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Well...that was ugly, wasn't it? In what might have been the most uninspired effort of the Harbaugh era, the 49ers napped through most of last week's showdown with the Colts...and it showed. For the first time in two seasons, the 49ers have lost back to back games and the bandwagon is beginning to empty.
This week, we'll be focusing on what the f%#k went wrong, why it went wrong, and what to expect from the resident heroes of 49erland going forward.
It's Deja Vu, All Over Again
Last week's game was eerily similar to the 49ers implosion against Seattle. The 49er offense looked like it was stuck in neutral, Colin Kaepernick looked frazzled, receivers could not get open and ultimately, the defense buckled after being asked to stay on the field for over 36 minutes. The big issues with the 49er offense were twofold...they abandoned a perfectly effective running attack, and their passing attack never got going.
There are some who view the first consecutive losses of the Harbaugh era as a harbinger of things to come for the 49ers...but that's not really the case. The 49ers offense looked bad for a reason, and the reason isn't because they're backsliding. The 49ers did not magically start sucking...Colin Kaepernick didn't suddenly forget how to read a defense...the coaches did not suddenly forget how to game plan. The plain truth is that the 49ers missed Vernon Davis. Badly.
Davis is a big enough threat that opposing defenses will almost always dedicate a linebacker and/or a defensive back to him...and even if he's bracketed, he can STILL make plays. In addition to his offensive ability, Davis is a more than capable blocker. All in all, he is among the NFL's best at his position.
Last Sunday, Vance McDonald was asked to be Vernon...and he is not among the NFL's best tight ends. Don't get me wrong...the kid has a boatload of potential. He's big, fast and fluid...but he isn't the world's best blocker. Add to that the fact that he has yet to develop a real rapport with Kap, and you have the beginning of the 49ers problem last week: the 49ers had no real offensive threat through the air (certainly not at TE, anyway)...and that allowed the Colts defense to single up almost every 49ers receiver, sending extra defensive pressure at will, which completely flummoxed the offense.
Running on Empty
Though the 49er passing attack was completely useless last week, the running game was more than effective...for awhile anyway. On the 49ers first offensive possession, Frank Gore gained over 60 yards. For the game, he averaged over 7 yards per carry. Whenever he touched the ball, great things happened. He was awesome.
After the 2nd quarter, he touched the ball 3 times. Maybe it's just me...but I think that's pretty silly. With Crabtree out and Vernon hobbled, Gore is the best offensive option available...especially behind a wall of Staley, Iupati, Goodwin, Boone and Davis. If the 49ers are going to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they need to be to compete against the league's best teams, they'll need to do it on the back of Frank the Tank.
On a short week, the 49ers have to hit the road to take on the Rams...a team that plays them very, very tough. The Rams are off to a slow start, but make no mistake, this game is going to be knockdown, drag out brawl. This is not a game that the 49ers can afford to lose. This is not a game that the 49ers can afford to play "cute." This is a game that requires Coaches Harbaugh and Roman to go back to their "ground and pound" roots.
In the event that Vernon Davis is out (or playing, but limited) expect the 49ers to dial up a run heavy game plan that will take advantage of the Rams' penchant for aggressive defensive play. Look for Frank Gore to get in excess of 20 touches, and for the 49ers to use scheme (read: play action) to create opportunities through the air. There is a real chance for the 49ers to win this game...but for that to happen, they must do what comes naturally instead of forcing the issue. It's time for the 49ers to feed Frank.
*Since Aldon Smith's DUI and subsequent trip to rehab, everyone and their mother has taken the opportunity to fling hate at Aldon, the 49ers, Coach Harbaugh and anyone else within spitting distance of the situation. In my estimation, all of the idiots yammering about the situation are missing its most critical aspect: Aldon Smith needs help...and right now he's getting it.
*In case any of you have missed it, Colin Kaepernick has been "favoriting" some of the more choice Twitter hate sent his way. He's always seemed to be a guy that plays football with a chip on his shoulder...and it looks like he may be trying to get it back.
*As much as I'd love to think that Anquan Boldin is due for a huge game...it has become painfully evident that he's a player that needs a scheme to be effective. Don't be surprised to see him lined up in the slot on Thursday night in an effort to get him more opportunities through the air.
*Just wondering...is EVERY big hit by a 49er defender this season going to draw a flag? Here's hoping that tackling is still legal by season's end.
*With Aldon Smith inactive format least the next 4 weeks, look for Corey Lemonier to see significantly more playing time...and how well he does will play a huge part in the 49ers defensive success (or lack thereof) for the remainder of the season. I'm eager to see what he does in St. Louis.
Picks for Week 4
Bears at Lions (-3)
The Lions are at home, and have what might be the best receiver in the league...and they'll still probably lose to the Bears, who are a better team, player for player. BEARS.
Bengals (-4.5) at Browns
The Browns shocked the world last week, winning a game that they should have lost by all rights. This week, they take on a peaking Bengals team that k.o.'d the Packers last week. Even though they're at home, the Browns won't be shocking anyone. BENGALS.
Cardinals at Buccaneers (-3)
The Cardinals are reeling from an absolute beat down at the hands of the Saints...and the Bucs are in complete disarray. Both teams are falling apart...but the home team gets the edge here. BUCCANEERS.
Colts (-8) at Jaguars
The Jaguars are quite possibly the worst team in the league this season. The Colts aren't as good as the score of their last game...but that won't matter this week. The Jags couldn't win this game if they played it in Madden 25. COLTS.
Giants at Chiefs (-4)
The G-men are falling apart...and the Chiefs are coming together. Though the Giants aren't as bad as their start (or last week's score), they won't win at Arrowhead. CHIEFS.
Ravens (-3.5) at Bills
The Ravens are tough in Baltimore...but they're on the road this week. BILLS.
Seahawks (-3) at Texans
This is the second of five early starts for the Seahawks this season...and I expect that will begin to wear on them. TEXANS.
Steelers (-1) at Vikings
The Steelers are reeling...and the Vikings can't close. Someone will accidentally win this game, and I'm going with the home team. VIKINGS.
Jets at Titans (-4)
Jake Locker might be the worst starting QB I have ever seen. JETS.
Cowboys (-2) at Chargers
The Cowboys have to show that they can win on the road. At this point, I'm not sure that they can. CHARGERS.
Eagles at Broncos (-10.5)
Chuck n' duck football scores fantasy points (see Michael Vick)...but doesn't win football games (see Red Gun, Fun Gun, etc). BRONCOS.
Redskins (-3.5) at Raiders
The Redskins defense is awful...and the Raider offense is showing signs of life. It won't be pretty, but the home team will pull this one out. RAIDERS.
Patriots at Falcons (-1.5)
Tommy Terrific will do what he does best...especially against a suddenly vulnerable Falcon team. PATRIOTS.
Dolphins at Saints (-6.5)
Okay, now I'm buying on Tannehill. And so are his teammates. Unfortunately for the suddenly relevant Dolphins, they get the Saints at home...and that will not end well for the upstarts. SAINTS.
49ers (-3) at Rams
With the way the 49ers played last week, it's a bit shocking to see them as a road favorite...even against the apparently hapless Rams. The Rams matchup well against the 49ers, and Jeff Fisher is a good coach, regardless of his team's record. If the 49ers do the smart thing and feed Frank (a lot), they'll wear down the Rams defensive front, create opportunities via play action and ultimately pull this one out. It won't be a blowout, but...49ERS.
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