5 Burning Questions the San Francisco 49ers Still Must Answer
After besting Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams, 35-11, the San Francisco 49ers (2-2) are tied for second place with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks (4-0) currently sit atop the a division throne.
Now, a 2-2 start to the season isn't what many expected out of a team that made a Super Bowl appearance last year; however, the reality is just that.
The 49ers have shown in 2013 that they are human. Look no further than their defeats to the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks as overwhelming proof.
But who knows, this adversity could end up helping the 49ers down the line. Of course, they will have to adapt and fix some of these persistent issues.
The victory against the Rams proved to be a good start, but concerns still remain.
Who Will Play Opposite Anquan Boldin?
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According to Jim Harbaugh, Jon Baldwin should see "more action" in the coming weeks for the 49ers. After the injury to rookie receiver Quinton Patton, an increase in Baldwin's playing time isn't much of a surprise.
The 49ers are running out of bodies at receiver.
Mario Manningham may return from injury in a few weeks, but that's still up in the air. If Michael Crabtree does return this year, it probably won't be until December.
Kyle Williams and Marlon Moore have struggled to create separation. Kassim Osgood is more of a special teams player, though the veteran did have some positive plays in the preseason. And Chris Harper, while talented, is still learning the playbook.
Baldwin came to the 49ers in a trade for former first-round pick A.J. Jenkins for a reason. He has all the physical tools to be a great player, but consistency has been an issue for Baldwin.
If Baldwin can create separation at the line of scrimmage, he should at least take some pressure off of Anquan Boldin. Teams are loading up on Boldin, and with Vernon Davis still hurt, Baldwin has to take advantage of the soft coverages.
Will Injuries Derail This Season?
The 49ers were without several key players in the win over the Rams Thursday night.
Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Nnamdi Asomugha did not play Thursday night. Of course, several players stepped up in their absence, but against stronger teams down the line, the 49ers will need to be at full strength.
Willis and Asomugha should be fine going forward, but the Aldon Smith issue is still up in the air. While I applaud Smith for taking these measures, we still can't run away from the fact that his absence hurts this pass rush in the long term.
As I stated before, Mario Manningham could return in a few weeks, but that is not set in stone. Michael Crabtree is also on the physically unable to perform list, but his return will likely come in December or sometime before the start of the postseason.
Can the 49ers survive this storm of injuries? The Green Bay Packers did it in 2010 en route to a Super Bowl championship. So, it can be done; however, the 49ers will need contributions from a few of their young players.
Will the 49ers Continue to Feature Frank Gore and Company?
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On Thursday night, the 49ers reclaimed their run-first identity. Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and this 49ers offensive line showed up in a huge way to the tune of over 200 yards rushing against the Rams.
Prior to the Week 4, Frank Gore had rushed for only 142 yards. Against the Rams, Gore attempted a season high 20 carries and gained 153 yards on the ground.
If the 49ers want to get back on track for good, Frank Gore has to touch the ball at least 18-20 times per contest. The Niners should also give a steady diet of carries to backup running back Kendall Hunter.
Hunter finished with 49 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers win against the Rams. Before his injury last season, Gore and Hunter formed one of the most potent rushing combos in the league.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has the offensive line and stable of backs to give fits to opposing defenses. Issues have arisen with play-calling, but the win Thursday night was a good start.
I expect the 49ers to continue this strategy going forward.
Why Don't the 49ers Design More Runs for Colin Kaepernick?
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Colin Kaepernick has rushed for 140 yards on the ground in the first four weeks of the season. He has a solid 5.4 yards-per-carry average, but most of his yards have come off scrambles and broken plays.
The 49ers have abandoned the read-option package within their offense; however, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman continue to use Pistol formations.
Like what Mike Shanahan is doing with Robert Griffin III, it seems Jim Harbaugh wants to protect his young quarterback. Kaepernick will eventually become a more polished pocket quarterback, but until he reaches that level of command, the young QB needs to be used as a dual threat, which could make this offense tough to stop.
49er receivers have also struggled, which has hampered Kaepernick's confidence in the pocket. Even in the win against the Rams, Kaepernick still looked antsy and uncomfortable when dropping back.
I understand teams are game planning to stop Kaepernick on the ground, and if so, the 49ers should hit them with a steady dose of Frank Gore. Make the defense pick their poison.
Last year, the 49ers dictated how defenses were going to play them. Thus far in 2013, the opposite has held true.
Are the 49ers Too Complacent?
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The 49ers started the Jim Harbaugh era by shocking the league with a NFC-best 13 wins in 2011. In 2012, the 49ers regular-season record regressed to 11 wins, but the team still was able to win the NFC West and secure a coveted bye week in the playoffs.
2013? The 49ers have started 2-2 and are currently tied with the Arizona Cardinals for second place in the division. As stated before, the Seattle Seahawks are a perfect 4-0 and on top of the NFC West.
Given that it's only Week 5, worrying about a .500 start and whether S.F. maintains contact with Seattle may be overreacting a bit. But if Seattle continues its strong play, the 49ers will have to rely on a wild-card slot for entrance into the postseason. Therefore, these next few games could be critical for the 49ers as they position themselves for a playoff run.
The 49ers should secure a wild card, but one has to wonder if this team has become complacent? Great teams usually suffer from this.
When you consistently have an abundant amount of success, its hard to get up for the "little" games. The Niners had just come off an emotional loss to the division-rival Seahawks when the Indianapolis Colts came to Candlestick and thrashed San Francisco. Give the Colts credit for a dominating win, but the 49ers performance was a prime example of the complacency I mentioned.
You see it all the time in the NBA, and even in the NFL. Of course, taking a night off or two in the NBA is not the same as a few lost weeks in the NFL.
In the NFL, every game counts.
We can point to injury and scheme issues, but if producing consistent effort becomes a problem for the 49ers, they can kiss their postseason chances goodbye.
If the 49ers can replicate the intensity and attention to detail they demonstrated last Thursday versus St. Louis, we could see the team string together some wins and get back into the NFC West race.