It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Coming off of three straight NFC Championship games, the window to win a Super Bowl still looked to be wide open. After all, on paper the offense looked as dangerous as any year since Jerry Rice wore red and gold, and this was the season the unit was supposed to carry an undermanned defense.
No one could have foreseen it all falling apart the way it has, and the aftermath of a possibly distracted coach and an underachieving quarterback have left us asking questions.
What am I supposed to think about Jim Harbaugh?
His record speaks for itself doesn't it? He took a franchise that was floundering in obscurity and has gone 43-16-1 to date, as well as a Super Bowl appearance and the aforementioned three NFC Championship games.
But ask yourself, has Harbaugh done a good job this season?
The 49ers are 7-5 and lucky to be that. Out of those seven wins, only two of them have been by more than a touchdown. They seem to play to the level of their competition most weeks, and have been embarrassed on more than one occasion against top tier teams (i.e. the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks).
The offense is an utter disaster and even though you could rightfully blame offensive coordinator Greg Roman for that, this is Harbaugh's team. He's the one who has assembled the offensive staff and had final say on the play calls.
And don't fool yourself, this offense has been atrocious.
The 49ers have 22 offensive touchdowns this season. The only teams that have less are the Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, and Oakland Raiders.
Those teams have a combined 10 wins.
Once a run first team, the 49ers seem to have an identity crisis from series to series, and that inconsistency is part of the reason their two lead runners (Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde) are each averaging under 4.0 yards a carry.
It's hard to believe that Harbaugh has forgotten how to coach, but you have to wonder if his contract and the issues he reportedly has with the front office have bled into his work.
It looks like anything short of a Super Bowl (which is laughable at this point) will result in him leaving San Francisco.
Would a new contract get him back on track? Maybe. But that appears to be a long shot right now.
Just remember, as disappointing as this year feels at 7-5, San Francisco only had two winning seasons in the 12 years before Harbaugh got there.
If the fences can be mended, it would benefit all parties to do so. But the offense would still have to be addressed. Would Harbaugh part ways with Roman?
The last four games will tell a lot about where this team is mentally, and if the Harbaugh situation is getting into the minds of the players. If they continue to falter, it's safe to say the off the field issues have ruined what could have been a magical season.
Is Colin Kaepernick really the answer at quarterback?
Less than two years after being the difference maker during the team's run to the Super Bowl, Kaepernick looks lost behind center and is a major reason why the 49ers are underachieving. He's been given the keys to a Porsche, and while he doesn't wreck it, he can't seem to get it over 30 MPH either.
To be fair, has the offensive line been a shell of itself? Absolutely...and that does have to factor in. The 49ers have the second highest sack percentage in the NFL at 9.0, although that ranking shouldn't come as a surprise.
Since 2011, they have been in bottom six or worse in that department, and never finished lower than 8.6 percent. What's more surprising is how inconsistent the running game has been, which has always been a support system for Kaepernick and strength of the offensive line.
But there in lies part of the problem. The 49ers have needed Kaepernick to be the "franchise" quarterback they are paying him to be, and make the people around him better. He simply hasn't done that.
Kaepernick is freakishly athletic, and it's scary to think how good he can be if he ever put it all together.
The issue is, he's not much of a passer right now.
Kaepernick doesn't seem to see the field before or after the snap, and struggles to stay in the pocket and progress through his receivers past the first read. It's not uncommon for young quarterbacks to struggle in this department, but Kaepernick seems to be regressing in his third season.
His yards per attempt (7.3) and yards per completion (11.9) are the lowest of his career, and he's taken a league leading 38 sacks.
The funny thing about all of this is that Harbaugh and Roman turned Alex Smith's career around by playing to his strengths, yet they continue to try and make Kaepernick something he's not: a pocket passer.
It's understandable to fear injury with a player like Kaepernick, but the alternative is what you have now, which is a non-functional passing offense in an era where rules are designed to help teams pass the ball.
In the end, whoever the coach is has to make a decision on what Kaepernick is and what he (realistically) can be.
Because the day is coming where his contract will continue to escalate and the team won't be able to have the weapons they do now.
And if Kaepernick can't make do with more, can you imagine how bad he might be with less?
Date: December 16, 2014 at 9:03 AM
Comment: I don't think it's as simple as letting Kap run more and Roman being an imbecile. We will continue to see 8 men in the box, press/bump and run coverage, and all types of blitzes until our QB can calmly walk out of the huddle, scan the defense, call an appropriate audible or hot route. Then he has to drop back, make a quick, decisive, accurate throw either making defenses pay by going over the top or picking them apart and moving chains with short routes and check downs. First place to start with Colin is his footwork and mechanics, if he can't get those together, just forget about it. If he can't learn how to compose himslf, by squaring up and delivering an accurate pass while geting smashed in the mouth, forget about it.
Date: December 6, 2014 at 11:31 PM
Comment: I'm sure someone on our team reads this blog. The front office needs to get its act together, Harbaugh is always preaching the team, the team, the team....so what is he asking for that Baalke or Jed are unwilling to give??
Then we have V. Davis who clearly has checked out bcuz HE doesn't want to honor the remainder of a contract HE signed!?!!...dropping balls left and right.....Crabtree has never lived up to what he held out for when was drafted! The only one who thinks he's a No.1 receiver is himself! Colin.....newsflash "You have not arrived!!!" You threw three fades that blew your chance at a SB ring! Take your smug attitude with the media and shove it.........spend more time developing your eyes!!
We have what should be a great team but there's too much of a dik fight going on......and its going to destroy what should be a top tier team.......sad!
Date: December 6, 2014 at 10:49 PM
Comment: The problem kap has is the 5 Super Bowls the 49ers won. Other teams can drool over another mike Vick clone, though I think vick is still faster. We compare with 2 of the greatest qbs to ever play the game. In all honesty wilson is closer to Montana and young than kap will ever be. Kap seems to be a I trick pony who throws fast balls or runs. Sadly the Ravens said they only wanted to stop gore, that kap could not beat them. It's still true today. Enough of stupid caveman football. Ravens Green Bay and Kansas city are doing well withe the wco. Phillys oc comes from the holmgren reid line, imagine what we could do with an offense that was average not 26 th in the league! But sadly we have the yorks deciding who we get on the cheap..... See erickson, nolan and sing. Carrol is still laughing at us from Seattle.
By: nick bane
Date: December 6, 2014 at 8:42 PM
Comment: LET KAEPERNICK RUN THE BALL MORE HE IS NOT A POCKET PASSER
Date: December 6, 2014 at 1:18 PM
Comment: It's also worth mentioning that Crabtree and Davis have been petulant children. They give up on routes, while dropping passes and looking scared. Combine their disappearing act along with having receivers who don't get separation it means Kap has to throw perfect passes every time which he can do if he has time. Offensive line has been shell of itself mainly due to health. I'm not thrilled about record but with two no show pro bowl players on offense. Two injured incredibly important line men and three pro bowl defensive players never playing together this season I knew it would be brutal. I agree they have to get Kap running play action off of a running and read option offense but it's also players underperforming killing offensive production. I hope Harbaugh stays but they need stability from their coach and Balkee needs to stop adding fuel through the media because he doesn't like Jim I'm guessing 75 percent of stories come from his office and another 10 from always injured Crabtree who I hope we don't resign.
Date: December 6, 2014 at 12:26 PM
Comment: i wish the Niners WOULD REALLY listen to us fans and get this situation resolved. Niners brought a lot of this on themselves by not extending Harbaugh last year. They should have already known if they wanted to keep him or not LAST YEAR. The result is the hot mess we are calling the 2014 season...
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: December 6, 2014 at 10:50 AM
Comment: Why does every article I read and everyone that comments on the current Niner problems look at this as a long term problem? What if its just a short blip in the upward development of the team. Every great dynasty has had them. Landry with Dallas and Cowher with Pittsburgh. Ever Walsh had problems when he first took over the Niners. Its true that the offense has serious problems but look at the defense. The success it has had with all the injuries this season is truly remarkable. Everyone keeps saying that everything that happens to this team is ultimately on Harbough, OK then should he not get credit for the defense as well? Who is to say that Harbaugh can't turn this thing around and who better than him to do it?
Date: December 6, 2014 at 9:39 AM
Comment: One answer to reducing the sack percentage would be to do what his brother John has done in Baltimore: hire a WCO offensive coordinator (Gary Kubiak) and use quick timing patterns to reduce the task of the OL in pass protection. Flacco has been executing it very well and the sack totals have dropped. Would Jim be able to swallow his pride and make a similar move? I don't think so. If he recognized that to be a solution he would have already done it. Pride is a great enemy of achievement. Al is right on here.
Date: December 6, 2014 at 9:21 AM
Comment: You guys are ridiculous. They have won more games than they have lost - and you're whining about it. Stop acting like spoiled children. I won't even start with the lunatics that pretend they know what people are thinking or feeling when they have never met them.
I agree - we got slayed during the Broncos/Seahawks games. It was terrible. It was unacceptable. Harbaugh is the guy to fix it.
Do you guys remember watching the games when you EXPECTED the 49ers to lose? I don't know about you guys - but I'm not very eager for those days to return.
If the 49ers trade Harbaugh for anything less than a Ricky Williams/RGIII franchise-wrecking deal, the 49ers will have made a huge blunder.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: December 6, 2014 at 8:54 AM
Comment: Al "Love" Sac, nice article. Two great questions, thoughtful answers and great stats to support your position. It's really disappointing to acknowledge how bad this offense really is. The problems this offense has in the red zone and the consistency in the Off. from week to week has gone from bad to catastrophic. We have no consistency in the offense from one half to the next (begining of year). The red zone offense has gone from ranked 15th or 16th last yr. to 30th this yr. (last time I checked). Very disappointing and the longer JH goes without making a decision on replacing Roman, the less confidence our QB has to bounce back next yr. Replace Roman their needs to be accountability and forward thinking. Singletary was a man of great faith and huge stupidity. Don't go that route Jim, make the change!
Date: December 6, 2014 at 7:15 AM
Comment: Since 2011 the 49ers have trended downwards. Late in 2012 Kaepernick became a starter. Almost won a SB. In 2013 defenses had tape on Kaepernick. They found his weaknesses. In nearly four seasons Kaepernick has not develop as a NFL QB. He is still a great college QB.
Harbaugh is a former NFL player. His loyalties are to the players. I feel each year he sees his players lost to free agency it creates bitterness. Baalke can not be happy with the way this coaching staff handled the development of the young players. Its like oil & water. With their ideals it will never work.
Date: December 6, 2014 at 6:38 AM
Comment: Well written sir! I agree with almost all you said and i think it"s too soon to try and harness his running, it's what gives him that edge and that swagger that he is now missing. Not to mention it slows the pass rush. And roman needs to have more designed routes where there is more underneath stuff as the FIRST option and let him quickly glance at the deep route and if not looking good theres 2 or 3 guys underneath. ALso why not spread the field and THEN run Gore or HYDE. You can't put 8 in the box when 4 or 5 are covering receivers.
Harbs needs to do what his bro John did and exert control NOW over the offense. The D has had next to no support, we would easily be 10-2 if they could score more in the Ram, and Arizona games and if KAP didnt piss away the Bears game with the 3 picks! so frustrating!!
By: Gary Mialocq
Date: December 6, 2014 at 5:05 AM
Comment: Great article, Al. It's a shame that Harbaugh has allowed his feud with Baalke to affect his team and his QB's performance. This is no accident.
By: John Cambran
Date: December 6, 2014 at 5:03 AM
Comment: Harbaugh knows what he's doing. Once they tried to trade him he decided he'd show them. He refused to let Kap play during the preseason and his young QB, badly needing the reps sat. This was not by accident. Harbaugh is shrewd and cutthroat. Don't want him? OK, he'll stifle your QBs development and when he goes he'll take the QB (who by that time will look terrible) with him to Oakland. He's a stubborn and vindictive man...
Date: December 6, 2014 at 1:49 AM
Comment: The biggest thing to me is we're not playing to Kap's strengths like we did in 2012 & in the 2013 playoffs. Our offensive approach is bland, predictable & we're putting Kap in horrible situations almost every single offensive possession. We always run into a wall on 1st down, end up 2nd and at least 9. Then we go away from Bruce Miller, we don't leave a RB in to protect nearly as much as we did, we used to always telegraph when we were trying a power run, now we telegraph both runs and passes. We either come in with a TE on the LOS, a FB in front of Gore/Hyde and 1-2 WRs and run up the gut, or we empty the backfield and throw 3-4 WRs along with VD and like Chris Simms said, it's 3rd down and we ask Kap to thread the needle with a 30 yard 100mph perfect throw for a 1st down. It's like all of our offensive plays need multiple things to go perfectly in order to work, the protection has to work perfectly, the routes have to break just right and the timing has to be perfect. Add in that we're obviously handicapping Kap's running by asking him to stick in there and find a receiver instead of letting his athleticism take over when he sees a lane just compounds the problem.
Date: December 5, 2014 at 11:43 PM
Comment: Well said and something that I don´t understand is that Harbaugh/Roman got enamored with Kaepernick because they saw his athletic skills but now they wanna make him a pocket passer. This is like a bad marriage, they fell in love for what Kaep was but now that they are married they wanna change him into something that he isn´t. Why?