As we learned in 2019, as good as the 49ers are the margin for error in the NFC West is razor-thin.
Despite having the more talented roster, the 49ers were pushed to the limit by Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, needing a Dre Greenlaw tackle on the 1-yard line in Week 17 to secure the division crown and No. 1 seed in the NFC. The two rivals should be close again in 2020, but the Seahawks will be starting the season at a disadvantage due to the lack of offseason OTAs and perhaps a shortened training camp.
While some position groups can make do with Zoom meetings and individual workouts, the offensive line is a group that needs to work together to establish cohesion. The Seahawks underwent massive turnover on the offensive line in the offseason. Seattle cut center Justin Britt and guard D.J. Fluker while tackles Germain Ifedi and George Fant left in free agency. That's 60 percent of their starting offensive line and a key reserve that now are gone.
The lack of in-person time to work on chemistry due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic worries tackle Duane Brown.
“A major factor is just chemistry. And continuity,” Brown said during a videoconference with reporters, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune. “And we just lost a big chunk of our starting pieces this offseason. So we’ve got some new faces, some guys who have been in the system, some guys that haven’t been there. Just have to learn each other, learning the the terminology, communication, just learning how we do things here. All of that stuff is important.
“We’re doing what we can now virtually, by texts, calls, just to try to build as much chemistry as possible until we’re able to meet and physically get on the field. Once that happens we have a small window to build each other up as much as possible until the season starts.”
The Seahawks needed to upgrade or change their offensive line in free agency. Seattle had the 27th ranked offensive line last, per Pro Football Focus. Their pressure rate allowed in 2.5 seconds or less was 26.7 percent, which ranked last in the NFL.
Seattle brought in four free agents, including center B.J. Finney and tackle Brandon Shell. The unit very well could be better than last year's disaster but it will take time for them to come together.
With the 49ers returning the majority of a loaded roster, some early stumbles by the Seahawks due to offensive line play could be all San Francisco needs to wrap up the division before their Week 17 showdown at Levi's Stadium.
In the battle for the NFC West title, any little advantage over Wilson and Pete Carroll helps, especially given Seattle's easy December schedule. Lack of offensive line continuity early on in the Pacific Northwest could be a gift to the 49ers.