49ers' Keys to Success in 2021 NFL SeasonAugust 30, 2021
49ers' Keys to Success in 2021 NFL Season
After an injury-plagued 2020 season led to a 6-10 record, the San Francisco 49ers are looking to rebound in 2021. At the same time, San Francisco is looking to develop rookie quarterback Trey Lance for the future.
The third overall pick in April's draft, Lance is likely to see the field this season—even if he isn't the primary starter. Allowing him to grow as a professional while keeping his confidence and health intact will be another big goal for the 49ers.
Success won't be measured by the regular-season standings this year. San Francisco is looking to find success in the postseason while also setting itself up for long-term fortune.
Here, we'll examine three keys to a successful 49ers season in 2021.
This may seem like a common-sense goal for any NFL team, but after San Francisco's 2020 campaign, it's critical for the 49ers.
San Francisco must find a way to keep its core players as healthy as possible in 2021. Whether that involves using a heavy rotation at key positions, limiting exposure in practice, pulling starters late in games or being extra cautious with injuries, it has to happen.
In 2019, San Francisco was within a quarter of winning the Super Bowl. In 2020, injuries to players like starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, pass-rusher Nick Bosa, tight end George Kittle, wideout Deebo Samuel and cornerback Richard Sherman left the 49ers as regular-season also-rans.
With the team mostly healthy now, the 49ers should again have championship aspirations. However, things could easily fall apart if quality contributors start piling up on the injury report.
Having both Lance and Garoppolo at quarterback provides some insurance at the game's most important position, though that creates a different situation that must be managed for success.
Find the Right Lance-Garoppolo Dynamic
The 49ers know that, when healthy, Garoppolo can take them to a Super Bowl. However, Garoppolo is not the future at quarterback. Maintaining a healthy relationship between the two quarterbacks will be critical, as it appears that both will see the field in 2021.
In the preseason finale against the Las Vegas Raiders, coach Kyle Shanahan platooned the two quarterbacks during the first two drives. Garoppolo took 14 snaps, while the rookie took 10.
According to Garoppolo, the concept of swapping quarterbacks took some getting used to.
"I think coming into it, it was weird at first, just having to process the whole thing," Garoppolo said, per ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "But after being out on the field, it was fun. When we're clicking like that and the defense is scrambling like that, it makes it hard."
By using both Garoppolo and Lance, the 49ers should be able to keep opposing defenses off-balance throughout the season. However, for the plan to work, they will also need to ensure that both signal-callers can maintain a rhythm on the field and stay satisfied with their respective roles.
A two-quarterback system can be tough for defenses to handle. However, if Shanahan and Co. cannot manage it properly, it could be hard on the 49ers, too.
Find the Right Rotation, Depth in the Secondary
If the 49ers hope to compete with the likes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers in the postseason, they're also going to have to have a plan at cornerback. San Francisco has two established veterans in Jason Verrett and K'Waun Williams who know how to work together.
"It just pours over on to the field and allows them—they know what to expect from each other. They have ease of communication between each other," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said, per The Athletic's David Lombardi.
However, Verrett and Williams are both 30 years old, and Verrett has an extensive injury history. Sherman remains unsigned, and the 49ers are going to have to identify and develop proper depth at the position.
That depth will likely involve rookie third-round pick Ambry Thomas and veteran Dontae Johnson—who started three games for the 49ers in 2020. It may also involve scouring the waiver wire after Tuesday's final roster cuts.
Regardless of how they do it, the 49ers must ensure they have adequate insurance at cornerback. There's simply no guarantee that Verrett and Williams will both last the full 18-week season.