Panthers vs. 49ers: Takeaways from San Francisco's 10-9 Loss to Carolina
Who knew that after a bye week with reinforcements on hand that the San Francisco 49ers would have perhaps their worst showing of the 2013 season?
For several reasons, many of which we'll get into, the 49ers failed to secure a home victory versus the Carolina Panthers, in a game that came down to one point. For the most part, it was injuries, poor game-planning and execution, coupled with a failure to adjust, that really hurt San Francisco's chances of mounting a comeback in the second half.
These two were neck-and-neck for much of this one, but when it came time to roll the dice in the third and fourth quarters, the 49ers had snake eyes.
The offense was suffocated to an embarrassing degree, and the defense did everything within its power to make this a game. It just was not enough. Unfortunately for San Francisco, this will be chalked up as its third loss of the year, now putting the team three games behind the Seattle Seahawks for first in the NFC West.
After having their five-game win streak snapped, coach Jim Harbaugh is, once again, going to have to regroup and address several vulnerabilities that this team has. The version of the 49ers we witnessed on Sunday is not the team that has the makings of a Super Bowl champion. This is one that needs to be reevaluated and corrected first.
For an idea of what conversations may be brewing at 4949 Centennial Blvd. on Monday, proceed through the following for takeaways from the Week 10 loss to Carolina.
Colin Kaepernick Has Not Been the Lightning Rod
Counting lost yardage on sacks, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers only had 46 net passing yards Sunday on 22 attempts. That is good for a yards-per-attempt average that is just a smidge over 2.0 yards.
Kaepernick went 11-of-22 for 91 yards, no touchdowns and a single interception that would end up sealing the game.
It was an abominable showing that went down as the poorest of any team this season and easily the worst in three years under Jim Harbaugh, via Kerry Bryne of Cold Hard Football Facts:
That’s a net of 46 passing yards on 28 dropbacks. And that sucks. But it doesn’t just suck. It’s the suckiest by any team in football this year. Here’s a look at the least effective passing performances of 2013:
San Francisco 1.64 Real Passing YPA (10-9 loss vs. Carolina, Week 10)
Jacksonville 2.28 Real Passing YPA (28-2 loss vs. Kansas City, Week 1)
N.Y. Giants 2.65 Real Passing YPA (38-0 loss vs. Carolina, Week 3)
Cleveland 2.96 Real Passing YPA (31-13 loss vs. Green Bay, Week 7)
Miami 3.02 Real Passing YPA (27-17 loss vs. New England, Week 8)
His 42.0 quarterback rating was the second worst of the season, right there behind the Week 2 collapse versus the Seattle Seahawks. He got chewed up and spit out. And it’s not like he was making up for it as a runner, either. He was only able muster 16 yards on the ground and zero scores.
There have to be serious questions about Kap’s ability to lead this team on a consistent run down the stretch here. The legitimacy of the opponents he has overcome does not say a whole lot about his showing in 2013. The Niners have smashed teams with losing records, and he has padded his stats.
Since the Week 1 win over the Green Bay Packers, Kap really has no one performance to point to and say, “See, I did that.” Granted, the play-calling could have been more well constructed and the loss of Vernon Davis was a backbreaker, but Kap is the quarterback and needs to overcome.
He had Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham, Jon Baldwin, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and second-round pick Vance McDonald. There are a lot of quarterbacks doing more out there with less. Kap needs to get better if the 49ers have any hopes of going somewhere in 2013.
Colin Kaepernick in #49ers three losses: 37 of 77, 368 yards, 0 TD, 5 INT (35.0 rating).— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) November 11, 2013
The Miscues Hurt
A missed block here, and dropped ball there, and all these little errors add up to the big picture—especially in a tight matchup like this one. If you replayed this game in fast-forward, it would look like an episode of the Three Stooges. Blunders were followed by catastrophes, and missed opportunities were booming.
They could not capitalize on handouts, and overall, the execution was really substandard.
- On the 27-yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams, Carlos Rogers, Eric Reid and Tarell Brown all missed tackles.
- When Colin Kaepernick slung his most beautiful dime of the day, it wound up being a demoralizing dropped ball by Vance McDonald.
- After linebacker NaVorro Bowman perfectly read quarterback Cam Newton and positioned himself to make a big play, he had a surefire interception bounce right off his hands.
- Late in the game, Donte Whitner went for the lawnmower rip in an attempt to give the offense one more chance and when the ball unbelievably popped loose, and was in his hands, the 49ers somehow did not recover the fumble.
On top of which, you factor in the penalty yardage and the three missed red-zone opportunities where the 49ers settled for Phil Dawson field goals, and it looks like the Niners gave this game away.
Injuries, Injuries and More Injuries
Coming out of the bye week, it seemed like the 49ers would only get healthier from there on out.
Mario Manningham was back in the lineup in Week 10, and Tank Carradine and Eric Wright are very close to suiting up as well. Then there is Michael Crabtree, who has begun practicing with the team.
So, overall, the 49ers were just starting to feel good about their injury report.
However, on Sunday, we were given a firm reminder that the Niners have not quite shaken the injury bug. Offensive and defensive stars Vernon Davis and Eric Reid both had to leave the game with concussion symptoms after being involved in major collisions. This is quite bad due to the nature of that particular injury, as well as their individual importance to the football team.
These are two players the 49ers cannot do without.
Defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who was already playing with a partially torn biceps, also had to leave the game with an ankle injury, per the team on Twitter. The extent of his injury is yet to be determined. Then there was guard Mike Iupati, who was involved in a crash in the trenches, causing him to be down for several minutes.
Iupati had to leave the game at one point, but eventually returned. While there are a number of teams out there that are more banged up than the 49ers, the timing of these injuries and players that have gone down has really handicapped this team for the majority of the year.
Vernon Davis Is the Offensive MVP
In six games this season with Vernon Davis playing from start to finish, the 49ers have averaged 34.6 points per game. In three games without him? They average 6.3 points per game. It is also the difference between 6-0 and 0-3.
There probably is not a more important piece to the puzzle, given his role in the passing game and the rushing game.
On Sunday, the 49ers star tight end had to leave the game after banging his head against the turf. He was eventually ruled out of the contest with a concussion, leaving an already struggling offense to fend for itself.
But without him, the offense had no deep threat, it had no high-percentage target on third-down situations and it had no one to set the edge for Frank Gore and Co. With Davis being sidelined, it is clear that the offense cannot function.
Honestly, it appears that he has the same level of importance to that unit as Justin Smith does to the defense.
Vernon Davis missed the Indianapolis game (loss) and went out early in this one (loss). Pull him out of the offense, the 49ers struggle.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) November 11, 2013
49ers Offensive Line Got Hammered
Rarely do the 49ers lose games on the line of scrimmage, but on Sunday versus the Panthers defensive front, they were flat-out victimized.
This offensive line got smoked, letting up a season-high six sacks on quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was running for his life the rest of the time.
The protection had no answer to this assembly of linebackers and defensive linemen, who were all able to step up at one point or another.
It was a relentless effort on their part.
The density of the front seven—from Luke Kuechly to Star Lotulelei to Charles Johnson to Dwan Edwards and even Thomas Davis—Carolina was bringing it from all over. It became quite an overwhelming presence as they made it a dogfight each and every down.
The Niners simply could not advance the ball because they were beat so badly up front. Their 151 net yards were the fewest since they had 133 versus the Minnesota Vikings in November 2006, via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. This makes it the worst offensive showing under Harbaugh, going back to the days of the primitive Mike Nolan.
49ers offensive line got whipped today— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) November 11, 2013
Jekyll and Hyde
More and more, the 49ers reveal that they are susceptible to being beat at their own game, which is the renowned smashmouth approach. And this even goes back to 2011 in Jim Harbaugh’s first year. It did not matter who the quarterback was for San Francisco—nor the majority of the personnel—but rather how the team collectively responded to the situation.
We’ve seen that similar style teams that are physical in all areas, particularly the trenches, and have a diehard penchant for running the football, always have a legitimate chance to defeat the 49ers.
In the past, the Niners have come up with big wins against high-octane teams like the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots. They bully these teams with their defense, their offensive line, and as a result, the surrounding components play a confident brand of football.
But when they can’t do that, they lose a part of themselves.
Versus teams like the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers have been hit back and they’ve wilted. Plain and simple. They weren’t able to muscle their way to a victory because those teams played just as physical, just as hungry and were able to endure a brawl for 60 minutes.
On Sunday, the Panthers came roaring into Candlestick Park, hit back and joined those aforementioned teams, further solidifying the argument for the prototype that beats the 49ers.
Playoff Positioning in Jeopardy
With this loss, the 49ers are one game away from being dethroned from second place in the NFC West. So, yes, the playoffs are in jeopardy if they don’t straighten up. With the Seattle Seahawks riding a five-game win streak, posted up at 9-1, there is zero margin for error.
They are also in danger of losing a top spot in the NFC.
Besides Seattle, they were already behind the New Orleans Saints, but now the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers have crept up. The Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys are also all still in the hunt. So this is a team that really cannot afford to lose ballgames.
This third non-win was quite a setback.
Despite their ranking and the fact that they are a very commendable and threatening ballclub, the Niners basically have to win out.
Before this Week 10 matchup, Carolina was only game away from being a .500 team, which made this a must win. The 49ers would drop the ball, however, and do so before seeing New Orleans and Seattle down the stretch.
They also have another contest with the Arizona Cardinals, as well as the St. Louis Rams, and sleepers against the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons. The NFL is full of surprises every year. The 49ers not making the playoffs would certainly be one of them, and it’s not out of the question.
Weapons Are Great...if You Know How to Use Them
A lot has been said about the weapons the 49ers have been stockpiling in the Bay Area.
But of all these names—whether they were acquired via trade or in an early round draft slot—none has been able to step up and prove their worth. And this is not specific to the wide receiver group; it is all around, which suggests that the reason for the lack of production may not be the individual players but rather how they’re being used.
Hypothetically, LaMichael James could be doing very impressive things in a Saints uniform. Vance McDonald would probably be quite the weapon at the hands of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and that tight end-friendly system. Then there’s Kyle Williams, who could be an X-factor in an offense like Green Bay’s.
The point is tailoring plays to fit the skill set of the player.
As part of his shortcomings as a play-caller, Greg Roman has struggled to scheme ways for non-stars to touch the football and contribute. As a whole, the San Francisco offense is way too reliant on its marquee players to carry the load. So when the 49ers are in a position like the one they’re in now, without Michael Crabtree and without Vernon Davis, their offense flatlines.
Middle screens and wheel routes to James don’t exist. Simple timing slants and tunnel screens to Kyle Williams don’t materialize. And not once has McDonald been used as a big body target in the red zone.
On Sunday, Mario Manningham was able to return and looked to be in good form. He led the 49ers in receiving and seemed to have the hot hand, but he failed to sustain that over the course of the game. The lack of fluidity in the play-calling and Roman’s approach of trying to put a square peg through a round hole is crippling the 49ers offense, and it is most evident in the passing game.
This offense as a whole should be operating at a much higher rate of efficiency with how loaded its roster is.