The San Francisco 49ers go into the bye week with a 6-2 record. Many thought that it would be worse after the 49ers suffered back-to-back losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts. Things were looking pretty bad after those losses, but this team has circled the wagons and won five straight games, scoring more than 30 points in each of the games. What can be fixed during the bye week?
There are some things that need to be fixed with this team before they make their stretch run. The thing that stands out the most to me is how successful teams are at scoring when they get into the red zone. The 49ers are ranked 29th in the NFL allowing teams to score 63.64 percent of the time that they get into the red zone. This is an area that has to improve. The 49ers did start to get better with their red zone defense against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but that needs to continue in the second half of the season.
Another thing that can be coupled with the red zone scoring defense is the amount of rushing touchdowns that the 49ers are giving up. It used to be virtually impossible to get a rushing touchdown against this team unless your name was Marshawn Lynch. The seven rushing touchdowns that the 49ers have given up so far is equal to the amount of rushing touchdowns that they gave up in the entire 2012 season.
Losing Aldon Smith has hurt the 49ers’ ability to accumulate sacks. The 49ers have 17 sacks on the year, which is less than the combined sacks from Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (19). The good thing is that the 49ers are getting pressure on the quarterback. Justin Smith is getting the chance to rush the passer more and not worry about having to occupy two gaps.
The loss of Aldon Smith has opened the door for a young pass rusher to show what he can do. Corey Lemonier is doing a good job of getting pressure off of the edge when the 49ers go to a four-man front. He has showed early that he can be relied upon to be very disruptive but those pressures need to become sacks more often. The 49ers traded up to get Lemonier and he is showing why.
I would like to see more inside gap pressure from Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. They both are very capable of getting instant pressure right up the middle on their A/B gap blitzes. The 49ers can also use more nickel blitzes as well. That disrupts the rhythm of the passing game.
The offense continues to struggle to score in the red zone. This area has improved but the 49ers are still only scoring on 27.2 percent of their visits into the red zone. The primary improvement is due to the running game working better inside the red zone. Colin Kaepernick is able to get the ready option passing game working again and he is actually keeping the ball on some plays resulting in touchdowns. Frank Gore is so good a squirting through the smallest holes. That has helped him score more touchdowns as well.
The 49ers like to work the play action pass and get the ball to Vernon Davis when they get the ball deep into enemy territory. Davis has scored at least four touchdowns this way. The problem is that the 49ers have to figure out another way to get the ball into the end zone. They need to take some shots to Jonathan Baldwin on jump balls. His vertical and size will threaten most defensive backs. They need his height against taller corners such as the duo that the Seahawks have.
Vance McDonald is another player that should get some touches in the red zone. McDonald is a big body tight end that can really cause some damage in open face. He will bowl over most defensive backs if he can get his numbers squared up. Using him on crossing routes or even leaking to the flat are two ways to get him the ball and allow him to make something happen.
Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are pretty much the only options in the passing game for Kaepernick. Mario Manningham is set to come back next week and he will hopefully get some opportunities to make plays. Kyle Williams has struggled. Manningham should take over as the number two receivers. Hopefully, that will help Williams get better matchups as a slot receiver. Michael Crabtree is also expected back in mid to late November. That could be a major reinforcement.
The field position battle is one that can improve if the 49ers can get a threat at returns. Kyle Williams is on pace to one of the most frequent fair catch season by a 49ers ever. He has been very unsuccessful at advancing the ball on punt returns. The kickoff return unit is also an area to get better. They are yet to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
The 49ers are riding a wave of momentum going into the bye. This team looks very solid on offense, defense and special teams. There are plenty of reinforcements on the way. Aldon Smith is believed to be coming back soon. Manningham is set to come for the next game. Eventually, the 49ers will be at full strength and that is when they will be able to challenge both the New Orleans Saints and/or the Seattle Seahawks for NFC supremacy.