The 49ers' Most Overlooked Loss of 2020

Grant Cohn

We all know the 49ers lost DeForest Buckner and Emmanuel Sanders this offseason. But not all of us seem to realize the 49ers also lost a key member of their coaching staff -- defensive passing-game coordinator Joe Woods.

Rich Eisen of the NFL Network certainly doesn’t know. He recently went on television and ridiculed Yahoo! writer Frank Schwab for giving the 49ers’ free agency a c-minus grade. Called him Charles’ Schwab’s brother and Mr. Yahoo!

Eisen argued that the 49ers improved their offense by adding Trent Williams, which is true -- although they traded for him two months after Schwab wrote his article. Eisen also said the 49ers made smart decisions by replacing Buckner and Sanders with cheap rookies. Another fair argument.

But Eisen wasn’t done. “They got better,” he said. Which is debatable -- the 49ers lost freaking Buckner and Sanders. Then Eisen said the 49ers had the best offseason in the entire NFL, which simply isn’t true. And then he supported his claim by saying this:

“On top of it all, they didn’t lose ANYBODY from their staff, which normally happens to any team that goes to the Super Bowl. They didn’t lose ANYBODY.”

Eisen came down hard on the word “Anybody.” Spoke with passion and conviction, as if he had covered the 49ers every day for the past 10 years and intimately knew the members of their organization.

He was wrong, though.

The 49ers lost Joe Woods -- the Browns hired him as their defensive coordinator. Yes, the Browns, who could have hired 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their head coach, but instead hired former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Woods.

Cleveland knows Woods was essential to the 49ers’ defense.

The 49ers hired Woods just last season. He was a defensive backs coach under Wade Phillips from 2015 to 2016, so he has pedigree. And he was the Broncos defensive coordinator from 2017 to 2018, so he has experience.

Before the 49ers hired Woods, their secondary was historically bad -- it intercepted just two passes in 2018. Then the 49ers added Woods plus some key pieces to their pass rush -- Nick Bosa and Dee Ford -- and the secondary improved tremendously. Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley all had career seasons in 2019 under Woods.

On the 49ers, Woods was like a second defensive coordinator. He called the defensive coverages. Plus he varied them and disguised them more than the 49ers had in the past. They used to play Cover 3 almost all the time.

Now, Woods is gone, and the 49ers new passing game coordinator is Mike Rutenberg, who never has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL. He was an assistant linebackers coach for the Jaguars the past two seasons.

I’m not saying Rutenberg will fail, but he’s a total unknown who replaces a star defensive coach. So even if Rutenberg is bright and talented -- and I’m sure he is -- he could struggle during his first season as a defensive pass-game coordinator. And if he struggles, so will the 49ers pass defense which ranked No. 1 in the NFL under Woods last season.

Mr. Eisen should have known that.


Mr. Eisen responds:

Fair enough, Rich. Thanks for being such a good sport, and thanks for acknowledging Mr. Woods.

Comments (6)
No. 1-2

I wonder if Joe Woods is one of the reasons why Emmanuel Moseley played so well last season. Not too many undrafted free agents step right into the starting lineup and play at the level Moseley did.


Um. Joe Woods was good, but make no mistake. The secondary was better because they were healthy, and they front seven was dramatically improved. It wasnt because of Woods. So.

  1. SF got better in the secondary this offseason by bringing in a Secondary Coach that can coach up man to man technique to make the secondary even better from Miami who had 13 Ints last year.
    2 And bringing in a passing game coordinator that came from a team that like to blitz, which you need man corners for, is good to.
    3 Picture this, SF had the 2nd highest pressure rate while having the 3rd lowest blitz. If you add a few blitz packages to that defense while improving the man coverage, imagine those numbers. Now consider how good the Miami coach was when Miami had the lowest pressure rate. That means that secondary coach was assume.
  2. For the last time, you have to do better Grant