The San Francisco 49ers are making strides in finishing their rebuild. They seem to be on the cusp of where the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan regime wants them to be. However, they’re still a long way away from the playoffs.
It’s not the likeliest transition for a team to go from 4-12 to a playoff team, but many fans are optimistic. The Niners have improved a significantly with their roster additions. Now the team is in position to contend.
There are still some things that need to happen for the 49ers to make the playoffs. If they want to get on the right track — akin to where they were during the Jim Harbaugh era — the 49ers need to improve in multiple ways.
Here are the three things that need to happen for the San Francisco 49ers to make the playoffs.
3. Production from the secondary
The one position group of concern for the 49ers going into the 2019 season: defensive backs. San Francisco provided few key additions. It drafted the University of Virginia’s Tim Harris in the seventh round and veteran Jason Verrett, who has played five games in the last three years.
Their highest graded defensive back from 2018 according to Pro Football Focus was Richard Sherman with a pedestrian 68.9 overall grade. The team chose to re-sign Jimmie Ward instead of going after a big-name free safety when Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Tyrann Mathieu were all available. Even worse is that the re-signed Ward recently broke his collarbone in OTAs, part of his lengthy injury history.
The 49ers are still optimistic about their secondary play approaching the new season, partly because the team added big names to the front seven with Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, and Nick Bosa. More pressure on opposing quarterbacks usually translates to more turnover opportunities. The top four teams in sacks all ranked in the top 10 in passing yards allowed.
Hopefully, this means that the team will improve from a record-low two interceptions last season.
2. Red-zone production
No team was worse in the red zone than the San Francisco 49ers last year. They ranked last in scoring percentage inside the opponent’s 20-yard line: 41.18 percent. They were last in scoring both at home (42.31 percent) and away (40 percent).
The 49ers scored red-zone touchdowns 47.06 percent of the time in 2017. They somehow got worse, not better, in 2018. They’re hoping to get better in this area in 2019.
With improved players who will create mismatches close to the end zone, the team will try to gain the advantage with running back Tevin Coleman and receivers Jordan Matthews and Deebo Samuel. With the improvement of already-great contributors such as Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle and receiver Dante Pettis, the team will try to get out of the basement in red-zone productivity.
1. Staying healthy
Injuries are a part of the game, but no team was hurt more by them than the San Francisco 49ers last season.
It all began with a gruesome ACL tear to newly-acquired running back Jerrick McKinnon at the end of training camp. It was already a bad omen; the same injury would happen to the team’s franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 3.
More players would also fall under this injury spell. A few of the names were Adrian Colbert, Jaquiski Tartt, Brock Coyle, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jimmie Ward, Pierre Garçon, and Raheem Mostert. All of them finished the year on the injured reserve list.
Some players still were playing through injuries during the 2018 season. Richard Sherman was playing while still reeling from the torn Achilles he suffered in 2017. George Kittle fought through fractured rib cartilage for half of last season.
If the 49ers want to get the most out of their team, they will hope for a healthy 2019 season. If not, they will see the same results of 2018.