The San Francisco 49ers, after making a trip to the Super Bowl just a season ago, are now in big trouble. No, they’re not in full-blown scramble mode to make up ground in the wildcard race, but they’re falling flat at a time they should be making a run to the playoffs. The magic that defined their run through the playoffs last year is gone, and following a last-minute loss to the Saints, the 49ers are once again searching for answers.
At 6-4, San Francisco is currently clinging to a pair of tie-breakers that elevate them above the rest of the NFC playoff mess. Still, there’s a few very tough games coming down the line in the near future, and if Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers can’t get back to their normal selves, they won’t be worrying about a postseason berth at all.
There is an immediate break for the 49ers coming. In the next two weeks, the 49ers will face the Washington Redskins followed by the St. Louis Rams, two teams that have combined for just seven wins this season. To say the least, the 49ers should be able to press their record to 8-4 without any hang-ups.
That’s when it gets interesting. From that point, the 49ers will host the Seahawks, go on the road to face a suddenly-hot Buccaneers squad, hot the Falcons, and the 49ers’ regular season will end in Arizona against the Cardinals. That closing schedule is a gauntlet, and even with a pair of tune-up games leading into the closing stretch, I’m not sure the 49ers can maintain their wildcard position through the end of the season.
It would be easy to come out and say that head coach Jim Harbaugh is the problem. His fiery nature that was so heavily touted a season ago has come under fire this season as childish, and it has been suggested that his style doesn’t transfer well into the pro game.
That’s bogus. Sure, I’m not a fan of Jim Harbaugh’s antics on the sideline, and yes, I do find them childish at times, but to suggest that those antics are responsible for the 49ers’ struggles of late is a bit on the ridiculous side.
Instead, I would simply suggest that the NFL is simply continuing to evolve. At one point, the NFL was a run-first league. Then, offenses began to pass more and more. To compensate, defenses began transitioning to a lighter 3-4 base formation instead of the more traditional 4-3. In recent years, super-athletic quarterbacks have become the latest trend. Now, defenses are catching up with sound techniques to limit quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.
The catch, at least for teams featuring these athletic quarterbacks, is offenses operated by scrambling quarterbacks do rely on their quarterback’s ability to make plays with his feet. When that aspect of the offense is eliminated, the offense has a tough time operating in a more traditional way.
Obviously, the 49ers have more problems than just keeping up with opponents’ adjustments. Tactically, the 49ers have been unable to close out their last couple of opponents. Against the Panthers, the 49ers gave up a 9-0 lead, and against the Saints, San Francisco was unable to stop Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense. Then, their own offense was unable to do anything in the closing moments, giving the Saints just enough time to get into field goal range for the winning score.
Right now, the 49ers are on their heels. If they can’t find their footing, they’ll quickly find themselves out of the playoff race. The Redskins should provide San Francisco with a tune-up game, but no game in the NFL can be taken as a “gimme game.” Hopefully, the 49ers don’t have to learn that lesson the hard way.