The San Francisco 49ers ride a two game win streak into their contest on Sunday against Washington. San Fransisco currently finds itself with a record of 6-4 and only one game out of a playoff spot. Washington comes into the game on the opposite side of the spectrum, having dropped their last two games and by virtue of their 3-7 record having no realistic shot of reaching the playoffs.
The 49ers have been surrounded by controversy throughout the season, from the suspension of Aldon Smith to the Ray McDonald situation, and most recently Ahmad Brooks "quitting" on the team last week against New York. Fortunately for San Francisco, the Washington team has had their own mess and the central figure is Robert Griffin III.
Three weeks ago Washington went into Dallas with Colt McCoy at quarterback and stunned the Cowboys who at that time were 6-1. Washington coach Jay Gruden was set to go with McCoy the following week in Minnesota until owner, Daniel Snyder intervened and pushed for RGIII to start. Washington promptly went out and lost to Minnesota and followed that up a week ago with a 20-point loss at home to a Tampa Bay team that had won only a single game to that point.
With that as a backdrop here are 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.
1) Can the 49ers keep Robert Griffin III on the ropes? -
Washington traded a number of picks to move up in the 2012 draft to select RGIII second overall. The move quickly paid dividends as he led Washington to the playoffs his rookie season.
That all began to fall apart when Griffin injured his knee in the playoff game. From that point on it has been a disaster. There was clear disagreement a season ago between ownership and the coaching staff on how to manage Griffin's return to the field. This was only amplified by poor play and Washington finishing the year with only three wins. A coaching change was made in the offseason but it has been much the same story this season under Jay Gruden.
Washington has gone 4-13 in Griffin's last 17 starts. It is up to the strength of the 49ers, their defense, to make sure that trend continues on Sunday.
2) Can the 49ers offense finally find some consistency? -
The quarterback. The offensive line. The receivers. The coaches. It seems as though every week there is a different area of the 49ers offense that is struggling, and it's not always just week to week. It is often series to series or play to play.
The easiest way for the 49ers to find consistency on offense is to stop shooting themselves in the foot with negative plays, the penalties and dropped passes often kill drives. The 49ers need to fix this on Sunday as they get ready to head into a stretch run that will determine their season.
3) How can the 49ers fix their red zone woes? -
The 49ers offense has managed to score a touchdown on only 39.39% of their red zone trips, their worst output since 2005. In previous seasons under Rombaugh the 49ers have been very run-centric in this area, but for much of 2014 they have attempted to be more balanced and use the quarterback on more runs. They need to slow that down and go back to what worked for them in 2012 and 2013 when they were well over 50%. Give the ball to Frank Gore, play action to the tight end and play to your strengths.
4) What role will Ahmad Brooks have on Sunday? -
Brooks has been a starter at outside linebacker the last 58 games, but a week ago was limited to only 12 snaps against the Giants and a heated exchange between Brooks and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. This week Jim Harbaugh stated that everything had been dealt with and that Brooks remains a key part of the 49ers future this season while also saying that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would determine how much of a role Brooks would play. It will be interesting to see how this plays out on Sunday.
5) Is this a trap game for the 49ers? -
The 49ers found themselves in a very similar situation only a few weeks ago when they hosted the St Louis Rams. Facing an opponent that was perceived as weak with a tough road game the following week in New Orleans the 49ers laid an egg and lost 13-10.
With Seattle coming into Santa Clara on Thursday this is the perfect time for a let down, something the 49ers can not allow to happen. The loss to St Louis was bad. A loss to Washington would be a disaster.
49ers 22 Washington 12
Date: November 23, 2014 at 7:39 PM
Comment: This team is sorry. Barely beat horrible teams at home. Yeah a win is a win but good luck playing this badly against good teams. Oh wait we have seen what happens then. Ass whoopins (see SF at DEN) I can't wait until Harbaugh is gone that way we can hopefully take advantage of this talent before it's gone.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: November 23, 2014 at 5:10 PM
Comment: Offense is pathetic. Anyone have five burning answers for this hot mess?
Date: November 22, 2014 at 8:31 PM
Comment: We would be Soooo dominant and unbeatable if our offense could match the production of the defense (who might I add are without arguably the 2 best ILBs in the league) Borland has been lights out. Wilhoite flashes but I would LOVE to see Navarro if he can go. In my opinion the Reid/Bethea combo is slightly better than the Goldson/Whitner era. Not as hard hitting, but they produce more takeaways. With Aldon back, I believe this is a championship defense even without Our Heartbeat PW52 on the field. If Greg Roman and Kaep can somehow pull their heads out of the clowns and RUN the dam ball to set up the pass well be Golden cause face it when we're clicking on all cylinders NOBODY wants to play us.
Date: November 22, 2014 at 8:21 PM
Comment: Hey Jack, just wanna let you know I alway enjoy reading your articles. You've got a lot of good things to analyze, breakdown, and critique the Niners without any chest thumping and drama. Keep up the good work! I've made myself a casual fan as I can't take the heartbreak when they crash and burn. My Dad took me to Kezar in 1957 to see the Lions and Niners. I was 6 and didn't know what was going on. But I did know there were a lot of quiet, sad people after the game. I couldn't stand John Brode either. He'd take a dive or go out of bounds just shy of a 1st down every time! His exact words were, "They pay running backs to run and take a hit. They pay quarterbacks to throw the ball."
Always look forward to your writing, you're very good.
Date: November 22, 2014 at 8:10 PM
Comment: Niner Al, I'm pretty sure the quotation marks around "quitting" were meant to be sarcastic - an air quote. Jack was inferring the story was blown out of proportion by the media and then fans prior to explanations being given by the coaches and player.
By: Niner Al
Date: November 22, 2014 at 7:54 PM
Comment: jack nice article however you stated Brooks had quit on his team. Are you saying what came out as an explanation from JH and VF were both smoke screens? Petulance isn't a great trait but it is better than quitting on your team.
Date: November 22, 2014 at 4:20 PM
Comment: Just heard the same story on NFL network....Harbaugh will be the head coach of the NY Giants or the Raiders in 2015.
Date: November 22, 2014 at 4:13 PM
Comment: The 49ers have major internal problems especially when it is almost certain that Harbaugh will not return for the 2015 season. ESPN has reported that the 49ers have been in contact with the Giants and the Raiders for a possible trade of Harbaugh to one of those teams after the season. Redskins 17/49ers 10.
Date: November 22, 2014 at 3:08 PM
Comment: The defense gets 3 ints and 2 pick 6´s and recovers a fumble. We´ll win 14-10.
Date: November 22, 2014 at 2:22 PM
Comment: Good stuff Jack. Think we will see Colt take over at any point in this game? Last season the 49ers lost 2 games in a row early, then lost another 2 games in a row mid-season to sit 6-4, before going on a big winning streak to make the playoffs. I get the sense the 49ers aren't far away from playing some of their best football, and wouldn't be surprised to see a similar push to the playoffs this year.
Date: November 22, 2014 at 11:37 AM
Comment: This will be won in the trenches where on defense, against the Redskins OL, Fangios' group have a distinct advantage. The way Ray and Justin played, along with Dial, I expect pressure and containment by four, while the secondary looks to pick off the over hyped RGTurd. I think if Roman wants to throw down by the goal line, they should be quick hitters to the TE's off the line....
Date: November 22, 2014 at 10:40 AM
Comment: Good stuff, Jack! I am a little worried of #5 too.
Date: November 22, 2014 at 10:17 AM
Comment: Jack …
another good read …
(Gee .. just imagine if you took over the
Press-Democrat blog … !)
Date: November 22, 2014 at 9:50 AM
Comment: Nice article. It's amazing how the feeling of euphoria immediately following a win, with regards to next weeks opponent seems to gradually deteriorate from "we will crush _____next week", to "man, the more I look at how inconsistent our offense is, the more I can see how if we're not careful we might get upset...". With all of the "toys" we have on offense this year it is ALARMING that we consistently fail to exploit what should be MAJOR matchup advantages. The time for us to have that all encompassing "gel" game where Frank & Carlos combine for 185 yds and a score, VD, Crabs & AB all get a TD and Kaep throws for 350 yds is quickly disappearing. If we can't explode offensively against inferior competition, how can we expect to dominate when 4 or these last 6 games are against elite competition? Here's hoping that the Niners O has been playing the ultimate game of "rope-a-dope" with the rest of the NFL, because if not, we may be in serious trouble very soon...
Date: November 22, 2014 at 9:48 AM
Comment: You are predicting 5 field goals for the Niners and 4 field goals for the Redskins?