I think this is just bad luck, and that this will balance out eventually. But so far, we've had awful luck with penalties in critical situations.
Scenario: 3rd quarter, 5-0 Seattle lead. 2nd and goal on the 11-yard line.
Play breaks down, Russell Wilson slides down and concedes a sack, setting up 3rd and goal from the 19... Oh, wait, Ahmad Brooks inadvertently grabbed a facemask. First down (this one is definitely bad luck -- under the olds rules, this was a 5-yard penalty).
Outcome: first touchdown of the game, instead of (likely) another field goal.
Scenario: 3rd quarter, 12-3 Seattle lead. 3rd and 28 from around midfield.
Russell Wilson completes a 15-yard pass to the 30 yard line.. Aldon Smith is flagged after the play, first down. Undisciplined? Sure. But also bad luck -- stuff like this was going on all game. Aldon was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, I'm not absolving Smith of all blame. It was stupid and boneheaded, but it wasn't in line with say, a sloppy pass interference call or a flagrant roughing the passer -- something that's indisputable and will be called every time. You can not give a team of Seattle's caliber that many attempts in those situations.
Outcome: second touchdown of the game, instead of another field goal.
Scenario: 4th quarter, 13-7 Colts lead. 3rd and 4, ball around the 50 yard line, ~8 minutes in the game.
Incomplete pass... defensive holding call. First down. A couple plays later, Bradshaw breaks a huge run and the floodgates open.
Outcome: a game-sealing touchdown, instead of a punt.
Aside from giving a team more chances, the types of penalties I listed above are devastating, because they are both emotionally demoralizing, and also physically draining. It's deflating to think you've made a stop, only to have it nullified by a penalty. These second-half penalties are also physically exhausting, because an already-tired defense now has to stay out on the field even longer. Ultimately, it is incredibly difficult to overcome them. The levee broke in Indy after that fateful defensive penalty.
In the Harbaugh era, we've out-penalized our opponents at a rate of about 1 penalty per game. In 2013, we're out-penalizing our opponents at a rate of 4.5 per game. To me that's a fluke. The penalties are not going to spiral out of control for an entire season, and some of these calls in critical situations are going to start going our way (or won't be called at all). I'm not going pin this on Harbaugh "losing control of the team". It's an aberration and it will not continue.
2. Time of Possession.
Week 1: Win, vs. Green Bay.
Time of possession: 49ers 38:35, Packers 21:25
Green Bay first half points - 21 (3 TDs)
Green Bay second half points - 10 (1 TD)
Week 2: Loss, at Seattle.
Time of possession: Seahawks 36:43, 49ers 23:17
Seattle first half points - 5 (2 from a safety; 0 TDs)
Seattle second half points - 24 (3 TDs)
Week 3: Loss, vs. Indy
Time of possession: Colts 36:25, 49ers 23:35
Indy first half points - 10 (1 TD)
Indy second half points - 17 (2 TD)
This all stems from us not running more. This has been their bread and butter over the last two years, and yet we've inexplicably gone away from it lately. At least in the Seattle game they stifled our rushing attack, so you can possibly understand why they may have been hesitant to stick with it. But against the Colts, it actually showed very promising signs early on. Why did we abandon it? Outside of the touchdown drive, Hunter, Gore and Dixon combined for 11 total carries. What the hell!?
Over the past 2 games, Hunter/Gore/Dixon have combined for 27 carries. Meanwhile, Kaep has thrown 55 times. Some of this is probably skewed by being forced to pass late in games, but still -- they need to find a more healthy combination of rushing and passing.
It's really just common sense. Rushing more means:
+ better time of possession, which leads to a fresher, and therefore better, defense (no more second-half collapses)
+ a more balanced attack, which keeps the defense honest and offers more options in the passing game
If they correct these two things, we'll be back on track. All facets of our game will benefit (I think Kap and the pedestrian receiving corp will look a lot better with a more balanced offense). The former will correct itself on its own (again, I think it's more bad luck than anything), and the focus on a more balanced offense will inevitably come, which will help fix the ToP issues.
We're only 1-2. The sky is not falling. We'll correct the correctable and be right back on track.
[ Edited by theduke85 on Sep 23, 2013 at 1:32 PM ]