The Story So Far…
It was a tough couple weeks to start the NFL season for the San Francisco 49ers. After a stellar win at home against the Green Bay Packers to start the season, the team tanked two in a row to opponents they probably could have beaten. The Seahawks and the Colts exposed some weaknesses in their play, play calling, and game planning, but that’s not what we’re here to look at.
But five weeks in, those games are behind them. After rebounding with a stellar showing against the Rams, and smothering the fading Texans, the San Francisco 49ers have a divisional game against a Cardinals team that is certainly not living up to expectations, then a game in the Music City against a Titans roster playing with a rejuvenated defense and a fairly efficient offense (words not unlike those we could use to describe the 49ers).
A quick flight across the Atlantic and the 49ers face off against a team that reports pretty much in the bottom 10 percent of most of the metrics measured offensively, and defensively hemorrhages yards to opponents on the ground. Then after a quick bye week to regroup, they play against a much improved Panthers defense before facing off against the lossless New Orleans Saints, in the same stadium where they lost the Super Bowl in February.
It’s hard to imagine that just eight months ago, fans around the world were glued to their televisions watching the Niners face off against the Ravens. Heck, the power went out and it was still one of the most watched television events in history.
This time, however will be a different story. Through the following weeks until this game, I’m sure a fair amount of time will be spent preparing for one of the hardest teams they’ll have to play this year. The Saints are an offensive powerhouse in the air and are much better on defense than they were last year. The Saints are outscoring their opponents (on the season) 134-73, while the Niners have posted a far more pedestrian 113-98.
For comparison, here’s how these teams match up by ranking:
(Stats compiled from NFL.com)
I’d like to say this would likely look MUCH different if it were adjusted for strength of schedule, as the 49ers played four playoff teams in their first five games. Meanwhile the Saints played just one. I don’t want to downplay just how dangerous an opponent New Orleans is, I just want everyone to make sure they understand that their season so far must be taken with at least a small grain of salt.
It’s no surprise that the 49ers defense has shown up this season, however, I think no one expected that almost a third of the way into the season they’d have one of the best pass defenses in football. After losing cornerback Chris Culliver to injury and safety Dashon Goldson to free agency, many thought the 49ers secondary was going to be a gaping hole for QB’s to throw into, but I’m happy to report that is certainly not the case.
Eric Reid has been a stud even as a rookie starter. Nnamdi Asomugha certainly hasn’t been the CB he was in Oakland, but he’s still doing okay. Last weekend, Tramaine Brock was in the right places at the right times, proving he deserves at least a longer look as a starter on this year’s roster. The loss of Aldon Smith to rehab is unfortunate but necessary. Some things have to be done.
On offense, things look different, but the same. Same struggles, same players, but a different game. Soon the 49ers will have access to quite a few players on IR and NFI, meaning there could be a few upgrades on the Niners roster even before the season ends.
Once this happens, the hope from my side of the broadcast is that receivers get open, allowing more rushing yards, which in turn allows more passing yards. The 49ers have made great effort the last few weeks to returns to their roots, running the ball just as well as anyone expected, with Frank Gore finding holes like a back much younger, Kendall Hunter looking faster than he was when he came out of college, and Anthony Dixon making things look like they’ve actually started to click, the Niners run game is quite stout.
This is all very good news for fans of both franchises, as long as both teams stay healthy, I see no reason to think this could easily be a playoff matchup preview.