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49ers season recap: A few positives amid a pile of ugly

Let’s not mince words: The 49ers 2020 season was a complete and utter disaster.

This was not the Super Bowl hangover some had predicted, it was much worse. This was like four months of repeatedly getting punched in the gut and then getting an eviction notice slapped on your door. Quite literally, actually.

The ugly

Every single team in professional sports faces challenges throughout the season, that’s normal. One of the ingredients to a championship team is overcoming adversity. Instead of a teaspoon of adversity, which the recipe calls for, somebody must have accidentally dumped in the entire box.

The 49ers’ “Red Wedding” took place in Week 2 against the New York Jets. Two defensive linemen, Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas suffering Torn-ACLs before halftime. Franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered what would end up being a lingering high-ankle sprain that would sideline him most of the season. Running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman suffered knee injuries.

If there was one week that determined the fate of the 49ers season, it was Week 2. Losing the most important player on the team, Garoppolo, and the best player on the team, Bosa, were huge factors in what would result in a losing season.

The battle with Covid was difficult for the 49ers on multiple fronts. First, because of league rules, many key players had to miss very important games. There were multiple games where the 49ers were without certain players due to positive Covid tests or potential exposure. None stood out more than the Week 9 game against the Green Bay Packers.

Due to a false positive Covid test from WR Kendrick Bourne, the 49ers were without Bourne, WR Brandon Aiyuk, and LT Trent Williams due to close contact. In addition to those three, WR Deebo Samuel, TE George Kittle, and a slew of running backs were sidelined due to injury.

A bad situation against the Packers, the best team in the NFC, only got worse when the 49ers were forced to play without so many key players on offense. The result? An offensive game plan that ran through fourth-string WR Richie James, who posted a career-best 9-catch, 184-yard, 1 TD performance. It was frustrating for the 49ers because they had watched the league move around other games in order to manage Covid outbreaks. For the 49ers, they were forced to play with what they had.

As they were on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs, the 49ers got evicted from their home at Levi’s Stadium. Shortly after departing for their Week 12 game in Los Angeles, Santa Clara County put in place new Covid restrictions which barred the 49ers from practicing and playing at their home in Santa Clara.

As a professional football team, being forced to uproot your organization and temporarily move to a different state in the middle of a pandemic season where your entire team has been decimated by injuries, was really the cherry on top of a disastrous season.

The bad

No more Covid, no more injuries. This is where we discuss the struggles on the field, more specifically on offense. Even with all of the obstacles previously mentioned, this team had the potential to make more noise if the offensive side of the ball played competent football.

Yes, losing your starting quarterback for 10 of 16 games will play a big part in how the offense performs. Even with Garoppolo under center, though, the 49ers offense was broken.

In 2019, the 49ers rushed for 2,305 yards in the regular season before their explosive rushing attack took it to the next level in the postseason. In 2020, rushing yards dropped to 1,889, a 416-yard difference from the previous season. If your rushing attack is going to step back like that, the passing attack better step up. Unfortunately for the 49ers, it didn’t.

So why are most 49ers fans clamoring for change at the QB position? Why is there such a fiery debate over which college QB the team should take? Why are fans wanting to trade the farm for a player on a different team? It’s because the performance from 49ers quarterbacks this season sucked.

In Kyle Shanahan’s offense, all you have to be is be a competent quarterback for the team to be successful. No more, and no less. That’s what Garoppolo was in 2019. He was nothing special, but he got the job done. He’s a game manager, but also a winner.

The main issue with the 49ers offense this season was the turnovers. The 49ers’ dominant defense in 2019 forced 27 turnovers, while the offense turned the ball over 23 times for a margin of plus-4. In 2020, the 49ers defense forced 20 turnovers, while the offense turned the ball over 31 times for a margin of minus-11.

Of course, there would be fewer takeaways this season, the defensive side of the ball was decimated with injuries. Given the circumstances, they still managed to force 20 turnovers, which was close to league average. The killer was the second-most giveaways in the league behind the Denver Broncos (32).

The quarterback play was terrible, the special teams performance was even worse, the running game took a step back, and there was no continuity. Even with a good defense, this was a recipe for mediocrity.

The good

Yes, there were positives from this season. Don’t worry, there is hope for the future. Not all is lost for a rebound season in 2021.

The emergence of Brandon Aiyuk was a big highlight of the 2020 season. We saw a breakout from Deebo Samuel in the second half of 2019, and a breakout from Aiyuk in the second half of this season. These two young, athletic, versatile, dynamic wide receivers are the future of this offense.

In 12 games played, Aiyuk caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for two more. If he had played all 16 games, there is no question he would have accumulated more than 1,000 yards.

Between Aiyuk, Samuel, Kittle, and an offensive scheme that allows for almost any running back to succeed, there will be no shortage of offensive weapons next season.

Another new addition to the offense was left tackle Trent Williams, who replaced 49ers legend, Joe Staley. After not playing last season, Williams returned to the field in 2020 as a stellar replacement for Staley.

The 49ers defense in 2020 was hands down the biggest bright spot this season. Despite the constant slew of injuries, the defense held its own. Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh’s group finished the season as a top-10 rushing defense, and a top-five passing defense. Depth is so important, and the 49ers’ defense held its own because of the outstanding depth on the defensive side of the ball.

Most of the players on defense who made an impact in 2019 also made an impact in 2020, but there were a couple of standouts who stepped up big time this season. Both DL Kerry Hyder and CB Jason Verrett, who were forced into action due to injuries to other players, were fantastic in 2020. Hyder led the team in sacks (8-1/2) and Verrett played the role of a lockdown corner throughout a season without Richard Sherman.

If the 49ers are smart, they will make sure that both Verrett and Hyder are in the rotation on defense in 2021.

A lot of what went wrong this season can be chalked up to injuries and the issues that come with playing a full season in the middle of a pandemic, while some other issues pose legitimate concerns.

The quarterback position is probably the number one question mark surrounding this team. In a close second, is the fact that most of the defensive secondary, including Sherman, will hit free agency this offseason. The third being the lack of financial flexibility the team will have to bolster an already talented roster.

Nevertheless, the 49ers have officially weathered the storm that was the 2020 season, and want nothing more than to move on and focus on a bounceback season in 2021.

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