The 49ers found themselves on the brink of disaster in Week 4, but rallied from a 21-10 deficit to put a whole new spin on what could have been deemed a nightmare season. A win in the NFL can buy a lot of goodwill and also cover up some major blemishes, but there are still issues in San Francisco.
How the team deals with this crisis will go a long way in where they end up at the end of the year. Here is a look at the hurdles the Niners must overcome.
Crisis 1: The Jim Harbaugh situation
Some ignored early reports that Harbaugh might be losing the 49ers’ locker room, but it’s starting to look more and more like where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
The most recent shots were fired this weekend as NFL Network’s Deion Sanders made damning comments about Harbaugh and his status in the 49ers’ locker room.
“They want him out. They’re not on the same page,” said Sanders Sunday on NFL GameDay Final.
Maybe even more concerning than what Sanders said were the comments made by Trent Dilfer on ESPN radio. Dilfer has had ties to the 49ers organization from his playing days, and has been in tune with some of what goes with the franchise in the past. Granted, that may no longer be the case with Harbaugh.
“I do think it’s become almost toxic.”
“It was creepy, that’s the feeling I had in that game,” Dilfer said about the 49ers’ Week 4 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. “Brutal on offense. it made me sick last night how great Frank Gore was, that throw Colin Kaepernick made to Stevie Johnson. They had 4,000 opportunities to do something on offense, because their defense was so good. They kept getting the ball back, getting the ball back, getting the ball back.
“Offensively,” continued Dilfer, “it’s frenetic, it’s spitball, it’s ugly, it’s horrible clock management. I mean inexcusable clock management. Lack of energy by offensive players. Series ended and there was no communication, guys slouching their shoulders, just bad body language.”
Dilfer also said that winning cures all, and this could all be moot if the 49ers continue to roll off W’s, but this isn’t a story that’s going away anytime soon. Another losing streak, and the sharks will begin to circle.
Harbaugh has refuted these reports and Alex Boone, Antoine Bethea and Patrick Willis have come to his defense, saying all is well. However, the allegations have to be coming from somewhere, even if it’s just a few disgruntled players.
Crisis 2: The quarterback
For the second season in a row, the 49ers have tried to shift their offensive philosophy in order to center their attack around Kaepernick early in the season. Each time, the unit has looked disorganized and ineffective, leading to more questions than answers about the quarterback.
Gore was able to bail the team out in 2013, and looks to be on his way to doing that again after dominating with 174 total yards, including a 55-yard touchdown catch in the Week 4 win. Gore, despite appearing ageless, is not, and it’s unknown if he can continue to put the offense on his back week after week at 31-years-old.
Gore’s advanced age puts the emphasis right back on Kaepernick. The fourth-year veteran is as talented as any player in the NFL, but seems to be lacking the football acumen to take his game to the next level.
Kaepernick is still struggling to see the whole field and has a habit of breaking the pocket earlier than he needs to. Instead of moving around or stepping up within the pocket, he looks to scramble, often running himself out of a possible completion. Kaepernick seems to be too concerned with making the big play, rather than making the best play.
For example, sometimes taking a 5-yard check-down on a second-and-long is the best option, because it puts your offense in a third-and-manageable situation. Instead, Kaepernick is infatuated with making something happen down field, which makes the 49ers’ offense a boom-or-bust unit too often.
He’s also struggling with the most basic parts of quarterbacking, most notably time management. Kaepernick was called for two delay of game penalties in Week 4, and getting the snap off has been a consistent issue for him. Last season, the 49ers led the league in delay of game calls with 11.
Now all young quarterbacks have issues at times, but with Kaepernick, it doesn’t look like he’s growing. In fact, he seems to be regressing in some areas. There’s still a lot of time to turn it around, but if he continues his inconsistent play, the 49ers have a long-term problem. Right now, they can hide him on a deep roster, but his $17-21 $million cap hit in the coming years will force the team to move on from some veterans and rely more on their unproven signal caller.
Crisis 3: The missing pieces
You can make the argument that NaVorro Bowman was the best defensive player in the NFL last year. When you take a player of that magnitude out any lineup, it’s inevitable that it will have a ripple effect. On top of that, subtract one of league’s top pass rushers (Aldon Smith), the No. 1 corner (Tramaine Brock) and the starting nose tackle (Glenn Dorsey) and you have a recipe for disaster.
The defense was surprisingly dominant in Week 4, shutting the Philadelphia offense out. While it’s a big step, they still have to prove they can sustain that kind of an effort without the missing pieces listed above.
The same can be said on offense, as starting tackle Anthony Davis missed the first three games, and was injured again. While Vernon Davis looks to be okay after a scary back injury, he has been in and out of the lineup so far with various ailments. While the 49ers are much deeper at the receiver position, there aren’t many players who can do what Davis does from the tight end position.
The best case scenario here is the team stays in the playoff picture until they get their reinforcements back. It will be a grind, but once they are whole again the 49ers can be as dangerous as anyone in the league.
Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images
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