We are less than a month away from training camp, which marks the beginning of the 2022 season. For the 49ers, this upcoming year figures to look a lot different than what we saw in 2021.
Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t gone yet, but it feels like a forgone conclusion he won’t be taking snaps under center for the Niners this year. But it’s not just Garoppolo who was a mainstay during the Kyle Shanahan tenure. D.J. Jones, K’Waun Williams, and Laken Tomlison are familiar faces who left the Bay Area this offseason.
No matter who is under center, we know the Niners will remain one of the most efficient and explosive offenses. That’s been a recurring theme, even when the backup quarterbacks were on the field. In addition, the defense will be even better now that it’ll field competent cornerbacks.
We can’t project luck — an area that has gotten the best of Shanahan’s clubs over the years. The 49ers were fortunate in the field goal department, as only three other teams had more field goals missed against than San Francisco. Teams made 76% of their field goals. For reference, opposing kickers made 87% of their field goals against the Rams. Then again, distance plays a factor.
The Niners projected win total was set at 10.5, and they won ten games. As you’ll see from the following three luck factors, that’s the closest one to expectation. Last year was a rollercoaster of luck.
Injury bug bites back
The Niners couldn’t outrun the injury bug again in 2021, as they lost the fourth-most games in the league. Since Shanahan took over, the 49ers have ranked in the bottom third for adjusted games lost due to injury. They’ve been on the opposite end of the spectrum as the Rams, who have suffered less than half as many adjusted games lost during Shanahan’s tenure.
If you were to draw a position out of a hat, you could point to a starter lost. The graphics on TV grew tiresome. You’d often hear something along the lines of, “Kittle, Samuel, and Aiyuk have only played so many snaps together.”
The hope is that Trey Lance is a durable star while Aaron Banks keeps the same standard as Tomlinson did at left guard. The 49ers going to the well at defensive back, offensive line, running back, and wide receiver this offseason tell us where they fear injury may strike again.
Just fall on it!
Good luck explaining to somebody what fumble luck is. Let’s use the 49ers as an example. In 2021, they recovered 44% of the fumbles on the field. That number put them 25th in the NFL.
If you think that’s bad, in 2020, the Niners were dead last in fumble recovery rate, at 33%. Since Shanahan took over in 2017, San Francisco hasn’t ranked higher than 20th in team fumble recovery percentage. That seems...really tough to do.
Think of the second time the 49ers played the Cardinals last year. Those are the types of fumbles that stand out to me. The fumbles that don’t make sense. You just forced a punt; Garoppolo finds Kittle for 18 yards. Instead of going in for a score, you turn it over. Arizona goes down and puts up six, and suddenly, you’re down 7-0.
It’s 14-0 now, but you’ve finally got some rhythm on offense. Garoppolo hits Aiyuk over the middle, but he fumbles inside of the red zone. And, of course, Arizona turns that into points.
There are aspects where the 49ers have top-tier attention to detail. But, unfortunately, taking care of the football and pouncing on the ball when they do cough it up hasn’t been one.
A coin flip result
I’d argue that the top two things about football we can throw out year-over-year are cornerback production and how the team will finish in one-score games. As far as the former, the top 15 to 20 are constant, but the rest seem like they’re a revolving door.
For the latter, there are too many variables to carry over success from the previous year. Ten, yes, ten of the Niners games last year were decided by one possession. Some of those weren’t as close as the score would indicate. The Lions, Seahawks, or Vikings games didn’t feel particularly close.
You won’t find a better example of one-score games than Lance’s first start. The 49ers went 1-for-5 on fourth down, with one of those coming on the goal line. Lance also threw an interception on the first drive. The offense went 3-for-11 on third down, despite gaining 338 yards on 5.7 yards per play.
The next time the two teams play, the quarterback will have practiced for longer than a week and will have his two best players, Trent Williams and George Kittle, at his side.
But this could also be where the team misses Garoppolo. Where Lance will feel the most pressure is executing two-minute situations. For all of Jimmy’s faults, the offense moved the ball and converted with the best of the offenses in the NFL last season. That’s not easy to replicate.