Year two of the Jim Harbaugh experience has been everything 49ers fans could have wanted so far. I'm sure they could have done without that loss to the Vikings, but in reality, it probably did more good than bad. A flat, uninspired performance early on can often help fuel strong play down the stretch, just as it did for San Francisco last season.
Since that Week 3 loss, San Fran has piled up 1,000 yards of total offense and outscored opponents 79-3. Those are impressive numbers, especially considering no team has ever thrown for 300 yards and rushed for 300 yards in the same game until the 49ers did it in Week 5. It appears as if Coach Harbaugh's offense is finally catching up to the defense.
Greg Roman touts the No. 6 offense in the NFL, and Vic Fangio touts the No. 2 defense. As the 49ers get ready to host the New York Giants, is it possible their best stretch of football is in front of them?
Let's take a look as we check up on their progress through five weeks.
Am I allowed to say everything is good? It's hard not to like what San Francisco is doing in every phase of the game. They have the best run blockers in the league, and Alex Smith quietly has a quarterback rating of 108.7. Not to mention the fact the 49ers have the second-best defense in the NFL. That's impressive considering they've taken on a couple top-flight offenses early on.
Still, I have a hard time thinking anything is better than Roman's rushing attack. Any time you draw up a game plan that nets you 311 rushing yards in one game, you deserve a little bit of praise. Through Week 5, the Niners are averaging 195.8 yards per game on the ground, which is tops in the NFL.
However, the last two weeks have been even more impressive than that 195.8 yard-per-game average. Against Buffalo and New York, the 49ers' backfield piled up 556 yards—that's more than half of their 979 total rushing yards. Frank Gore has led the way with 168 yards the past two weeks, but Kendall Hunter is not far behind with 137 yards of his own.
More than anything, it has truly been a team effort. Against the Bills, seven different 49ers carried the ball, and against the Jets, nine different players rushed out of the backfield. When you deploy a rushing attack like Coach Harbaugh does, it's hard for opposing teams to plan for so many different weapons.
In 23 games as San Francisco's head coach, Harbaugh has already coached four games in which they rushed for more than 200 yards.
As a franchise, they only rushed for 200 yards or more 11 times from 2000-2010.
It's not easy finding a whole lot of bad from a team that is 4-1 and tied for the division lead. Unfortunately, as good as the 49ers are, they have one major weakness they mask well. Their pass rush on defense isn't as strong as it was in 2011. Pro Football Focus had Fangio's defense as the second-best pass-rushing team at the end of last season.
This year, PFF has them as the 10th-worst club in that same category. So, what does it mean? Let's take a quick look at the numbers. Through the first five games of 2011, they had 11 sacks, 23 quarterback hits and 74 hurries. Through the first five contests of the 2012 season, they only have nine sacks, 14 quarterback hits and 39 hurries. That's 46 fewer pressures in the same amount of games.
The biggest difference between this year and last is Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. Both players just aren't getting the same kind of pressure.
Aldon's production could be related to the fact that he is now an every-down player, and Justin's is still a bit of a mystery. Right now, there are few that are worse at rushing the passer than No. 94. Out of the 36 3-4 defensive ends PFF has graded this season, he is No. 31. Only eight total pressures to his name.
Naturally, he's still a monster at stopping the run, but maybe his better days as a pass-rusher are behind him. Only time will tell.
Nevertheless, based on how their team defense looks, I have a feeling they will be okay. Outside linebacker Clark Haggans will be active for the first time this season, so he could be an option in terms of spelling A. Smith. Smith has played 96.5 percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps.
Rising: Colin Kaepernick
For the second week in a row, his snaps have risen. In Week 4 he logged 11 snaps, and in Week 5 he logged a career-high 20. Twenty snaps may indeed be close to his ceiling, but he is a true playmaker when on the field. At this point, Kaepernick is more Tim Tebow-esque than Tebow is.
Falling: Delanie Walker
Walker has never been the best route runner, and his involvement in the pass game has been minimal. It's hard to imagine he has regressed as a pass catcher, but he has. Last season, PFF had him graded at a minus-4.8 through 18 games in the pass game. This year, he has already hit that same low point in 13 fewer games.
Rising: Chris Culliver
Culliver has been on the field for 157 pass plays this year. Of those 157 plays, he has allowed a measly five receptions. His longest reception allowed is 13 yards, and wide receivers are only averaging 7.6 yards per catch, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL.
Falling: Carlos Rogers
The lack of a pass rush has definitely effected All-Pro cornerback Carlos Rogers. He has allowed 20 receptions on 28 targets, and opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 92.4 when throwing his way. Last season, quarterbacks only had a rating of 65.1 at season's end.
The Outlook Heading Into Week 6
San Francisco looks absolutely unbeatable right now. They are not only beating teams with ease, they are beating them into submission. Two weeks ago, members of the media claimed certain players on the Jets had quit by the start of the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, the 49ers won't have the luxury of playing the Jets every week. This week, they are at home for a second straight week, and I have a feeling they have some unfinished business to take care of from 2011. The Giants will be making their third appearance at Candlestick since the beginning of 2011.
Like San Fran, the Giants have won two games in a row, and there's no doubt they would like to make it three. Tom Coughlin has an all-time record of 5-1 against the 49ers. With a win and an Arizona loss, Coach Harbaugh's club could start 5-1 for the second consecutive season and sit alone atop the NFC West for the first time this season.
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