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Another week, another win...that's something many 49er fans hadn't thought possible four weeks ago. Last Sunday, the 49ers did what they were expected to in beating the Titans. The defense was stifling until the game was well out of reach, the offense chewed up the clock when it had to, and for all intents and purposes, this game was over by halftime...but that isn't to say that everything broke the 49ers' way. This game was far from perfect, and if one thing is certain, it's that the 49ers still have a way to go before they achieve their full potential.
A Tale of Two Halves
In the first half of last Sunday's game, the Titans gained 102 yards on 26 plays...an average of 3.92 yards per play. The Titans' first five drives ended like this: punt, punt, punt, interception and end of half. In the first half, the Titans never got within sniffing distance of scoring position. Kids, that is lights out defense. It looked like the Titans might never score.
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Then the 4th quarter rolled around. As has been the case with the 49ers during the Harbaugh Era, the 49ers took their foot off the gas late in the game...and the Titans scored 17 points in a 12 minute span, gaining 218 yards in 25 plays....an average of 8.92 yards per play. Kids, that is Maginot Line defense. True, much of that came on one VERY long screen pass to Chris Johnson (during which both Eric Reid and Donte Whitner were on the sidelines), and the game was never really close...but a defensive lapse like that against a more formidable foe might have been much more costly. The long and the short of it is that while this team is talented, they have yet to play 4 dominant quarters.
While my critique of the 4th quarter defense might be a bit harsh, it is reflective of something that is crucial to the second half of the season: right now, the 49ers are beat up. Whether it be Ray McDonald playing through his bicep injury, Patrick Willis working through a pulled groin, Glen Dorsey playing on one leg or Vernon Davis working through a hamstring issue...the bye week following this Sunday's game couldn't come at a better time.
While the extra week off should work wonders for McDonald, Dorsey, Willis, Dorsey and Davis...it will also potentially see the additions of Mario Manningham, Eric Wright, Aldon Smith, and Tank Carradine to the active roster...which is exactly what the 49ers need. While none of the players due to be added will make a ground breaking difference on game day (at least not right away)...each will provide depth at positions critical to the 49ers success over the season's last 8 games...and the stretch run will be huge this season.
Upcoming matchups with the Saints (November 17th, at New Orleans) and Seahawks (December 8th, at Home) will be critical in shaping the playoff picture in the NFC. In order to make the most of their chances in both of those incredibly critical contests, the 49ers will need to be at or near full strength.
This week, the 49ers are playing what might be the worst team in the NFL...in London. "Cup o' tea, fish n' chips, Mary Poppins...you know, London" (bonus points for you if you can tell me who's line that was...and what movie came from). On paper, this game looks like a mismatch...the 49ers are favored by over two touchdowns. Over the past 4 weeks, the 49ers have scored in excess of 30 points. Over the course of the season, the Jaguars are allowing over 30 points per game. The 49er defense is ranked 8th overall...while the Jaguar offense is ranked dead last.
But what some are wondering is whether this might be a "trap game" for the 49ers. To be sure, the 49ers have already lost to an inferior opponent this season. The game is being played overseas in a new, distraction filled environment. So is this a game that could creep up on the 49ers? Is this a game that will shock the league? Is this a trap game?
No, no and no.
Even as beat up as the 49ers are at present, it is a stretch to think that the Jaguars will win this game. The 49ers will likely do what they do best: run the ball often (the Jags are currently the worst in the NFL against the run...allowing 4.6 ypc), use it to set up the pass (opposing passers have averaged a QB rating of 105 against Jacksonville this season) and exploit what might be the worst team the NFL has seen in the last decade. If the 49ers do what they do best...this one should be no contest, neutral venue or not.
2 Minute Drill
*While the headline in Peyton Manning's return to Indy was a big win for the Colts...the take away for me was how classy Manning was in defeat...especially considering that Jim Irsay wins my "douchebag of the year" award for his pregame comments about his former QB. From this point forward, every time Irsay fails, another star will appear in my sky.
*Blaine Gabbert has been benched for this weekend's game, meaning that the 49ers will be facing Chad Henne. While that will be great for Justin Blackmon's fantasy prospects, it probably won't make much of a difference in the game. While Henne has a big arm...he's also got a career QB rating of 74.7 and he's thrown more interceptions (53) than touchdowns (44).
*Where has MJD gone? Prior to this season, Drew had been averaging a very respectable 4.63 yards per carry. For the 2013 season, he's averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry. The 49er run defenders, even though they're battered, are likely licking their chops.
*Last week, Tramaine Brock played yet another very good game, netting his third interception in four games. With Eric Wright ready to come off short term IR, it would seem that Nnamdi Asomugha probably won't finish the season with the 49ers.
*Last week, Coach Harbaugh intimated that Aldon Smith could rejoin the team "in a couple of weeks." That is great news for the 49er pass rush, on paper anyway. Smith hasn't trained in 4 weeks, and there's no telling how quickly he'll get back up to speed when he returns.
Week 8 Picks
Panthers (-6) at Bucs
Much ado has been made about Cam Newton...but the real noise has been made by the Carolina defense. I'll be surprised if the Bucs score in this one. PANTHERS.
Bills at Saints (-11.5)
I've looked at this game from every angle, and each one made the Bills' chances look even worse. SAINTS.
Browns at Chiefs (-7.5)
This game has that "Tyson vs. McNeely" vibe. I feel an early knockout coming on. CHIEFS.
Cowboys at Lions (-3)
The Cowboys are on the road and the Lions have finally figured out who to throw to (even in triple coverage). In the battle between Megatron and Optimus Bryant, the deciding factor will likely be Tony Romo choking in the 4th quarter. LIONS.
Dolphins at Pats (-6.5)
Okay, I'm no longer buying on Tannehill...he's fallen back to earth. I'm selling on the Bill Belichek and the Patriot fan base, too. An obscure rule gets them to the Super Bowl, and they're giddy as hell. An obscure rule costs them a mid-season division game, and they chirp incessantly about how unfair life is. Yawn. PATRIOTS.
Giants at Eagles (-5.5)
The Chip Kelly Chuck n' Duck Project might have a win or two left in them, but I think that Interception Man is looking for redemption. This week, I think he'll find it. GIANTS.
Jets at Bengals (-6.5)
Geno Smith is good. Given time, he might be better than that. But not this weekend, on the road against a very good defense. BENGALS.
Steelers (-2.5) at Raiders
So, the Steelers get a win, and now they're road favorites? No. They'd have trouble with San Jose State, let alone a young, talented group that plays well at home. RAIDERS.
Falcons at Cardinals (-2.5)
Given the Falcons' host of injuries, it makes sense that they'd be a road underdog...but the only thing the Cardinals should be favored to do is to overspend on a QB who should have retired 2 seasons ago. FALCONS.
Redskins at Broncos (-2.5)
I have tried to figure out how the Redskins defense can hang with the Bronco offense...and it can't. BRONCOS.
Packers (-9) at Vikings
Hey, Viking fans! Christian Ponder is back! PACKERS.
Seahawks (-11) at Rams
The Rams reached out to Brett Favre...seriously. That's how desperate they are now that Sam Bradford is done for the year. I bet they wish they'd have kept that pick and rolled the dice on RG III. SEAHAWKS.
49ers (-16.5) at Jaguars...sort of
The 49ers are riding a 4 game winning streak into this one, having scored over 30 points in each of their 5 victories this season. The Jags are giving up 31 points per game for the season. This game could get very, very lopsided before it's over. The 49ers will play their game, chew up clock, run with reckless abandon, pass when necessary and absolutely flummox the Jags. The margin of victory here might exceed 20 points. 49ERS.
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