© Stan Szeto | 2018 May 30
After a season in which the 49ers lost their first nine games and won their last five, making an accurate prediction for the upcoming season is far from easy.
Those last five wins came after the addition of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots. During that final five-game stretch, the 49ers were arguably the best team in the NFL, with Garoppolo throwing for an average of 308.4 yards per game. This stretch included 44-33 and 34-13 wins over the stingy Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams defenses.
The outstanding conclusion to the season begs the question: was the 49ers end-of-season stretch with Garoppolo the new norm, or a fluke? Matt Barrows joined Gary and Larry to try and answer that question.
“If Jimmy Garoppolo breaks his wrist, I think they’d be lucky to get 6-10,” Barrows said. “So there are lots of ways that this could fall. 6-10 wouldn’t shock me, but I think they’re going to be better than 6-10. I put the over-under on 8-8. I know that’s wishy-washy, but that’s the improvement that I think they’re going to make.”
While Barrows said he expected Garoppolo to connect with running back Jerick McKinnon in a potentially deadly way, he added that the team’s improvement will hinge on defensive growth.
“I think it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they make the playoffs this year, whereas last year I would have said otherwise,” Barrows said. “To me, the defense, I think, just needs another year of seasoning. They made a nice leap from their awful 2016 season last year, but they still finished I think 24th in the league. It’s still not a good defense.”
“I think it has the potential to be a very good (defense), but like I said, I think it will take one more year of guys like Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner, Ahkello Witherspoon, Adrian Colbert, etc. getting a year of seasoning under their belt before this can be considered a defense that can help get a team to the playoffs and pass rush. We were talking about (pass rushing) last year as a problem. They still haven’t really solved that. That’s a major component of a team’s defense and one that remains unfilled this year.”
With the looming two-game suspension of inside linebacker Reuben Foster to start the season, Barrows highlighted third-round draft pick Fred Warner as someone who could fill Foster’s spot and play alongside Foster once he returns.
“I wouldn’t say (Warner) was the best guy on the field (in organized team activities), but he was surprisingly good,” Barrows said. “He played at sort of a wide-open defense at BYU and he basically was almost like a slot cornerback. He played off the line of scrimmage, he played away from the main formation. And he had to kind of adjust when he joined the 49ers and he did everything right.”
“He’s a smart guy, he was calling the plays,” Barrows continued. “He’s tall, he’s fast, he’s big. It’s clear the 49ers see the future at inside linebacker as Fred Warner and Reuben Foster. That would be their ideal scenario.”
Listen to the full interview below. To hear Matt Barrows talk about his expectations for the 49ers, start at 2:30.