Well, here we are again. The Niners. The stinkin' 49ers.
To fill me in on what they've been up to since Monday Night Football, I linked up with David Fucillo from Niners Nation, SB Nation's community for fans of the 49ers.
So it hasn't been that long since we saw each other. You guys picked up a big Monday Night Football win on the road, but then dropped the Broncos game in pretty spectacular fashion. What did you guys get wrong against Denver that you got right against us? Of the things you did wrong, are any of those things that have been present throughout 2014 as a whole and not just in the loss?
The 49ers went into that Sunday Night Football game against Denver dealing with several injuries suffered in or after the Rams game. LB Patrick Willis (toe), LG Mike Iupati (concussion), and CB Chris Culliver (hamstring) each suffered an injury that cost them the Broncos game. They brought back cornerback Tramaine Brock and had to insert him into the starting lineup sooner than expected (the original plan was to only use him in some nickel and dime situations). This resulted in what many viewed as a fairly simplified pass defense. Considering they were facing Peyton Manning, that was just not going to do well.
Manning & Co. got off to a strong start, but the 49ers actually were hanging around on offense. Colin Kaepernick had a great first half, and the 49ers had a chance at one point. They trailed 21-10 at the half, and after forcing a punt, had a chance to cut this to a one-score game. Unfortunately, Colin Kaepernick threw an interception and they could never really recover.
The one thing that was present that has been a recurring issue was the lack of a pass rush. The 49ers sacked Peyton Manning twice, but otherwise they were unable to get much of a pass rush against him. They will get back Aldon Smith in the next week or two, which will improve it, but until then, the 49ers pass rush is scuffling along.
What have you learned about the 2014 49ers? Anything really surprising you about your team through 8 weeks?
The regression of the offensive line has been fairly surprising. This is a group that has been fairly solid for the 49ers during Jim Harbaugh's tenure, but this season it has been wildly inconsistent. Injuries are partially to blame, but even a healthy Joe Staley has been inconsistent.
The secondary's play, and particularly that of Perrish Cox has been surprising. Cox was released by two different teams last season, but he currently leads the NFL in pass break-ups, and is tied for third in interceptions. He has been the best cornerback on the team, well, at least prior to the Broncos game.
Colin Kaepernick seemed to be underwhelming a bit until the Rams rode to the rescue and helped him to 300+ yards and 3 TDs. He's on pace for career totals in nearly every traditional passing stat. Any concerns with his play this year or is this just Kap hitting his peak?
I don't know that he is hitting his peak yet, but I think we're seeing progression. He still shows inconsistency at times, but I think we're seeing improvement in some important areas. For example, against the Rams, we saw him stepping up in the pocket when the pass rush was coming around the sides. Previously he would often retreat back and to either his left or right and be forced to throw the ball off his back leg. He has more arm strength than almost anybody in the NFL, so he can make those throws. The problem is they seem to lack accuracy. When stepping up into the pocket, he seems to connect a bit better.
For Kap, it just comes down to doing a lot of things more consistently. He'll have a couple nice drives, but then mix in some bad mistakes. His interception against the Broncos was an example of bad decision-making that can pop up from time to time. He thought he could fit a pass into a hole down the field, when a shorter dump-off would have gotten the first down. These are things that hopefully improve with experience..
Defensively, you guys are on pace to allow the most points since the 2008 season. What's up with the defense?
The secondary injuries are one issue, but not having NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Glenn Dorsey and Tramaine Brock through most or all of the first seven games is nothing to sneeze at. The 49ers defense will improve particularly when Aldon Smith returns because of the pass rush. It has been virtually non-existent for stretches, and adding one of the two or three best pass rushing OLBs can only help that group. I will be intrigued to compare points allowed for the first half of the year and the second half of the year, and particularly points per game over the final month. A lot of people will say a formerly good defense should improve, but with the 49ers, the return of defensive talent should clearly make a difference.
Now that you've had the bye week to give you some time to take perspective, where are the 2014 49ers headed? Are you more or less confident in a deep playoff run?
The return of players off various injured lists makes it a bit easier for 49ers fans to be optimistic heading into the second half of the season. Here is a look at returning players:
- Aldon Smith (suspension): Week 10 or Week 11
- Glenn Dorsey (biceps - short term IR): Week 11 or Week 12
- NaVorro Bowman (knee - PUP): Sometime between Week 12 and 15 probably
- Tramaine Brock (toe, missed Weeks 2-6): Back, getting rust off
- Patrick Willis (toe, missed Week 7): Week 9 or 10 probably
Even if Bowman and Dorsey are not quite where they would like to be over the final month of the season, adding Aldon Smith ot the mix changes the entire dynamic of the pass rush. On the offensive side of the ball, the tackles and guards are fully healthy for the first time this year. Additionally, while they lost Daniel Kilgore to a broken ankle in Week 7, new center Marcus Martin was drafted this past May as a potential center of the future. The future is now for him, and he is arguably more talented than Kilgore.
It really comes down to getting healthy. They will likely have other injuries over the final nine weeks, but getting big names back is huge. If they lose big names again, it certainly impacts that, but moving forward right now, this team has a chance to develop back into what was one of the Super Bowl favorites entering the season.
Bonus: prediction time.
I'll go with a 34-13 win. The 49ers have not had a complete game where they dominated start to finish. If Patrick Willis sits this game, maybe it's closer, but I just think the 49ers take care of business against a really banged up Rams squad.
Thanks to Fooch for the time.