Through the first four games of the NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers haven’t been playing the kind of football that they expected too. They’ve had two impressive wins against Green Bay and St Louis, but also two extremely embarrassing losses against the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts, with the Colts loss being a surprise to most people.
The Niners have been inconsistent thus far this season in all phases of the game. This season is shaping up to either be a rollercoaster ride or smooth sailing. Like the last two seasons, it all depends on whether the Niners find consistency.
The Niners came in as the most hyped-up team in the NFL and at times, it looked like it got in their heads a little bit. The Niners suffered their first two-game losing streak under Jim Harbaugh after their loss to the Colts this past Sunday. They faced a lot of questions about whether or not they could bounce back and they certainly did that. They waxed the St Louis Rams 35-11 and were absolutely dominant on both sides of the ball. Granted, the Rams are bad and are headed for a 4-6 win season, but it was still a good way for the Niners; specifically Colin Kaepernick, to answer some of the critics that were creeping in for the first time.
One of the Niners problems, up until last night’s game against the Rams, was a lack of a running game. Either they couldn’t get anything going or they didn’t give Frank Gore any carries. Exhibit A would be Seattle, where they were absolutely stymied. Exhibit B was where Frank Gore mysteriously disappeared from the game plan against the Colts, which lead to Gore getting upset with Harbaugh about how he was being used.
However, the Niners made it a point to get the running game going early and often against the Rams. They rushed the ball 40 times for 219 yards and 3 touchdowns. Gore had 20 carries for 153 and a touchdown. In turn, the running game helped free up the 49ers receivers Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. The running game also allowed Colin Kaepernick to play to his strength, which is the deep ball and high percentage throws, and get his confidence back after it was shattered against Seattle.
This is the formula for success that the Niners had for the last two years under Harbaugh. It’s a philosophy that they need to keep, as they have the best offensive line in football. They need to utilize it effectively by pounding the rock and taking some pressure off Kaepernick and let him play a more under control game, which he did against Green Bay and the St Louis Rams. If the Niners employ this philosophy they will see the returned success that they had the last two seasons.
The ingredients for the Niners to improve their record and return to being factors in the NFC West are there. They have 5 winnable games in a row with Houston, Arizona, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and then the Carolina Panthers after the bye week. Looking at things logically, the Niners should be at 6-3 through this stretch and possibly 7-2, though that’s a stretch. If the Niners get back to their identity of running the football and playing stout defense, they will win a lot of games and make people forget about the slow start they had.
Another thing that has stood out to me has been the inconsistent play of Colin Kaepernick. In the Niner wins, he’s been pretty good but in their losses he’s been terrible. Part of that is the lack of receivers, but that’s a lame excuse because there’s enough talent there to at least be decent. We forget that he’s only started 14 games overall including the 2012 postseason so he’s still an unknown even though he caught the league by storm last year. He still has a lot of growing up to do. He needs to go through his progressions better, get more accurate in the short to intermediate passes, and also be able to read defenses at the line of scrimmage.
These things come with time, as he’s still a young quarterback learning how to play at the NFL level. The expectations that were put on him were outrageous and hard to live up to for anybody, especially for somebody so young. He’s going to have some good games and bad games, that’s the nature of a young quarterback. But if the Niners run the football and take pressure off of him it will make his job much easier. Also, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham will be back midseason, which will make the offense a whole lot better as well.
I was impressed with how Kaepernick handled the criticism and adversity that came his way. He performed well against the Rams last night. Albeit the Rams aren’t a great team, but still it was good to see from that standpoint. The Niners will be fine as long as they continue to run the football and mix it with the pass.
The Niners are still one of the top teams in the NFL so panicking after week four of the NFL season is crazy. The Niners bye week comes in week 8, exactly halfway through the season. If the Niners still aren’t playing well at that point, then there’s something going on. Until that point, there’s no need to panic.