Happy New Year, 49erland…and welcome to the most depressing installment of Upon Further Review to date. Sure the 49ers have lost this season, but after a beat down like the one we watched last Sunday, it's a miracle that we all didn't drink ourselves into a stupor … oh, wait … most of us did (at least, AJ did). This week, we'll be looking at what the hell happened to the 49er offense last week, what in the world happened to the 49er defense last week and our picks for Week 17.
What hap ... what happened to the offense in Seattle last Sunday?
AJ: Dude. For all of the conceivable ways that last Sunday night's game could have sucked for the offense...it hit every friggin' facet of suckage imaginable. The short story is as follows: the passing game was a joke, the running game never got started, receivers couldn't get open, linemen couldn't get any push off of the snap, and when Colin Kaepernick didn't look lost, he was harried to the point that he was completely ineffective. All told it doesn't get any worse than it did last week.
So...what the hell happened? Curiously, the answer is shockingly simple. It wasn't the "WWL Curse." It wasn't a sudden loss of talent. It wasn't overconfidence. It was a poorly conceived game plan that put too much pressure on a QB that still needs some help to win. In each of the 49ers' previous losses this season, they have failed to establish the run and that is precisely what happened last Sunday. This offense has a key...and that key is Frank Gore. This team goes as its running game goes…no matter which of its QBs is under center. Colin Kaepernick is a QB that thrives on the threat of the run to generate opportunities in the passing game. With no viable running threat, Kaepernick was left exposed, and the Seahawks were free to pin their ears back and rush the passer at will. The net result: Kaep was left to run for his life, unable to make his reads in a timely fashion, and unable to lead the 49er offense on anything resembling a successful drive until the game was completely out of hand.
For the 49ers to have any hope winning in the playoffs, they need to get back to their offensive roots. The 49er offense has a formula for winning, and that formula involves running the ball, chewing up the clock, keeping the ball out of the hands of opposing offenses, limiting turnovers and controlling the tempo of the game. What happened to the offense last Sunday was simple: they got away from what works, and it cost them the game.
Diego: The 49ers lacked execution on offense from the get-go, and by the time they got going ... wait, they never got going.
As I thought they should, the 49ers came out looking to establish some kind of passing game against a Seahawks secondary that was featuring their 5th best CB, Jeremy Lane, as a starter. Colin Kaepernick's very first pass of the game looked to exploit Lane on a deep route against Mario Manningham, but the pass was slightly overthrown. Two plays later on 3rd&10 Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree for what might had been a first down, but the pass went right through Crabtree's hands above his head and just like that we had seen San Francisco go three-and-out.
60 seconds had not gone by in the game when the 49ers were back on offense, down 7-0, and this time around they tried to establish some kind of running game, but they were unable to get in any kind of rhythm. Kaepernick was finally able to get some positive yards on the board (on the 5th offensive snap of the game) by scrambling for 7 yards, and shortly after LaMichael James barely got a first down, but the very next play saw Kaepernick have to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game. The first completion of the game was to Bruce Miller on a dump off for -1 yards, and the very next 3rd down play turned out to be a HB screen that was completely busted by the Seahawks.
Curtain down, curtain up, and Seattle was out to a 14-point lead, and to San Francisco's credit they didn't panic, even after Frank Gore fumbled on a run that was stuffed by Seattle's defense. Joe Staley recovered the ball, and Kap later hit Vernon Davis for a nice gain against zone defense, which was followed by Gore's first positive run of the night (in the 3rd drive of the game, mind you, for just 4 yards). This "momentum" was cut short by another SF timeout to avoid a delay of game, and Gore's next run went nowhere as the offensive line failed to open any lanes or get any push. The very next play: delay of game (You didn't think we would use all three timeouts to avoid those, did you?). Even so, Kap hit Crabtree for an 11-yard gain to keep the chains moving, and the following 3rd down ended on a 1st&goal at Seattle's 10-yard line after Kam Chancellor was hit with a ridiculous personal foul call on a "defenseless" Vernon Davis. Now just 10 yards away, the league's top offensive line would sure allow San Francisco to get in the end zone, right? Uh, no. After Gore gained 6 yards on a run, Kaepernick was unable to get any closer to the end zone on a designed run to the left, and his 3rd down desperation pass to Crabtree at the back of the end zone was nearly picked off by Richard Sherman, who would pick up the ensuing blocked field goal and return it all the way for a touchdown and a 21-0 Seattle lead.
You remember watching the New England Patriots storm back from a 28-point deficit to make us sweat in that thrilling victory in Foxboro? These 49ers, not so much capable of pulling that off, regardless of who is behind center. This offense NEVER got going, never got in a rhythm, and flat out was not able to put together any kind of consistent drive. Be it dump offs that weren't going anywhere, not making throws that should had been made (WR screen to Crabtree), failing to make the right protection calls on the line, or calling late audibles, this game easily turned in the worst offensive performance by the 49ers this season. Losing Vernon Davis (concussion) and Mario Manningham (torn ACL/PCL) did not help. Nonetheless, the ineptitude on offense was not the only reason they were embarrassed in Seattle.
What in the world happened to the defense in Seattle last Sunday?
AJ: The 49er defense had what might be their worst game of the season last Sunday night. A unit that was easily the best defense in the league before Sunday's kickoff leaked like a sieve. They couldn't get off of their blocks. They were a step slow in pursuit. So...what happened? After watching, re-watching, and re-watching the game again, the answer became plainly evident.
In each of the 49ers' games prior to their game in Foxboro, the defense averaged 65.15 plays per game. Over the course of their last two games, the 49ers defense has averaged 94.5 plays per game...almost 1.5 times their average. For a team that does not do much in the way of substitution along the front 7 of their defense, that is as close to a god-awful unholy nightmare as it gets: their star studded defense is exhausted. That doesn't mean that it isn't the strength of the team...it means that after two weeks of being asked to remain on the field for 90+ plays, they are beat up. The D-Line is struggling to occupy blockers, their linebackers are struggling to stop the run, their defensive backs are nicked up and they need help. Big time. What kind of help do they need? That's actually pretty simple...the 49ers need to get back to playing their brand of football. That means pounding the rock, winning the field position battle, and controlling the clock.
There is but one solution to what ails the 49er defense, and that is rest.
Diego: Bless your soul Ricky Jean-Francois, you're a good player, but you are not even a shadow of All-Galaxy defensive lineman Justin Smith. The Seahawks were determined to find out what you were all about early on in this game, and the very first time they ran your way their offensive line ate you alive and Marshawn Lynch made a statement 24-yard scoring run to get the home team ahead.
From that point on it was the Russell Wilson show. Seattle's game plan was superior to San Francisco, and Wilson executed like a maestro for the most part. When he wasn't standing in the pocket with plenty of time to throw due to no pass rush, Wilson was frustrating 49ers' would-be sackers by putting on a clinic on how-to-scramble-away-from-pressure-while-keeping-your-eyes-downfield-and-making-plays. It was something else. Aided by the early lead and the home crowd, Wilson was cool and collected from the get-go and proved that his performances the last few games weren't just the result of facing poor defensive teams: Russell Wilson is for real folks, and so are the Seattle Seahawks.
Ricky Jean-Francois actually had a decent game after getting picked on early on, and the 49ers made several standout plays in both the rushing and passing games, but the Seahawks responded each and every time, whether it was Wilson defeating perfect coverage by avoiding coverage sacks and getting positive yards on long scrambles, running timely "pick" plays, picking on the bottom of San Francisco's CB depth chart with 4 and 5 WR sets, Lynch getting timely chunk yards on the ground (including zone-read plays), or Wilson making outstanding throws such as the 4-yard pass to Doug Baldwin at the end of the third quarter. The 49ers defense was unable to do what they had done all season long: consistently make plays and get off the field.
What happened last Sunday in Seattle was an avalanche that could not be stopped: inconsistent play on offense, inability to get off the field on defense, and the back-breaking blocked field goal return for a touchdown that pretty much defined the faith of the game. The 49ers were whooped badly in every facet of the game, and as Ronnie Lott would put it, right now they stink.
Two Minute Drill
- Kam Chancellor wasn't fined for his hit on Vernon Davis (which was legal, by the way), but Dashon Goldson was fined $21,000 for his hit on Aaron Hernandez. Wow. It's nice to know that the NFL's fine police are objective (insert wry, sarcastic laughter here).
- This week the 49ers are playing what might be the worst team in the NFL. A win means that they are NFC West Champions. A loss means that if they meet the Seahawks again in the post season, they'll do it at Artificialnoiselink Stadium. Games don't get more "must win" than this one.
- Last week, the 49ers got away from the run and it cost them. Look for the 49ers to emphasize the run this weekend in order to give their defense a rest and get themselves on track for the playoffs.
- Last week, the 49ers lost their biggest game of the season. Losses like that have a way of sticking with a team…and a young QB. If the 49ers are going to bring home Lombardi Trophy #6 this postseason, they'll need to get their head straight, and a decisive win under their collective belts. Look for the 49ers to come out swinging on Sunday.
- Lost in the hideousness that was last week's game in Seattle was David Akers' field goal towards the end of the first half. On the road, in the rain and wind, and from 54 yards away, a distance from which he has struggled mightily this season. This isn't to say he may be back, but that was definitely something good to see, and hopefully he can keep it up the rest of the season and in the post season.
- Next man up? A.J. Jenkins is reportedly being asked to step into the role Mario Manningham played this season, which would lead you to believe he is suddenly about to see more playing time than Ted Ginn Jr. I'll believe it when I see it.
- That awkward moment when the injury bug hits one of the 49er top three cornerbacks and all of the sudden Tramaine Brock gets on the field. I dreaded the moment that happened against the New York Giants' last year in the playoffs (and Manningham scored a 4th quarter touchdown against him then), and I cringed again when Tarrell Brown for a moment looked to have a freaky knee injury and the Seahawks went right after Brock on the very next play to convert a 3rd down. If you include Carlos Rogers' subpar performance this season, you'll be kidding yourself if you don't think the CB position needs to be addressed in this upcoming draft.
- Don't count Aldon Smith out of the sack record. Yes, he hasn't been the same since Justin Smith went out with what we now know is a partially torn left triceps tendon, but this is the Arizona Cardinals we're talking about, a team that has given up 56 sacks this season. If #99 is unable to get anything going against maybe the worst offensive line in the league, you really have to wonder just how much credit #94 should had been receiving all along.
Week 17 Picks
Week 17 is finally upon us, and this week, the 49ers have an opportunity to win the NFC West for the second straight season…even though they laid an egg of historic proportions last week. Here's hoping that while the second seed is all but lost (anyone here think the Packers will be losing to the Vikings?), that the Niners can assure themselves of at least one home game this post season. Without further ado, here are our picks for Week 17.
Bears at Lions:
AJ: The meteoric decline of the Bears is matched only by the epic impotence of the Lions. Look for Jay Cutler to throw multiple interceptions…and for the Lions to blow a lead and lose the game anyway. Bears.
Diego: ESPN Stats & Info gave me the scoop this week: "Jay Cutler: 6-1 W-L, 11 TD, 1 INT vs Lions since joining Bears. Against rest of division: 6-8 W-L, 23 TD, 25 INT" Uh, yeah ... Bears.
Browns at Steelers:
AJ: The Steelers have been eliminated from playoff contention, and the Browns are looking to prove that they are becoming relevant, despite missing the playoffs yet again. The home team will pull this one out, even though they are only playing for pride. Steelers.
Diego: Thad Lewis will be starting for Cleveland this week. I'm not even kidding. Go google him, I haven't gotten around to doing that yet. Steelers.
Buccaneers at Falcons:
AJ: The Bucs have tailed off of late, and the Falcons have all but established that they are a bonafide playoff contender…even though they have blown it in each and every playoff appearance in the Matt Ryan era. Falcons.
Diego: I can't see the Falcons playing many of their starters much, if at all this week. Bucs.
Eagles at Giants:
AJ: For most of this season, the Eagles have been the most disappointing team in the NFL. The Giants started out hot, but have been reeling for the last few weeks. Look for the Eagles to play hard enough to earn a win in what will likely be Andy Reid's last game as their head coach, and for the Giants to miss the playoffs. Eagles.
Diego: Nope, I can't see it, no matter how much the G-men seem destined to crash into the end of their season. Giants.
Jaguars at Titans:
AJ: This game will go down in history as the first annual Toilet Bowl. In a twisting, turning cornucopia of awful, the Titans will manage to pull out a victory. Purely on accident. Titans.
Diego: Did you know? Tennessee is 0-5 in their division, which means 1 of the 2 wins Jacksonville has managed this season was against them. Jags.
Jets at Bills:
AJ: The magic 8-ball says that the home team pulls this one out. Bills.
Diego: If Mark Sanchez gets injured during the game, Jeremy Kerley will get the call at QB, and should he get injured then we'll see Joe McKnight behind center, I'm just not sure what it takes for Tim Tebow to get a shot. Bills
Panthers at Saints:
AJ: Cam is finally playing up to his potential this season ... but that won't matter at the Superdome this weekend. Saints.
Diego: Yeah if any team is playing for pride this weekend, it is New Orleans. Saints.
Ravens at Bengals:
AJ: Andy Dalton managed to beat the Steelers last week…but the Ravens won decisively against a much better team. Though they are a far cry from the team that they've been in recent seasons, look for the visitors to secure their hold on the AFC North. Ravens.
Diego: Baltimore is average on the road, and even though Cincinnati doesn't necessarily have anything to play for in this game I have to think a victory in this game would serve them well going into the playoffs next week. Bengals.
Texans at Colts:
AJ: The Colts almost blew it in Kansas City last week, but managed to win in a tough venue…but that won't be enough to beat a better team, even at home. Texans.
Diego: Two words: Chuck Pagano. Colts.
Chiefs at Broncos:
AJ: This game is as close to the definition of "unfair" as it gets. Broncos.
Diego: Denver could win this game with Brock Osweiler at QB. Broncos.
Dolphins at Patriots:
AJ: The Dolphins always play the Pats tough, but at Foxboro in December the Pats are (almost) unbeatable. Patriots.
Diego: What AJ said. Patriots.
Packers at Vikings:
AJ: In fantasyland, the Pack would lose here, enabling the 49ers to lock up the #2 seed and a first round bye in the post season. In the real world, however, the Vikes are going to lose, ending their playoff aspirations and ensuring that the 49ers will need to win 3 playoff games to make it to the Super Bowl. Packers.
Diego: I believe in Adrian Peterson. I believe he will break the single season rushing record. I believe Minnesota will win this game to make the playoffs. Vikings.
Raiders at Chargers:
AJ: Even the Chargers aren't bad enough to lose at home to the Raiders. Chargers.
Diego: I want to watch this game simply because of Terrell Pryor being named Oakland's starting QB. Too bad this game will be on at the same time as the 49ers'. Raiders.
Rams at Seahawks:
AJ: As much as I'd love to think that the Rams have a snowball's chance in hell of putting the beat down on the Seahawks at home, chances are that the Rams will lose (badly). Seahawks.
Diego: You thought Russell Wilson's worst game in the NFL had been against the 49ers in week 7? Wrong, try against the Rams in week 4. I'm sure he hasn't forgotten and will be looking to bounce back, finish the season strong, and break Peyton Manning's record for most TD passes by a rookie (26, Wilson has 25). Seahawks.
Cowboys at Redskins:
AJ: The Cowboys have a chance to earn a playoff berth with a win over the Redskins. In order to do so, Tony Romo will have to deliver in the clutch. As such, look for Romo to live up to his full potential, and give the home team a playoff berth in the process. Redskins.
Diego: Only reason you shouldn't know what my pick is here is because you have never read this column before, or you just don't pay attention. So the odds are high, actually. Redskins.
Cardinals at 49ers:
AJ: The Cardinals might be the worst team in the NFL right now. The 49ers are coming off of their worst loss of the season. Given that the 49ers are a far better team and that they need a win to secure their second straight NFC West Championship, look for the 49ers to do enough to earn a victory. 49ers.
Diego: San Francisco's defense hasn't been the same since The Cowboy went out with an injury, but Arizona will make them look like Pro-Bowlers once again. I think. 49ers.
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