News has not been good early on for the San Francisco 49ers. Injuries have hit them hard and they will be without key players Michael Crabtree and Chris Culliver for most or all of the season. Even with these obstacles in front of them, the 49ers still have as good a chance as any team to reach the Super Bowl in 2013. Here are five reasons why the 49ers will still be one of the teams to beat this year.
If one thing has been evident in Jim Harbaugh‘s two seasons as 49ers’ head coach, it’s that he knows how to game plan to take advantage of his players strengths. He and his coaching staff took a talented but underachieving group and made them the team to beat in the NFC. The 49ers are 24-7-1 under Harbaugh in the regular season. Harbaugh will make the necessary adjustments to offset the loss of the players they’ve lost to injury.
Crabtree is coming back eventually
While his Achilles tear is by no means a minor injury, there is a good chance Crabtree will be back in late November. That would put him at an estimated arrival time of week 12. The 49ers would have six games left at that point. Even if it takes a few weeks to get his timing back, Crabtree should be rounding into form just in time for a playoff run.
Crabtree was by far the teams most productive receiver in 2012. He led the team in receptions (85) and receiving yards (1105). Crabtree had 43 more catches than the next closest player (Mario Manningham) and 557 more yards (Vernon Davis). Crabtree also tied for the team lead in total touchdowns with nine.
A healthy Crabtree combined with Anquan Boldin will give the 49ers two legitimate outside threats that can help them go a long way in the playoffs. He’ll return to offense he is already familiar with, so he won’t have any set backs in terms of the playbook.
Defense, Defense, Defense
The 49ers still boast one of the top defenses in the NFL and the unit can carry them over long stretches. In the first 13 games of the season, the 49ers only allowed 14.1 points per game. Looking deeper, from September 30th through November 19th of last season (seven games) the 49ers’ defense gave up seven points or less five times. Those numbers show that as long as this unit is healthy, the 49ers will be in every game. Healthy is the key word in the equation. After Justin Smith and Aldon Smith were injured and/or playing hurt last year, the points allowed per game ballooned to 29.6 over the next six contests (including the playoffs).
To offset possible injuries, the 49ers have added depth through the draft and free agency. Rookies Tank Carradine and Corey Lemonier will give a boost to the pass rush and the return of Parys Haralson adds depth at outside linebacker. The signing of Glenn Dorsey will give the 49ers another able body on the defensive line and Nnamdi Asomugha provides some insurance in the secondary. The team will need rookie Eric Reid to step up to replace the departed Dashon Goldson but, overall, the defense looks Super Bowl worthy again.
Quarterback could be elite
From 2003 though 2011, only three teams made the Super Bowl in the AFC. The New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers were the only teams to represent the conference in nine straight Super Bowls. The main reason for that run of success for those franchises was the person they have behind center. In Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger, the teams had the opportunity to make a run for a championship year in and year out.
It’s far too early to tell if Colin Kaepernick can have similar success, let alone can be mentioned in the same breathe as those future Hall of Famers. His performance in the playoffs last year, however, gave the 49ers hope that they do indeed have a franchise quarterback. Kaepernick looked the part in every way during the team’s post season run. He brought the team back from deficits in the divisional round and NFC championship game before ultimately falling five yards short in the Super Bowl.
If Kaepernick continues to build of off last year, his ability and performance in the clutch can offset the loss of some of his skills players. Great quarterbacks make the people around them better. If Kaepernick can do that, he has the opportunity to make that jump into elite status and make the 49ers contenders just by being on the field.
The 49ers offensive line is littered with talent. They have pro bowlers on the left side in Mike Iupati and Joe Staley. They have a stable veteran presence at center in Jonathan Goodwin. Alex Boone and Anthony Davis continue to grow by leaps and bounds. They also have depth here with Daniel Kilgore, JoeLooney and Adam Snyder all able to step in at multiple positions.
NFL games are said to be won and lost in the trenches. With the help of the offensive line, the 49ers averaged 5.1 yards per rush last season. Their running game helps them control the tempo and allows the team the opportunity for big passing plays. If the 49ers offensive line continues to dominate the line of scrimmage they will go a long way this season. The unit may be the most valuable (and sometimes overlooked) on the team.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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