily imitate what the Chiefs and Rams did. You need a combination of dynamic athletes and great play-callers to make those kinds of offenses go. Rule changes have made this kind of consistent offensive production possible, but you still need the players and coaches to find this kind of ridiculous offensive success.
That in turn raises questions about how to contend with those kinds of teams when you don’t have that kind of offense. Even if Jimmy Garoppolo returns to pre-injury form and develops into a stud quarterback, what else can the 49ers do to contain the Rams and other such offenses?
Defenses are going to give up large amounts of yards and points in this version of the NFL. The Rams invested heavily in their defense and rank 26th in points allowed. Having a dynamic offense helps (the Rams rank third in points scored), but the key as general manager John Lynch recently described is having game-changers and finishers. Lynch was on 95.7 The Game recently, and he talked about how the Rams aren’t always stopping people, but their pass rush wears teams down to the point where they eventually create mistakes.
Having an Aaron Donald (or Khalil Mack in the case of the Chicago Bears) gives you the kind of game-wrecker that can single-handedly change a game. The Rams and Bears both have significant depth on defense, but Donald and Mack are the kind of game-changer most teams don’t have. There are plenty of solid defenses in the NFL that can make plays, but few have the kind of game-wrecker the Rams and Bears have.
The 49ers have a lot of work to do in their roster-building effort, but finding a true game-wrecker is critical. Lynch mentioned it can apply to the offense as well as the defense, but given the top-heavy defensive nature of the 2019 NFL Draft coupled with the 49ers likely high pick, and it will be critical to find a game-wrecker on defense. You might think it’s Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa, Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell, LSU cornerback Greedy Williams, or anybody else.
Whomever is your finisher of choice, the 49ers need to find that player, and soon. The 49ers defense gets plenty of criticisms, some due to scheme decisions, some due to personnel issues. If this group added a finisher, particularly at the edge rusher position, I think we would see this unit make some strides. Football Outsiders ranks the defense 19th overall, 21st against the pass, and 14th against the run. The biggest problem for this group has been finishing. Add a serious “finisher” and I think this unit takes a big step forward next year.