3 ways the 49ers can be even better in 2020
During the San Francisco 49ers’ State of the Franchise event this week, general manager John Lynch said he believes his team has a chance to be even better in 2020.
That’s a pretty hefty prediction for a group that went 13-3 in the regular season and was one quarter away from an NFL title, until Kansas City pulled a comeback in Super Bowl LIV.
Not only that, the Niners lost a few key pieces of their championship-caliber squad, so what makes Lynch so confident in San Francisco this coming season?
Below we break down three reasons why the 49ers could top their stellar 2019 performance.
Experience on defense
The 49ers’ formula for success came down to a fierce run game and a stalwart defense, bolstered by a slew of former first-round draft picks and veteran cornerback Richard Sherman.
The Niners’ defense ranked second, behind the Patriots, in yards allowed per game (281.8), despite playing a far more challenging schedule than New England. San Francisco also owned the best pass attack in the league (169.2 yards per game), ranked second in pressure percentage (28.7%) and tied for the fifth-most sacks (48).
In the offseason, San Francisco maintained the core of its defense, with the exception of DeForest Buckner, now a member of the Colts. The unit will also continue to work under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who interviewed for the Browns’ head coaching job and declined the same role at Michigan State.
This defense was already ferocious in 2019, and that was with Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa finding his feet as a pro. San Francisco should pick up right where they left off last season and terrorize opposing offenses.
As noted above, the Niners couldn’t hold on to everyone from last year’s star-studded squad.
While Buckner got traded to Indianapolis, the team picked up a first-round pick in the 2020 draft in the process and scooped up defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw at 14th overall.
The 49ers also selected Arizona State receiver Brandon Aiyuk late in the first round, after Emmanuel Sanders signed with New Orleans in free agency. Aiyuk has the potential to create the kind of immediate impact Deebo Samuel made as a rookie last season.
The offensive line lost tackle Joe Staley to retirement, but San Francisco traded for Trent Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowler. He’ll help strengthen a unit key to the 49ers’ dominance in the ground game and keeping quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo upright.
As for the rushing attack, Raheem Mostert (772 yards, eight touchdowns) and Tevin Coleman (544 yards, six TDs) will head the running back committee, while Matt Breida (623 yards) got traded to the Dolphins.
Jeff Wilson Jr. should see increased snaps, and Jerick McKinnon may finally be healthy enough to make his debut with the Niners, since signing as a free agent ahead of the 2018 season.
The revenge factor
It’s Super Bowl or bust for the Niners, and superstar tight end George Kittle has a name for this season, much like Phil Jackson’s "Last Dance."
After the Niners lost to the Chiefs in heart-breaking fashion in Super Bowl LIV, Kittle proclaimed, "'The Legendary Revenge Tour of 2020.' It's coming."
Here’s what #49ers TE George Kittle had to say following last nights Super Bowl loss:— 49ers Media (@Media49ers) February 4, 2020
“Revenge tour, baby. I was just sitting with Kwon [Alexander] and we were saying: 'The Legendary Revenge Tour of 2020.' It's coming. And I can't f------ wait.” #GoNiners pic.twitter.com/uqYmAkNgDW
And it has to come this season, because retaining this group of players, and Saleh, for another year is going to be nearly impossible.
The 49ers have one of the most gifted and cohesive teams in the league. Garoppolo has a full season as a starter under his belt in San Francisco now, after tearing his ACL in 2018. That experience in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense should help the entire unit get better in 2020.
San Francisco drew one of the toughest schedules, on top of already playing in one of the most difficult divisions.
It’ll be an uphill battle, but the Niners boast another championship roster, and with a quest for revenge, they might just get one more shot at the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.