Believe It or Not, the 49ers Are the NFL's Most Unstoppable Offense
When most people think of the San Francisco 49ers nowadays, it's a dominant defense led by linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith that leaps to mind.
However, San Francisco also has an impressive array of offensive weaponry at their disposal, and as scary as it sounds, the 49ers offense may actually be better than their defense in 2013.
It all starts under center with third-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The 25-year-old took the National Football League by storm in 2012. After taking over for Alex Smith in Week 10 last year and supplanting him as starter the following game, Kaepernick's ability to hurt teams with both his arm and legs added a whole new dimension to the San Francisco offense.
That dimension was on full display in the Divisional Round of last year's playoffs against the Green Bay Packers. In that game, Kaepernick and the 49ers' read-option offense absolutely shredded the Green Bay defense.
Kaepernick accounted for over 440 yards of total offense in that victory, including 181 rushing yards, an NFL record for a quarterback.
Now, with a full offseason of preparation under his belt, Kaepernick will only be more dangerous,. General manager Trent Baalke told Cam Inman of The San Jose Mercury-News that Kaepernick has been hard at work on honing his game.
"Just continue to hone in on the techniques, the footwork, the mechanics, the lower-body mechanics that are so critical at that position and the playbook. He's doing an excellent job. There's no harder worker."
Defensive coordinators across the NFL just started freaking out a little bit.
For the read-option to be effective, NFL teams also need a capable tailback. That's where Frank Gore comes in.
The 29-year-old rushed for 1,214 yards in 2012, his highest yardage total since 2006. Throw in the 234 yards that Gore picked up through the air, and that's nearly 1,450 yards of offense from the player who Pro Football Focus ranked ninth among NFL running backs last season.
What makes Gore's performance all the more impressive is that the ninth-year veteran did much of his damage against eight-man defensive fronts.
According to Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus, Gore faced eight men in the box on 42.25 percent of his runs in 2012, tops in the NFL and nearly twice the league average. Despite that, Gore was still able to manage a robust 4.7 yards a carry.
Imagine the damage that Gore might be able to do if defenses can't cheat up to stop him.
There are a couple of factors that could make this problematic for opponents in 2013. The first is the continued development and maturation of Kaepernick as a quarterback. He's more than capable of burning defenses by throwing over the top against safeties cheating up into the box.
The second reason has to do with one of the reasons those safeties were creeping up to begin with.
Big reason Gore faced so many 8 in the boxes? 53.5% of rushing snaps with 1 or fewer receiver split out wide. Most in league— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 8, 2013
Odds are you're going to see a lot more formations with more than one receiver split out wide for the 49ers this year.
For starters, the insertion of Kaepernick into the starting lineup seemed to kick the development of wide receiver Michael Crabtree into high gear. It was the like the proverbial light bulb finally came on.
In the nine games that Smith started for San Francisco in 2012, Michael Crabtree topped 100 yards only once. In the seven regular season contests after Kaepernick took over, that number tripled.
By season's end, Crabtree had shattered his career bests across the board, topping 1,100 yards on 85 catches and finally showing signs of becoming the elite receiving option the 49ers hoped he would be when they drafted him 10th overall in 2009.
The 49ers also upgraded the talent around Crabtree in the offseason, adding veteran wideout Anquan Boldin in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
Granted, the 32-year-old hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiving season since leaving the Arizona Cardinals, but Boldin demonstrated that he still has plenty left in the tank during Baltimore's run to the Lombardi Trophy.
The 11th-year pro had more 100-yard games in four postseason contests than he did in the regular season. He matched his touchdown total for 2012 over that same stretch. In fact, Boldin's six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII are a big part of the reason why the 49ers aren't the defending world champions right now.
Hey. If you can't beat 'em, sign 'em.
We haven't even mentioned tight end Vernon Davis.
Once Kaepernick took the reins in San Francisco, Davis seemed to be the forgotten man in the 49ers offense. That changed in a big way in the playoffs.
Davis topped 100 receiving yards in both the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, reeling in 11 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown while showing what a matchup nightmare his athleticism poses for safeties and linebackers.
Then there's the small matter of the big uglies who are charged with keeping Kaepernick upright and opening holes for Frank Gore.
The 49ers have the best offensive line in the NFL. Left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati were named to the Pro Bowl last year. According to Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller's B/R 1,000 rankings, the 49ers don't have an offensive lineman who ranks outside the top five at his position in the NFL.
It may sound novel in today's grip-and-rip NFL, but games are still won in the trenches. No offensive front in the league is as dominant in that regard as San Francisco's.
That thudding sound you hear is those defensive coordinators that were mentioned earlier pounding their heads into their desks.
In short, the 49ers are just as loaded on offense as they are on defense. They have the NFL's toughest front five. A group of receivers that was considered a weakness for the team as recently as the beginning of last year is now a strength. In Frank Gore, they have a veteran running back who can do it all, whether it's running between the tackles, catching the ball out of the backfield or pass-blocking.
Oh, and they have a young quarterback who may well be the most athletically-gifted player at his position in the entire National Football League.
Other than that, they should be easy to stop.
Last year, the 49ers were a respectable offensive team in the regular season, ranking 11th in the NFL at just under 362 yards a game.
In the postseason that number jumped by over 100 yards a contest, and the 49ers' offense ranked No. 1.
Care to guess which number they'll be closer to in 2013?
I'll give you a hint. Those defensive coordinators have graduated to sobbing now.
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