Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers (6-2) are sizzling hot heading into the bye week, looking to regroup and come out even stronger than before. In a Week 8 showdown from Wembley Stadium in London, England, the Niners absolutely obliterated a helpless Jacksonville Jaguars team, which remains winless this season.
But the 49ers weren't picking on the Jaguars. Jacksonville just happened to be in the path of the destruction.
Offensively, San Francisco has annihilated its opponents during an empowering five-game win streak, posting scores of 35, 34, 32, 31 and 42 since Week 4. On the defensive side, Patrick Willis and Co. have been a model of resiliency. Week to week, they make it a fist fight, and it resonates with the rest of the team, which seems to get stronger by the quarter.
Well into the season, the 49ers have really settled into their identity. After capturing their sixth win of the 2013 season, here is what we learned about San Francisco.
San Francisco is officially at the halfway point, which is particularly meaningful for this team.
The 49ers got out of Week 8 unscathed, which was one of only a couple of games where there were no notable injuries. Additionally, the team is getting several players back from injury after the bye week, which is conveniently scheduled smack dab in the middle of the year.
The heart of the season was always significant to the team for that reason.
Now, the working players will have a chance to recharge, while the injured players will have an extra week of healing and unimpeded adjustment. This will allow the 49ers staff to get all their ducks in a row for the second half of the season. After all, starting Week 10, they will have to find spots for Mario Manningham, Eric Wright and Tank Carradine.
So, this cruise control period will be nice timing for the 49ers.
Moreover, the Kansas City Chiefs got their eighth win, which turns the third-round pick into a second-round pick, in regard to the Alex Smith trade. They only had to get eight wins for San Francisco to get maximum value. Who know it’d only take them eight weeks?
Speaking of good records, the 49ers are also looking quite good when you compare them to contenders around the rest of the league. As the cream rises to the top here, it appears to be the Niners, along with teams like the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.
Their mark of 6-2 is looking particularly good, especially when you consider that they’ve already gotten past the rough five-game patch in their schedule. In the eight remaining games, the 49ers will face five more teams that are .500 or below, including another winless team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7).
As of now, a 13-3 or 12-4 record does not seem out of the question.
Following an early season slump in his first full year as a starter, dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick has come roaring back.
The split-second decision-making and utilization of his entire skill set has infused new life into the San Francisco offense, making this team look capable of anything. And yes, even if that means breaking a 41-year-old spell by being the next Super Bowl loser to go on to win a title the next year (last since the 1972 Miami Dolphins).
Kap has been doing it all, which has reminded the cynics of why the 49ers made the switch at quarterback in the first place. Playing fearless once again, he is making big-time throws and eating up chunks of the field on the ground, improvising and taking whatever the defense gives him.
It has made him awfully hard to defend. When the play breaks down, Kaepernick is able to make something out of nothing. Recently, this has led to a surge of points and one of the cleaner-looking displays of offense you will see in the league.
They haven’t turned it over like they did early in the season; they keep the ball moving forward and they’ve been able to put the quarterback in a position to succeed, which includes capitalizing on his skill set and feeding the playmakers.
As a result, there has been a noticeable improvement on third down and in the red zone.
Using his big arm and gazelle-like stride, Kaepernick looks to be nearing playoff form, which makes the 49ers a candidate to be the team that gets hot in the second half of the season. And sometimes, that's all it takes. Just ask Eli Manning and the New York Giants or Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens.
Last week, the quarterback had a 99.0 Total QBR—this week he had a 99.8 Total QBR, which was the highest QBR by any player since Michael Vick’s 99.8 in 2010 against the Redskins, via ESPN Stats & Info.
Colin Kaepernick: 1st player to post a Total QBR of at least 99 in consecutive weeks since Total QBR was first tracked in 2006.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 27, 2013
On Friday from London, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke “downplayed” mounting reports that the team was interested in trading for a wide receiver, via Marc Sessler of NFL.com.
To no surprise, it has been a recurring question. Between the team’s need, the surplus of draft picks and the fact that Cleveland Browns wideout Josh Gordon is available, a lot have felt that this deal makes sense. It also does not help clear the smoke that they’ve been directly linked to him.
But nothing appears to be in motion.
That day, Baalke also had to dispel rumors that 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James was on the trading block. Obviously the running back’s non-involvement has raised questions, leading some to believe he is expendable. But, really, no one knows what the intentions are on behalf of the San Francisco brain trust.
Though, things continue to get interesting.
Josh Gordon's trade value will never be higher than today. Trade deadline is 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) October 27, 2013
Prior to kickoff on Sunday, NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that it is not James on the block, but it is in fact running back Anthony Dixon. The veteran running back and special teams ace has been the primary body blocking James from being activated on Sundays.
The trade deadline is Tuesday, October 29, so there is a very slim window where Baalke can execute a trade. But it’ll be tight, and he won’t partake in a deal where this team does not come out ahead. The 49ers are very much geared on building through the draft, and thus, they value their picks.
That being said, the team does need to waive players soon with several names returning from their respective injury lists.
Rather than losing players straight up, the Niners may want to get creative and package a couple of players and a pick for receiver help (if they think they still need it). Anthony Dixon, Marlon Moore, Nnamdi Asomugha and Jon Baldwin all seem like viable trade bait.
This could allow James to get on the field for the second half of the season, while potentially adding another threat at receiver. So, in one move, the 49ers would doubly boost their offense.
The 49ers had a funky start to the regular season largely because the play-calling on the offensive side of the ball was off kilter.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman had Kaepernick throwing for season highs of 39, 28 and 27 times. During which time, the team went 1-2 and the quarterback threw three touchdowns to four interceptions. Clearly this was not an effective formula, particularly with a lack of receivers.
One of the most notable aspects of the five-game winning streak they’ve amassed since then has been the return to heavier packages and power rushing. It has been a no-nonsense approach. The 49ers have called upon Frank Gore, who has carried this team and helped set up play-action passing.
The Niners have been grinding wins out this way because they’ve been able to impose their will on the defense. In fact, Kaepernick only needed 16 total pass completions to blow out both the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sometimes it is not pretty, but their ability to pummel teams this way is as effective as any other offense in the league. They sustain drives, play ball control football, and this past weekend, they were able to finish in the red zone. This methodical balance will take the 49ers far this year.
However, Roman needs to be cautious as not to fall back into his old habits, especially once the team gets players back on offense.
The temptation of Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham could play tricks on his mind. He must remember that Gore, along with Vernon Davis, have the hot hands and his other guys are going to need time to re-acclimate. The smashmouth identity with the tight ends and running backs is the way to go.
Bleacher Report’s NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland shows us their personnel groupings on Sunday, which were on the beefier side:
They’ve proved to be quite resourceful with Crabtree and Manningham out of the lineup. Going forward, the Niners are going to want to keep leaning on creativity, power football and play action out of 22 and 23 personnel.
Wide receiver and return specialist Kyle Williams has had a rocky beginning to his NFL career.
Granted, it seemed like the fourth-year pro was just one of numerous players who had been limited in the old regime. Development, injuries, scrutiny and a play-it-safe quarterback all held him back. But in 2013, S.F. was committed to Williams, waiting for a breakthrough that never came.
On Sunday versus the Jags, Williams put the opening kickoff on the ground and nearly turned it over.
Later in the game, he muffed a punt out of bounds and was later replaced by third-string running back Anthony Dixon. As a receiver, Williams also had two passes deflect off his hands. He finished the game with one catch for seven yards—now averaging 1.25 catches and 10.1 yards per game in 2013.
His struggles have been so very apparent, you could easily argue that this is his worst year as a pro—and in a contract year no less. At this point, it is safe to assume that if Williams is not traded before the deadline, he will not be re-signed in the offseason.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area highlights how his duties have slowly diminished down to nothing:
The thing that kept Kyle Williams as the 49ers' punt returner was he was simply catching the football. Today, he couldn't even do that.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) October 27, 2013
Running back Frank Gore is averaging 79.6 all-purpose yards per game this season and 102 yards during this five-game win streak.
Meanwhile, tight end Vernon Davis is averaging 66.5 yards receiving per game, looking like he is in All-Pro form, both blocking and pass catching.
Together, these two have also combined for 11 touchdowns on the season.
This tight end/running back combo has virtually carried the offense for an entire half of the NFL season, even though their opponents knew what was coming. This is the best football we’ve seen from Gore and Davis in their respective careers, and the 49ers have needed every bit of it.
Had it not been for their assertion, there is no way that San Francisco is in as strong a position as it is now.
On Sunday versus the Jaguars, they rammed that point home once again, scoring three times between the two of them. They seem to be unstoppable, even when Anquan Boldin is not contributing a great deal. You have to figure that the duo only gets more dangerous down the stretch, too.
The expansion of the offense with Crabtree, Manningham, Quinton Patton, Kendall Hunter, James and Vance McDonald will give the 49ers an inordinate amount of weapons and open things up further for Nos. 21 and 85 in the second half of the season.
This offense could be scary good for the remaining eight games—that is if San Francisco is able to spread the ball around.
Even though they're short-handed, this 49ers defense has played great football.
Scheme, fundamentals and talent at key positions relevant to the system makes the 49ers such a strong defense; one that has been able to endure losses of key players at outside linebacker, nose tackle and cornerback.
However, week in and week out, the 11-plus contributors on that side of the ball bring their shovels and put teams in the ground. It is a no-nonsense approach for these guys, who fly to the football, tackle well and pride themselves on beating their opponent to the punch in nearly every facet of the game.
They also know when and where they can take risks.
Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks have anchored this unit, but the 49ers have received surprise contributions from all over. And it has been a new event every week. Guys just continue to step up and make plays, supporting the nucleus of the defense, which are the four players mentioned above.
Who knew before the season that third-string defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie would have an interception before cornerback Tarell Brown?
Or that cornerback Tramaine Brock and free safety Eric Reid would be the interception leaders, and arguably the strengths of the secondary?
Outside linebacker Corey Lemonier, the rookie from Auburn, also has made his presence felt. In the absence of Aldon Smith, the pass-rush maven has been flashing his edge skills, proving himself to be a real talent. He recorded his first sack in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals, which also happened to be a game-changing safety.
This week, it was Dan Skuta's turn.
The veteran linebacker and special teams ace had a 47-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. For weeks, it has been big play after big play for a well-built unit that is disciplined within its scheme. The splash plays have all come rushing out, just as Jim Harbaugh alluded to in his "olive jar" reference in the signature game versus St. Louis.
The depth on the defensive side of the ball is truly remarkable and easily the best in the league. Once it gets reinforcements in the coming weeks, this unit might evolve into a totally different animal altogether.
Frankly, it seems like the only thing that can stop the 49ers is themselves.
This team is right on par with the other great squads in the league today, which is a valid statement now that we're eight weeks in.
Not to mention, when you look at the other teams' respective performances, some of those clubs have been standing still or realizing their own mortality, while San Francisco is on a rapid ascension heading into the cold months in November and December.
So, looking forward, there is a lot to like about this team as it pertains to a Super Bowl.
The talent, the coaching, the bruising style and, finally, the quarterback. If you were to pick out three things that could alter this team's fate, it would come down Greg Roman's consistency as a play-caller, if the team could remain healthy from here on out and if Kaepernick is capable of big-time games back-to-back-to-back.
Eventually, it comes down to the quarterback.
With Kap, now that he is becoming more polished, people want to know what his legacy will be as a playoff quarterback. Will he be a Tom Brady or a Tony Romo? Or perhaps somewhere in between, like Matt Ryan.
We've seen that he's been able to outscore star passers, defeating Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, but can he dissect elite defenses before the play and embrace his all-encompassing skill set when there's live fire around him?
Tough squads like New Orleans and Seattle are teams that he is still going to have to beat this season, if not again in the postseason. While the 49ers quarterback is perfect versus the Saints, Kap is 0-2 versus the division rival Seahawks. That being said, he still has a lot to prove.