The San Francisco 49ers worked hard to reach Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. They will compete with the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday to see who is the best in the NFL. However, even though they reached the biggest event in sports, their first trip to the big show since January of 1995, they are not invincible. Let's take a look at some weaknesses to keep an eye on during Super Sunday.
Because the Ravens and 49ers both possess great defenses, it is entirely possible that this game could come down to the kicking game.
On the Ravens side is rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who has made 30 of his 33 regular season attempts with his longest being a 56 yarder. During the postseason, he has made both of his two field goal attempts with his longest being a 47 yarder.
On the 49ers side, veteran David Akers has struggled this season. Last season, he made 44 of his 52 regular season attempts. This season, he has made only 29 of his 42 attempts with his longest, a 63-yarder, coming during week one against the Green Bay Packers. During the postseason, he completed his only attempt against the Packers, but missed his only attempt against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. Akers had double hernia surgery during the offseason and admits that he has been dealing with the complications of that injury during this season. The 49ers brought in Billy Cundiff to compete with Akers for the playoffs. Cundiff was later released by the team.
So the real question is how this might change the 49ers' game plan. Would the team prefer to go for it on 4th-and-short rather than risk kicking a 40+ yard field goal? How much can the team rely on Akers to add three to the scoreboard?
Justin Smith's injury
With all due respect to the 49ers' extremely talented group of linebackers, Justin Smith is the heart of this defense. He is where all of the chaos begins. When he is not hurrying the quarterback himself, he is opening things up for guys like Aldon Smith to get to the quarterback. A strong pass rush can do a lot to help the pass protection out and set up a lot of other things.
Smith was injured during the team's week 15 matchup against the New England Patriots. He would miss the team's final two games of the season and then returned for their Divisional Playoff matchup against the Packers. Prior to Justin Smith's injury, linebacker Aldon Smith accumulated 19.5 sacks. Since his injury, even after Justin Smith's return, Aldon Smith has not reached the quarterback.
Since his return to the field, Justin Smith has been playing with a brace on his arm for protection and to help minimize further injury. However, with every down, Smith is risking a full tear of his left triceps. A few days after Super Bowl XLVII, Smith will undergo surgery to repair the injury and will miss most of the 49ers' offseason programs.
Justin Smith at 60% is still better than no Justin Smith at all and he still draws double teams. That will only help players like Aldon Smith, who according to NFL.com, recorded five quarterback hurries apiece against the Packers and Falcons.
49ers pass defense
Prior to the week 15 contest against the Patriots, the 49ers were allowing only 14 points-per-game. Since then, the 49ers are allowing 29 points-per-game. Of the 12 teams in the playoffs, the 49ers rank 11th in allowed passing yards-per-game. They allowed Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan to combine for 653 yards through the air.
The Ravens are averaging 276 passing yards-per-game, which ranks 4th among the 12 playoff teams. Joe Flacco has a 114.7 QB rating, has thrown for 853 yards, 8 touchdowns and no interceptions through the playoffs. The pass defense will have to improve in order to slot down Flacco.
Injuries on offense
As dynamic as this offense has been since Kaepernick has taken over, how much better would they be with a little more depth? Wide receiver Kyle Williams and running back Kendal Hunter were both injured and lost for the season at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans during a week 12 matchup with the Saints. Hunter's injury has allowed rookie LaMichael James to emerge in the role of Frank Gore's backup. During week 15, the 49ers lost another wide receiver. This time, it was Mario Manningham who suffered a torn ACL. That just leaves rookie A.J. Jenkins, who has not yet caught a pass, and Ted Ginn, who has 3 receptions for 4 yards (including playoffs), behind starters Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss. Still, this is a better wide receiver situation than the end of last season.