Five Reasons why the NFL Should Fear the 49ers


ESPN releases its Power Rankings each Tuesday, and with it often comes a surprise or two.

I, for one, believe it’s a short-sighted evaluation that judges what has been accomplished, not what will be. It’s a glimpse into the past, not the future, and it often unfolds in similar fashion each season: Good teams meet expectations and the flash-in-the-pan types fall apart and realize their mediocrity.

The Bengals are not a Super Bowl-quality team. The Cowboys will not win 12-games. Ryan Fitzpatrick will collapse around Week 8 and the Texans will finish the season 8-8, maybe 7-9.

If I scorned your team, I apologize. But the fact remains that what we pretend to know often flips and becomes the opposite.

So when I peruse the rankings and see the 49ers at #7 – below the Cowboys, Eagles, and Bengals – it puts a sour taste in my mouth.

Are analysts that forgetful? Or am I too biased?

Football is constantly evolving, but like most sports, the good teams pan out and the average ones crumble.

It’s only Week 6, but the NFL should fear the 49ers going forward…but why?

1.) The Offensive Line Will Improve

For three-years running, the 49ers’ offensive line has dominated the NFL. The rushing attack often finishes in the top three in total yards, Colin Kaepernick takes less sacks than most quarterbacks, and the 49ers win a heap of games.

But this year is completely different.

The run-blocking has remained stellar. The 49ers rank third in the NFL in rushing yards, averaging an even 145.0 yards per game. Nothing new here.

But the pass protection has floundered.

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Via Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the 49ers rank 27th in pass blocking efficiency (stat accounts for quarterback hits, hurries, sacks and pressures). With Kaepernick’s escapist ability and a talented offensive front, this must improve or the 49ers will find trouble in the latter half of their schedule.

Here’s the gist: All of this is history repeating itself, and there’s reason to believe that this unit will improve its pass protection.

The 49ers’ pass protection was deemed a severe liability following a 1-2 start last season. The Seahawks and Colts turned Kaepernick into a pinata, outscoring the Red and Gold 56-10 over a two-game stretch.

The 49ers allowed 21-hurries during the two-game span – an average of 10.5 per game. That put them on pace to accrue 168 hurries – a total that would have lead the league.

At season’s end, the 49ers were third in the NFL in hurries allowed with 102.

This unit will shore up their issues and provide a maturing Kaepernick the necessary pocket time to succeed. Count on it.

2.) Marcus Lattimore Joins the Backfield Next Week

As if Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde need the extra help. Regardless, it’s on its way.

As many of you know, Lattimore is a talented runner. He thrived in the powerhouse SEC and was considered one of the nation’s best backs entering the NFL Draft. His injury history is worrisome, and I fear it’s stunted his mental growth.

But the 49ers exercised caution and took baby steps to bring him to this point; one can assume that Lattimore is once again confident.

What he’ll bring to this backfield is unknown, but anytime you add a first-round talent to the league’s best ground attack, it’s considered a boost.

The rich get richer.

3.) Health is Returning

If you combine Vernon Davis‘s and Michael Crabtree‘s production and extrapolate it over 16-games you are left with the following:

  • 109 receptions
  • 1078 receiving yards
  • 13 touchdowns

Simply put, that’s not enough production from two of your primary offensive weapons.

But change is on the horizon. Crabtree has been limited this season with nagging injuries and Davis has played in just three games. The entire offense will improve when these two are healthy and thriving.

Anthony Davis returned against the Chiefs, but only played a half before spraining his MCL. He’ll sit for the next two games and reappear after the 49ers’ bye week (Week 8).

Meanwhile, Jonathan Martin and Joe Looney are learning the nuances of this offense under fire. Once Davis returns, the 49ers will have a battle-tested offensive line with depth and talent everywhere.

Also, rookie center, Marcus Martin, will soon rejoin the team and will instantly provide backup at both the center and guard positions.

And my last point: Who wants to play this team when NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Glenn Dorsey and Tramaine Brock return?

It goes without saying that when the 49ers are healthy, they are easily the deepest roster in the NFL.

4.) The ‘Un-Special’ Teams Unit Will Rediscover Its Form

The 49ers signed Raymond “Bubba” Ventrone to the active roster yesterday. They parted with Kasim Osgood, but it’s likely he clears waivers and the 49ers re-sign the oft cut-and-re-signed 34-year-old specialist.

The 49ers’ special teams unit is ranked 16th in the NFL. Being said, they’ve faced the top two units in the league in the Eagles and Chiefs. Brad Seely is one of the best special teams coaches in the league and will get this unit back on track.

Also, Bruce Ellington will improve as a kick returner as the season presses on. He’s yet to find his comfort zone, but when he does, watch out. After that, the Gore and Hyde train will come chuggin’ along and the 49ers will grind teams into the ground.

And if you haven’t heard, Phil Dawson loves Levi’s Stadium.

Penalty Issues Have Been Curtailed

Through three games, the 49ers amassed 36 penalties, a pace that would have shattered the Raiders NFL record of 163 penalties from the 2011 season. Since Week 3, the 49ers have totaled just 12 penalties. Basically, they’ve cut their penalties in half.

They’ve adjusted to rule changes and have stopped harming their own cause. While an unpopular belief in circles outside the 49ers’ spectrum, it’s plausible that without game-changing penalties against Chicago and Arizona, this team is undefeated.

The NFL’s ‘bad boys’ are not going to beat themselves anymore.