As the 49ers continue to slide now that they’ve lost five games in six weeks, everyone around the team continues to wonder what has led to their quick downfall.
Unlike in years past when they’ve lost under Kyle Shanahan’s watch, it’s felt different in 2021. They have 12 of their last 13 games when trailing at halftime and have lost multiple games as a betting favorite in the past few weeks. The head coach seems uninspired at the podium after games, and there seems to be a lack of fight and spirit with this team.
The icing on the cake was this past Sunday, as the 49ers got dog-walked by a Cardinals’ team that was missing their starting quarterback, wide receiver, running back, and defensive end.
So it had me thinking — is there a leadership issue with this team?
Former 49ers’ offensive lineman Joe Staley had some interesting comments a few weeks ago with regards to DeForest Buckner. When Staley was about to retire after the 2019 season, he wanted to pass the leadership torch to another lineman — DeForest Buckner. Yet, to Staley’s surprise, he found out that Buckner was actually getting traded to the Colts.
The 49ers have lost numerous key veterans in the locker room in the last two seasons — from Richard Sherman to Buckner to Staley. Not to mention that they lost defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to the Jets last season, who is widely viewed as a fantastic leader.
So who’s at the leadership helm now?
Is it quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo? The front office spent all offseason trying to find his long-term replacement. Knowing that, how is the rest of the locker room going to buy into someone who may not be here beyond 2021?
What about offensive tackle Trent Williams? He’s certainly one of the older, more respected players but doesn’t seem to be a naturally vocal leader.
Is it George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk or Arik Armstead? Players who wear the “C” on their chests show off their Captain status, but I don’t think any of them is a “get in your face-mask” type leader.
The 49ers seem to have no accountability for errors, drops, fumbles, or lack of execution on the field. Week in and week out, they seem to suffer from the same problems, yet there’s no accountability for those actions on the field.
They’re 29th in net turnovers per drive, and they are ranked in the bottom five for penalties. Players ultimately have to clean up two areas — not something that can be schemed or coached out of them.
Who in the 49ers’ locker room is holding their teammates accountable for these mistakes?
There’s too much talent on this team and too many smart coaches to be consistently beating yourself every week. Against Green Bay, it was poor offensive execution in the first half. Against Seattle, it was Trenton Cannon’s special teams’ errors. Against the Colts, it was the defensive pass interference calls. Against Arizona, it was Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle’s fumbles (along with a myriad of defensive miscues).
It honestly surprises me how they continue to find a new way to beat themselves each week yet come out flat the following week with seemingly no repercussions for the errors from the previous game.
Coming into 2021, it seems like the 49ers’ front office didn’t account for veteran leadership when assembling this roster and looked at it more like an economic puzzle as they aimed to get back into the playoffs.
Now, they sit at 3-5, coming off arguably the worst loss in the Kyle Shanahan era and a lot of questions remain about the team. Beyond just the X’s and O’s, there seems be a lack of pride with this bunch, and it starts at the top with their head coach.
After getting smacked by the Cardinals at home, a prideful group will respond against another divisional opponent in the Rams on Monday Night Football. But are there enough leaders in the locker room to get that message across? Time will tell.