It’s about time somebody posed this question for the San Francisco 49ers: is it now or never for a Super Bowl championship season?
Let’s clear something up before I get into this discussion. Now means the next couple of years or so, and never means the next five or six years, maybe more than that. I guess a more appropriate question would be “Sometime soon, or not for a while?”–but how well does that really flow?
The Niners are one of the best defensive teams in the NFL and all the players on the defense are fairly young and active, leaving no real concern for this aspect of the game. The Niners’ offense, however, may be losing a couple of key pieces in the next couple of years.
The main piece that may be on the verge of declining it the Niners’ star RB Frank Gore, a guy who has been able to resurrect their offense in times of need. He and Colin Kaepernick form an ideal duo that really makes the Niners one of the best rushing teams in the NFL: this is how their offensive game isn’t completely dead, as they don’t have a particularly outstanding passing game.
Yes, they have great receivers such as Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree, but my guess is that it’s going to take Kaepernick more than a couple of seasons to really solidify his passing game. He targets Boldin often, but with the up-and-coming Crabtree, Kaepernick needs to spread the field out even more than he already does by hitting other receivers.
While the infant passing game takes its time to grow, the running game needs to continue to be strong. At 30 years of age, however, Gore may be starting to decline. True, he hasn’t shown any real signs of it during the regular season, but a player is not going to be fast forever. One of his main strengths is finding a small gap and turning it into a 30- or 40-yard gain. He cannot do this is he loses his quickness and ability to penetrate.
This puts the load on Kaepernick’s shoulders. He needs to be able to run the ball more just so he can give Gore a little bit of a break. Usually, for most quarterbacks, running isn’t the first option. But for Kaep, it should be a set play sometimes. The Niners are always going to have strong receivers waiting for the long-bomb, but the Niners are a rushing-team as of now.
If Gore does decline sometime in the next couple of years, the Niners will be a completely defensive-minded team. Their rushing game will start to decline, and the infant passing game, which may be upsurging, will only be 15th in the league at best. If this happens, the Niners are going to struggle with their offensive output in big-game situations. Kaepernick is clutch, but what happens when his teams’ main offensive weapon (Gore) is not performing well?
Some may argue that Marcus Lattimore is up-and-coming. I completely agree that he could be the Niners’ RB of the future, but as of now, he needs to see more time on the field before he even gets up to that conversation.
With Boldin, Davis, and Crabtree, the Niners have one of the most stacked groups of receivers, able to spread out the field well. As Kaep continues to work on his pocket presence and passing ability, however, this will only be a growing part of the Niners offensive game.
So if the Niners want to win a championship, they’re going to have to strike hard and soon. Otherwise, they may be forced to go into rebuild mode, right before going on the verge of winning it all.