49ers' X-Factors Primed for Huge Week 4 Performance

Sean GalushaCorrespondent IISeptember 25, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers rolls out to pass during the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Candlestick Park on September 22, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Watching the 49ers game last Sunday was like a preview to the evening's Emmy awards. Tedious. Hapless. Painful to sit through. But at least the Emmys got things right in the end. The Niners? Not so much. 

While everyone excused their pitiful performance against the Seahawks as an unfair consequence of playing in the hellish atmosphere of CentruyLink Field, it turns out last Sunday's game was not an aberration. The 49ers, as they are right now, aren't a very good football team.

Colin Kaepernick is looking less and less like the quarterback that nearly led his team to Super Bowl glory after just seven regular-season starts. The once dominant running game--while it has reared its head in a few instances this season--has been shut down and in some cases deactivated by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, and the defense can't stop anyone on third down without committing a holding or personal foul penalty that results in a new set of downs for the other team. 

And the injuries, the injuries...have just been terrible. They also seem to happen to the best players playing the most important positions on the field. Crabtree. Davis. Willis. It's no wonder why 49ers fans were hyperventilating when Colin Kaepernick was still playing late in the fourth quarter with his team trailing by 20 points.

Naturally, San Francisco will be playing on short rest this week, and things don't get any easier with Patrick Willis nursing a sore groin and Aldon Smith set to attend traffic school abroad. Yes, they won't be playing the most formidable opponent in the Rams (no one loses to the Rams, right?), but based on what we've seen these last two games it's unclear who the 49ers' equal is at this point.

This team, which started the season with expectations of returning to the Super Bowl, is reeling fast and and desperately needs someone to be its jumper cables. 

Let's see what we got.

Frank Gore

The 49ers promised to commit to the run game after last week's loss in Seattle. They did for about five minutes, and ended up scoring their only touchdown of the game. Gore touched the ball three times for 54 yards and Kendall Hunter finished the drive with an impressive 14-yard dash into the end zone. From there, Gore only carried the ball eight more times and the offense flatlined.

Gore reportedly screamed at Harbaugh after the game, either to tell him that he didn't get enough chances to bring his team back in the game, or that Jim was ruining his value in fantasy leagues.  

Perhaps the reprimand should have come sooner.   

Frank voiced similar concerns to his coach during the NFC championship game after the Falcons jumped out to a 17-point lead. Let's not get away from the run game coach, since you know, these guys suck at defending it. He ended up finishing with 90 yards and two touchdowns.

What I found mind-numbing was the way the 49ers kept trying pitchouts and counters to run the ball against the Colts, who have one of the worst defensive lines in the league. During the touchdown-scoring drive Gore simply ran the ball right at the defense and it worked. 

Maybe Frank's actions as the Niners were walking off the field was to convince his coach to give him more carries on Thursday. That's probably a good idea, and I'm not just saying that because he's my RB1 option this week.  

Vernon Davis

Vernon Davis isn't just one of the best tight ends in the NFL, he's one of the 49ers' most important leaders on and off the field.   

Unlike Ray Lewis, he tends to avoid the long-winded bloviating locker-room sermons and instead chooses to lead by example. He stands up for his teammates but never loses perspective of the situation at hand.

He's also pretty good at playing football. His size, speed and strength make him a nightmare for any defense. He catches balls down the sidelines like a route receiver. He disrupts the middle of the field like a photon beam. He also has an awesome knack for finding the end zone. At times he made Alex Smith look like Joe Montana.

In addition to his talents, Davis is a huge playmaker in the postseason, singlehandedly leading his team to victory over the Saints and scoring two touchdowns against the Giants in 2011. In last year's playoffs, Davis had a pair of 100-yard games in the NFC championship and the Super Bowl.  

His absence was felt by his team and the fans on Sunday, and the 49ers will need him against the Rams if they hope to have any chance of drawing double coverage away from Anquan Boldin. Vance McDonald hasn't been able to divert any safety help from opposing defenses, which is one of the main reasons why the Colts were able to provide blanket coverage on the receivers. 

Vernon is a game-time decision on Thursday. As much as I hate to say it, the season could depend on whether or not he's ready to play. 

Colin Kaepernick

One of the most difficult things these past two weeks has been watching Colin Kaepernick stand in the pocket for about seven seconds, waiting for him to cock that bazooka arm and fire a strike 30 yards down the field, only to see him tuck the ball in and flee when the play eventually breaks down. 

While it's true that Kaepernick is having a hard time finding anyone open (which is usually the case when you only have one receiver to throw to) there have been several instances where he's failed to hit his targets in stride or miss them completely. He's done a great job of eluding the pass rush and keeping the play alive, but he doesn't seem to have Steve Young's (and yes I'm going to say this, Jeff Garcia's) ability to throw accurately on the run. 

He's also made a few passes when he's had 10 yards of open field in front of him. 

Bottom line, Kaepernick needs to stop throwing the ball like Randy Johnson on every pass. Finesse can be just as effective as power.

Five Super Bowl wins is proof. 

Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta

There was a notable sense of dread when the 49ers took the field on Sunday without Vernon Davis and Aldon Smith having been arrested earlier in the week for driving drunk with a bag of reefer in his glove compartment. The Colts wasted no time seizing the opportunity on their opening drive, capitalizing on two horrible calls by the officials and putting the 49ers in a fetal position early. 

It's looking more likely that the Niners will be without Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith on Thursday, and the Rams will be licking their chops as they try to bully what will be a severely downgraded and weakened defense. The 49ers didn't win one game against the Rams last season with a fully healthy roster. Not exactly a good confidence builder as they attempt to pull off a desperately-needed road win.   

It will be up to Dan Skuta, who the 49ers signed last March from the Bengals, and 2013 prize draft pick Corey Lemonier to perform in the absence of two irreplaceable linebackers. The front seven has severely underperformed against the run so far this season, and if the Rams are able to push the 49ers around as effectively as the Colts and the Seahawks, the 49ers, as Al Bundy so eloquently put it, could be the team to get thrown out of the league.