Adjustments San Francisco 49ers Must Make Following Bye Week

Joseph Akeley@@Jakeley_BRAnalyst IOctober 31, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 06:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers high-fives Frank Gore #21 against the Houston Texans during their game at Candlestick Park on October 6, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers did a lot of things well in the first half of the season, and they got results to show for it. 

At 6-2, the Niners have the fifth-best record in the NFL.

However, there are a few adjustments they need to make to improve their chances of winning the NFC West and going on a deep playoff run. 

Below are the proposed tweaks, in no order of importance.

Blitz More/Get More Pressure on Opposing Quarterbacks

The return on Aldon Smith would help the 49ers' pass rush.
The return on Aldon Smith would help the 49ers' pass rush.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The 49ers rank 25th in the league in sack percentage at 5.5 percent. Only one of the past 10 Super Bowl winners had a lower percentage (2009-10 New Orleans Saints). 

That lack of a quality pass rush really cost the Niners in Super Bowl XLVII. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw for three touchdowns and 287 yards, amassing most of that total with time to throw in a clean pocket.

The 2013 49ers have been able to get away with it during their five-game winning streak by forcing turnovers and holding their own against mostly mediocre quarterbacks. 

They may not be so fortunate coming out of the bye. 

Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Robert Griffin III are the next three opposing starting quarterbacks on the schedule. 

The best solution to this issue is an active Aldon Smith, and it's really anyone's guess when he'll be back with the team (naturally, he gets activated on the day I published this article). But even with Smith, the 49ers struggled to pressure Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck in the first three games of the season. 

This is more on defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. 

Just like last year, the Niners aren't blitzing very often, choosing instead to play a lot coverage schemes with two safeties deep. There are some obvious strengths to playing it safe, but eventually the 49ers will have to take a few chances to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable. 

If they don't, they may fall multiple games behind the Seahawks before their rematch in Week 14. 

Establish a Second Wide Receiver Threat

Mario Manningham had 42 catches for 449 yards and one touchdown in 2012.
Mario Manningham had 42 catches for 449 yards and one touchdown in 2012.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

This adjustment could be rewritten as "get Mario Manningham involved." According to Steve Corkran of the San Jose Mercury News, waiving Marlon Moore is a sign that Manningham is nearing a return from the physically unable to perform list.

Colin Kaepernick has thrown for more than 200 yards just once in the past seven games. Though he's been playing better of late, he may need to pick it up even more to match the offenses of the Panthers, Saints and Redskins.

And most important of all, the 49ers will need another threat against the Seahawks. 

Richard Sherman shut down Anquan Boldin (one catch, seven yards) in Week 2, and Kaepernick wasn't able to connect with his other receivers.

A receiver needs to join forces with Boldin and be a difference-maker in the second half of the season if the 49ers are to win the NFC West. Of course, the 49ers are hopeful that Michael Crabtree will fill the void at some point this year, but as I wrote last week, they shouldn't be relying on him with his return to full strength in question. 


Get LaMichael James Going

LaMichael James averaged 5.9 yards per carry in last season's playoffs.
LaMichael James averaged 5.9 yards per carry in last season's playoffs.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

According to Corkran, Jim Harbaugh said on Tuesday that he wants to get LaMichael James in the mix.

"I want to get that going," Harbaugh was quoted as saying. "He's just too good of a football player not to be playing."

Where James can help the 49ers most is in read-option packages. Though he may not provide incredible blocks like this one by Frank Gore, James has an extra burst of speed that Kendall Hunter and Gore lack. He looks the most comfortable of the three in as a read-option runner, which makes sense considering he had tons of success in the formation at the University of Oregon.

James is also an explosive return man, as the New England Patriots learned firsthand when he gashed them for a 62-yard kickoff return in Week 15 of last season. His biggest issue is ball security, but how much worse than Kyle Williams can he be?

Ultimately, it's hard to argue with Harbaugh's assessment. James is too good to not be getting touches, and the more carries he and Hunter get, the more fresh Gore will be for the playoffs. 

Rely on Carlos Rogers as Little as Possible

At some point, the 49ers have to realize that Carlos Rogers is the weak link of their cornerback corps. Pro Football Focus gives him a minus-2.7 pass coverage score (subscription required), far worse than both Tramaine Brock and Tarell Brown. But it doesn't take an advanced stats website to see that. 

There's not much the 49ers can do to hide Rogers when he's on the field. So the adjustment would be to give Rogers the most safety help and/or the easiest wide receiver assignments from play to play.

The other option is to give Eric Wright a shot at some of Rogers' snaps when the former Tamba Bay Buccaneer is activated.

I don't envision a scenario in which the 49ers will stop playing Rogers. If his snap count is any indication, they trust him, as he's played all but 13 defensive snaps this season. 

And I believe their reliance on him will hurt them down the road.


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