Is it just me or does something seem off about the San Francisco 49ers since about Week 9? That would be the week they lost Alex Smith to injury, and Colin Kaepernick began his unexpected run as the 49ers starting quarterback.
Oddly enough though, despite the timing of this funk, he’s been the least of their problems. It hasn’t been all bad since then, but it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing. Over this span Brandon Jacobs had his last hissy fit as a Niner and was shown the door, they lost Mario Manningham and Kendall Hunter for the remainder of the season to injury, and Justin Smith’s been out the last ten quarters with a triceps injury that has him questionable for their matchup with Green Bay. They’ve gone 5-2-1 over that stretch, which is really a good record.
Nothing to complain about there.
So why is it the football world isn’t convinced with these 49ers? What is it that’s making us question their ability to beat the Packers on Saturday? I guess the issue is consistency. The same 49ers team that can beat the Patriots in Foxborough, also barely beat the Miami Dolphins - don’t let the score fool you, that was a really close game. The same group that embarrassed the Bears in prime time, was made to look even worse at the hands of the Seahawks in, you guessed it, prime time.
As easy as it would be, due to the timing and all, you can’t blame Kaepernick for the Niners funk-like-thing. In games which Kaepernick has started the 49ers average 229 yards a game, to Smith’s 207. He adds a new dimension to this offense too, with the ability to run read option plays similar to the ones installed in Washington, Carolina, and Seattle. So it’s certainly not Kaepernick’s fault. The offense as a whole is more than holding its own, everyone other than Vernon Davis that is, but if you can fault a funk on tight end play, your team’s probably not in the playoffs. Certainly wouldn’t deserve to be anyways.
Believe it or not, it’s actually the 49ers defense that has dropped the ball over the last 8 weeks, and I’ve the stats to prove it. Over the first 8 weeks of the season the 49ers would only allow an average of 284 yards a game in total offense. Over the final 8 games, that mark would rise to 339. If you’re wondering whether it’s the rush defense or pass that’s taken a step back, the answer is a bit of both. But mostly the pass. There’s about a 40 yard discrepancy between the first 8 and final 8 games. With almost all the Niners injuries on the offense, who would have it was the defense that wasn’t playing up to expectations?
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The only question left, is how do they get back to Niners football?
I think it starts with Carlos Rogers returning to form, and Aldon Smith finding a way to get to the quarterback minus his other half: Justin Smith. The affable cornerback, known as “Los” by friends and teammates just hasn’t been as good this season as last. Plain and simple. His interceptions dropped from 6 to 1 this year, and his passes defense has seen a drastic drop from 18 to 7.
If the Niners are going to find a way to shut down the pass again, and oh how they’ll need to against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, they’re going to need Carlos Rogers to look like the pro bowler they had last season. As for Aldon Smith, to say he’s missing Justin Smith is somewhat of an understatement. It was a borderline certainty that Aldon Smith would break Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks leading up to Justin’s injury, but since then he hasn’t even registered one. If Justin Smith isn’t there to hold up 2 or 3 offensive linemen (albeit it, pretty much illegally) on Saturday, Aldon has to find a way to get pressure. If “Los” and Aldon Smith don’t pick up the slack, this once so promising season be it for personal or team accolades, could come to a disappointingly early finish.