In his first two seasons as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Harbaugh had never lost two games in a row. After Week 11’s 23-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the up and down Niners have now lost back to back games twice this season. At 6-4, the NFC West now appears to be out of reach and the 49ers are at best playing for a fifth seed. How this team responds will tell a lot about where they are headed in 2013 and if they have any kind of a realistic chance at making a run back to the Super Bowl. It all starts in Washington as San Francisco tries to get back on track against the 3-7 Redskins.
The 49ers have an all time record of 15-9-1 versus the Redskins during the regular season. Most recently, the teams met in Week 9 of the 2011 campaign in an ugly game that saw San Francisco come away with a 19-11 win. The 49ers had trouble getting the ball into the endzone and relied on the leg of David Akers who kicked field goals of 52, 34, 45 and 20 yards. The only 49er touchdown came in the second quarter when Alex Smith hit Bruce Miller on a 30 yard pass down the sidelines. Frank Gore helped pace the attack with 107 yards on 19 carries. John Beck started at quarterback for the Redskins and struggled to move the offense. Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks each sacked Beck once and Dashon Goldson recorded an interception. The San Francisco defense held Washington to only 52 yards rushing on 14 attempts.
Players to watch
Ahmad Brooks has been on an absolute tear for the 49ers. The outside linebacker has paced a defensive attack that is playing well despite the team’s recent losing streak. In Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers, Brooks recorded two sacks to lead an effort that held Cam Newton and company to only 250 total yards. In Week 11, Brook’s interception of Drew Brees set up one of the 49ers’ two touchdowns. He also made a huge play on third down late in the game, sacking Brees and causing a fumble that was recovered by Patrick Willis. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Brooks was called for a penalty on the play for hitting Brees in the head area. The sack could have very well sealed the win for San Francisco. On the season, Brooks has 6.5 sacks through 10 games which is only 0.5 away from his career high of 7.0.
While Robert Griffin gets most of the publicity for the Redskins, it might actually be the guy who stands behind him that the 49ers may have to worry about the most. Runningback Alfred Morris is the third leading rusher in the NFL with 918 yards. His 5.1 yards per attempt is tops in the league for runners with at least 100 carries. As far as Griffin, he has been up and down this season as he tries to work his way back from a major knee injury. He is completing 59 percent of his passes and has 14 touchdown passes to go along with 14 turnovers (10 interceptions and four fumbles). Griffin only gave the ball away seven times all of last season.
Game changing factor
During their offensive slump, the 49ers have once again abandoned the running game at crucial times. Frank Gore, who’s been the offensive lynch pin for the team, hasn’t been the focal point he has needed to be over the last two games. Against Carolina, Gore had over 70 yards rushing in the first half but only attempted two carries in the fourth quarter in a one score game. In Week 11, Gore was only given 13 attempts against a Saints team that came into the game tied for last in NFL by allowing 5.0 yards per rushing attempt. Look for San Francisco to put the ball back in Gore’s hands and hope that Colin Kaepernick can provide at least a handful of plays in the passing game. With Gore again being featured, the 49ers should be able to control the tempo of the game.
Stats to know
The Redskins defense has been atrocious this season, allowing 311 points (31.1 per game). They are tied for last in the NFL with 15 rushing touchdowns allowed and the defense as a whole is giving up 6.1 yards per play. Washington is allowing 275 yards passing a game and four quarterbacks have thrown for over 300 yards against them this season.
The 49ers offense has been equally as bad of late, failing to reach 200 total yards in each of their last two. The Niners are dead last in passing offense with 1680 yards, 184 yards behind the 31st ranked team (the Oakland Raiders). Kaepernick himself is only averaging 154 yards through the air over his last nine games and has turned the ball over 11 times total.
Washington still has an outside chance at the NFC East but, in reality, they look to be dead in the water. While the 49ers have struggled to be beat good teams, they have had no issue imposing their will on lesser ones such as the Redskins. Every game from here on out is a must win for San Francisco and the Niners should win this one, despite a passing attack that is still trying to find it’s way.
Photo Credit Ricky Carioti/Washington Post
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