As we enter Week 17, the San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) have locked up a playoff berth, and with some luck, could still seal the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
With Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and this defense, the team has seen some real highs this season. At a number of points during the 2012-13 season, the 49ers looked like the best team in the league.
They are fundamentally sound, balanced and are just recently discovering they can be explosive as well.
The Niners are looking to become regulars in the postseason, so it would be beneficial for them to figure out a formula that works for them after Week 17 is in the books. In this piece, we'll break down what the San Francisco 49ers can do to give themselves the best chance at a title this year.
Greg Roman has been hot and cold since joining the 49ers. As an offensive coordinator and play-caller, he has been a significant upgrade from any candidate in the past decade. However, he seems to have a lapse every third game or so.
The play-calling, ball distribution and utilization of Frank Gore all comes into question, and it’s resulted in five non-wins for San Francisco in 2012.
The Niners need to prioritize the involvement of Frank Gore on offense. The 49ers are a power football team that relies on play-action to push the ball downfield. While the offensive identity may evolve with Colin Kaepernick under center, a midseason shakeup is not what the Niners need before the playoffs.
San Francisco needs to continue to preach balance offensively and put Kaepernick in a position to succeed rather than putting too much on his shoulders. This may be Gore’s best and last shot to claim a championship, so you can believe he’ll be one of this team’s hardest fighters come playoff time.
When Gore is rocking and rolling, it makes opposing defenses guard the whole field. They have to worry about the gaps up front and defending the perimeter sideline-to-sideline while also respecting Kaepernick’s powerful arm.
A balanced, innovative attack will help the 49ers go far this postseason.
Frank Gore was selected to Pro Bowl. 2 NFC RB with more rushing yards than him (Alfred Morris, Doug Martin) were not.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 27, 2012
When they’re on their game, the 49ers are the best blocking and tackling team in the NFL. With a league-leading number of Pro Bowlers for a second consecutive year, nearly all of the team’s players in the trenches received an invite to Hawaii.
The 49ers have built their identity around controlling the game up front.
San Francisco is at the top of its game when it is fundamentally sound. Perhaps one of its biggest hurdles it faces on any given Sunday is itself. If the Niners are competing, beating guys to the punch and outhitting their opponent, they usually put themselves in good position to bring home the W.
But every now and then, they slip into a funk and get in their own way. The play by the offensive and defensive line, as well as the linebackers, will be crucial. San Francisco makes it very tough for teams to compete when they are playing mistake-free and firing on all cylinders.
Mike Solari coach of the year? Every member of the #49ers o-line -- including TE Vernon Davis -- either is a Pro Bowl starter or alternate
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) December 27, 2012
Entering the season finale, the 49ers have lost three of their featured offensive players for the season. Now with a playoff berth, the Niners could be worried about coming up shorthanded.
WR Mario Manningham, RB Kendall Hunter and WR Kyle Williams have all been lost with season-ending injuries.
A year ago, San Francisco’s lack of depth hurt it in the NFC Championship. The Niners struggled to get their playmakers going, relying too heavily on too few players. The team had better depth going into this season, but has been hurt by losing this trio of Manningham, Hunter and Williams.
While LaMichael James has shown potential in a short period of time, A.J. Jenkins has yet to hear his name called. Even though he has subbed on the field as of late, the 2012 first-rounder is yet to record a catch.
Randy Moss, on the other hand, has been productive, showing he can still run through defenses and be a threat. With Moss and Crabtree, the Niners should have a solid one-two punch. Though, after that, the 49ers are thin at the position.
Ted Ginn, Jr. and A.J. Jenkins are going to be relied on to sub in and work out of the slot. Unless Moss, Jenkins and James can step up, the 49ers may receive another early exit from the postseason.
Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree are the only wide receivers targeted by the 49ers over the last two weeks.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) December 20, 2012
San Francisco has the best put together defense in the league right now. With great talent evaluators and contract negotiators, the Niners are able to retain incredibly gifted players that fit Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense.
Although it's had a recent surge on offense, this team is well-known for its defense. So, like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers needing to get hot in the postseason for their respective teams, the 49ers defense needs to catch fire.
It needs to play fast and physical and take the football away. If it can provide opportunities for its offense, remain fresh by getting off the field and establish its fierce presence on game day, it will be hard to stop.
Its Pro Bowl tandems will also need to be contributing factors on its title run. The combinations of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner all need to be cohesive.
If these players are performing at the level to which they are capable of, the 49ers will be able to stop the run, rush the passer and take away routes deep and in the middle of the field.
9 #49ers named to the Pro Bowl - Offense: Gore, Staley, Iupati. Defense: Willis, Bowman, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Goldson, Whitner.
— Kyle Bonagura (@KyleBonagura) December 27, 2012