The San Francisco 49ers ended the first half of the 2012 season with a strong statement against the Arizona Cardinals, posting a 24-3 victory in Arizona.
Now that the Niners have entered their bye week, and the season has come to its mid-point, it’s time to step back and grade the performance of the offense unit by unit.
The quarterback position is inarguably the most important position on the field in today’s NFL.
49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith has, at best, played inconsistently through the first eight games of the season.
Smith had poor showings against the Vikings, Giants, and Seahawks, and flashes of brilliance against the Packers, Lions, Jets, and Bills. Not to mention a possibly record setting outing against the Cardinals in which Smith went 18 of 19 for 303 yards and three touchdowns, all while posting the highest recorded completion percentage, 94.7, in an NFL game with more than 15 attempts.
Unfortunately, Smith’s bad outing have, in fact, been abysmal. Nearly matching his interception total for the entire 2011 season, in two games against the Vikings, and Giants, Smith showed images of himself circa 2010. The offense suffered from a lack of rhythm in the game against the Giants, with the overuse of the “Wild-Kaep” offensive set. By taking Smith out of the game on third down on consecutive 70 plus yard drives, offensive coordinator Greg Roman threw off any momentum the Niners might have been building.
As for Kaepernick, he definitely has a strong down-field arm, however he lacks in accuracy and patience. His ability to watch a play develop, and changing the play accordingly is still a year or two away from maturity. Kaepernick tends to run the play as designed, regardless of how the opposing defense presents, something which has led to a few nearly picked off passes on deep plays this season.
Quarterbacks Grade: B-
Frank Gore is, without a doubt the cornerstone of the 49ers offense. His ability to gain yardage while falling forward for every inch is unmatched in the league.
Over the last season and a half, in games where Gore touches the ball more than 15 times the 49ers are 16-1. That is a powerful statement for any running back.
Backup running back Kendall Hunter is coming along in his mentor’s footsteps, pushing the line and gaining yardage in such a Gore-like fashion it’s sometime difficult to tell the two amazing backs apart. As a duo the two are nearly unstoppable; in fact, during the Harbaugh era, in games where these two phenoms combine for 25 or more carries, the 49ers are 18-0. That statistic is a nail in the coffin of any argument for a pass heavy offense, as the 49ers have a total of 19 regular season wins in the Harbaugh era, meaning they managed to win only one game using a pass heavy offensive attack.
In addition to these two backs, fullback Bruce Miller, while not carrying the ball often, is an essential part of the Niners running game. His ability to run block and lead the rushing tandem of Gore and Hunter through defensive lines, is a huge part of the success of the 49ers running game.
Running Backs Grade: A+
One area that the Niners were severely lacking during the 2011 season was in the wide receiver corps.
Headed up by Michael Crabtree, and supported by Josh Morgan, who got injured early, Kyle Williams, the oft-injured Braylon Edwards, and return specialist Ted Ginn Jr., last year’s receiving corps left a lot to be desired.
In 2012 however, Michael Crabtree is having a career year, leading the team in receptions and yardage, and being backed up by a Kyle Williams that seems to have a brand new passion for football. Add to that the talents of Mario Manningham, who has an awesome ability to make key plays when they are really needed, and the threat of a Randy Moss who looks like he wants to prove that he is not the person he was in 2010, and is playing like its 1999, and the receiving corps is easily the most improved part of this team.
Receiving Corps Grade: A
Last year, Vernon Davis was the most targeted receiver on the 49ers, and he more than lived up to the task. Davis had a breakout year in 2011, solidifying himself as one of the great tight ends in the league. His ability to catch the ball and make plays were a major reason the Niners made it as deep into the playoffs as they did. In addition to his prowess as a receiver, he is an unselfish and talented blocker as well, blocking pass rushers and run defenses alike.
In 2012, with defenses around the league paying a lot of much deserved attention to Davis, Delanie Walker has had the opportunity to step up and make big plays for the 49ers. In the first 8 games, Walker has caught the ball 7 times for 89 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers rookie tight end Garrett Celek has been used little, usually coming in when the Niners use a three tight end set.
Tight End Grade: A
There is little question that Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley is a powerful force of nature, who imposes his will on defenders around the league. Equally as imposing is the tackle on the other end, Anthony Davis.
With line pushing guards Mike Iupati, and Alex Boone, and the powerful Jonathan Goodwin at center, it’s a small wonder why the Niners running Game is so successful. However, the pass protection has been inconsistent this season, with the offensive line giving up 24 sacks, and allowing Alex Smith to be hurried far too often. Some of the blame for the sacks belongs to Smith himself, he does tend to hold on to the ball a little too long from fear of making a mistake, but the pass protection is lacking as well.
The ability of this line to open holes cannot be overlooked. This unit opens up running lanes where there are none, and pushes the backs through them, sometimes literally, as anyone who has watched Joe Staley throw Frank Gore forward for a 1st down can attest to.
Offensive Line Grade: A-
As a whole the 49ers offense has performed well, if somewhat inconsistently during the first half of the season. They have held their own against teams that no one gave them a hope of defeating, yet fell apart during games that everyone thought they would win without question.
Although they won a game against the Seahawks in which the offense didn’t fire on all cylinders, they were beaten in the other two games by New York, and Minnesota. Consistency will be the key to a successful second half for the San Francisco 49ers this season.
Offense Grade: B+