By: Tom Maugeri
“If you were calling us pretenders in the beginning, call us pretenders now.”
It’s a simple message from cornerback Richard Sherman, but it’s one that reflects the mindset of this team.
The 49ers have come out of seemingly nowhere this season and are off to a 5-0 start, a record not only good enough for first in the NFC West, but good enough for the entire NFC as well.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, was looking for this team to make any noise this season. Being in the same division as the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks will tend to have that effect. Hey, even the Cardinals generated some buzz with Kyler Murray. But who was talking about the San Francisco 49ers?
It’s this level of disrespect that has fueled this talented 49ers team, and Sherman has made it clear that if you weren’t rooting for them to begin with, he certainly doesn’t want you rooting for them now.
It’s understandable that Sherman is taking this approach, but honestly can he blame anyone for failing to recognize the 49ers as a contender?
Last year this team went 4-12 and finished third in the NFC West. Their defense was 28th in the league, which led to many people calling for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be fired.
Their offense was ranked 21st, and guess who their leading passer was? Go ahead, take the time and actually think about it. If you were able to guess Nick Mullens, then congratulations. You are a true football nerd.
There wasn’t exactly a lot to look forward to from this team heading into the 2019 season. They were supposed to get Jerick McKinnon back from injury, but sadly he was put right back on IR. Nobody knew if Garoppolo would be the same following an ACL injury. On top of these factors, they play in one of the hardest divisions in football that did nothing but get better in the off-season.
So why have they been able to start this season on absolute fire?
Well for one thing, it’s good that Robert Saleh wasn’t fired in the offseason.
This defense has been monstrous this year, shutting down opponent after opponent, and holding the Rams to only seven points this past Sunday. Not only did they hold them to one score, but they forced the Rams to go a combined 0-13 on 3rd and 4th down combined. Let that sink in.
They held one of the most creative offensive minds in Sean McVay to zero conversions in these situations. Sure they were missing Todd Gurley, but nonetheless, that’s an impressive feat. Still not convinced in this defense? Allow me to change your mind.
The San Francisco defense is in the top three in almost every major category except rushing yards per game. The defense has been elite, and it’s one of the reasons for this team’s turnaround.
They have the third most rush yards in the league, behind only the Baltimore Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings. The Ravens have centered their offense around Lamar Jackson running the ball, and the Vikings have centered their offense around the fact that Kirk Cousins can’t throw a ball for more than three and a half yards.
You like that? Vikings fans certainly don’t.
This makes San Francisco’s position as third in the league in rushing that much more impressive. If you can run the ball and play good defense, then your team is certainly in good shape on any given day.
Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t doing a whole lot, but in all honesty, he doesn’t have to.
He’s doing what he has to in order to make sure this team stays hot. He doesn’t have to be the reason they win games right now, he just can’t be the reason they lose games.
The season is young and the schedule has been kind to the team from the Bay Area. The combined record of their opponents they’ve faced so far sits at a measly 9-21, so it’s not like they’ve actually been battle tested thus far.
Things will only get harder next week when they take on the mighty *checks schedule* Washington Redskins. Okay – so they’ll be fine next week, but with a hot Panthers team and MVP candidate Russell Wilson on the horizon, it seems like we’ll finally be able to tell if this San Francisco team has a real shot at making a playoff run.
Cover photo via: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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