Sometimes, football is a simple game. Sometimes, winning and losing is determined by simply taking care of the football on offense and taking it away on defense.
So, in that regard, there may be hope for the 49ers in 2019 because the franchise was freakishly awful in those categories in 2018.
Last season, the 49ers gave the ball away 32 times on offense, with 20 interceptions and 12 fumbles lost. On defense, the Niners had just seven takeaways, with two interceptions and five fumble recoveries. That made San Francisco the worst team in the NFL with a minus-25 takeaway/giveaway total.
By contrast, last season’s Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Patriots, were among the NFL’s top teams in that category, at plus-11 and plus-10, respectively.
As the 49ers head toward the start of training camp in late July, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is hopeful that number can take a big leap forward – and the 49ers can win more games.
The addition of defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford could be a key to the equation, with more pressure on opposing quarterbacks producing more off-target throws and sacks (which can produce fumbles).
Ford, playing for the Chiefs in 2018, was credited with forcing 10 turnovers (seven forced fumbles, three interceptions). New linebacker Kwon Alexander, formerly of the Bucs, also is known for creating turnovers.
But Saleh has said there was simply some bad luck, too, that produced those horrible turnover numbers in 2018. The law of averages could bring some good luck the 49ers’ way this season.
Saleh said his team had some bad breaks in a 4-12 season.
"There’s no doubt," Saleh said late last season, when asked if the 49ers can improve their takeaway number in 2019. "I’ve never seen it like this before in my life, where the ball just sits on the ground and the bounces that other teams have gotten, the drops. I’m baffled, I’ll be honest with you. It can flip in a hurry."
Just two seasons earlier, for instance, the Rams were minus-11 in giveaway/takeaway ratio.
"They come in bunches," said Saleh. "It’s all rush coverage, everything tying together."
Saleh said the 49ers were "snake-bitten" in 2018.
While the 49ers believe they’ve improved their roster this offseason, taking care of the ball better, and taking it away, could go a long way to making 2019 more successful.