San Francisco 49ers: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 11

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San Francisco 49ers: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 11

Just like that, the San Francisco 49ers experienced a supersonic crash back down to Earth, having their five-game winning streak snapped at the hands of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

And its safe to say the team was feeling the aftermath before the fourth quarter even ended on Sunday.

People want to know: Can the Niners even beat teams with a winning record? This year they haven’t. The opponents they blew up by double-digit points during their five-week run had a cumulative winning percentage of .355.

The Green Bay Packers (5-4) accounted for just one of two teams with .500 record or better that the 49ers have been able to defeat in 2013—and that took place in Week 1. The other was a home win over the Arizona Cardinals (5-4), a team that until this season had struggled in recent years.

On the other hand, the three teams that San Francisco has lost to in 2013 have a combined 21-7 record. So, while this is only the 49ers third loss of the season, it has more of a residual effect when you consider the parity of the schedule and how this team has fared. Really, when you look at it, it is difficult to ignore.

Subsequently, the 49ers are beginning to digest all sorts of unfortunate truths about themselves as they enter the back half of the season. The underlying current of it all is that if this is a playoff team, it is playing a lot like a one-and-done playoff team.

Mounting injuries, questionable play-calling and inconsistent execution have all hurt this team’s ability to be successful at times this season. All in all, there has not been the championship-caliber football we have become accustomed to seeing from Jim Harbaugh’s squad.

This week, they’ll limp to the Bayou to play the red-hot New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. The following is a rundown of everything you need to know about the Niners heading into Week 11.

 

Division Standings

NFC West Division Standings
Team W L T Percentage
Seattle Seahawks 9 1 0 .900
San Francisco 49ers 6 3 0 .667
Arizona Cardinals 5 4 0 .556
St. Louis Rams 4 6 0 .400

NFL.com

Analysis

Wunderkind quarterback Russell Wilson had his Seahawks in sixth gear against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10, even despite a half-healthy offensive line and a battered receiving corps. They've struggled at times in recent weeks but have shown an ability to win games even when they are not playing well—a characteristic that has oftentimes eluded San Francisco this year.

Behind Wilson and a blue-chip defense, the birds from the Pacific Northwest are 8-1 and have created some cushion between themselves and the rival Niners, who have been in a trail position all year.

Seattle has even been winning on the road, going 5-1, and is undefeated at home. Things are looking up for this team, as far as securing the division and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Seahawks have a home game this week before heading into their bye. So, after seven days of rest and boasting the NFC's best record, it will be hard to see anyone—especially the 49ers—surpassing them for conference supremacy during the regular season.

In fact, San Francisco is now closer to losing their spot as second in the NFC West than they are to matching Seattle for postseason seeding. Arizona has crept up and is only one game out of second place in the division, which has to be as harsh a wake-up call as a handful of smelling salts.

San Francisco cannot afford to lose any more games, but they’ve still got New Orleans, Seattle and Arizona on the schedule. That makes three tough NFC teams with a sleeper game against division rival St. Louis, which just teed off on Andrew Luck and the Colts.

If the Niners want to make the postseason, they’ve got to earn it.

 

Injury Report

49ers Injury Report
Player Position Injury Timetable
Ian Williams DT Ankle Out for Season
Quinton Patton WR Foot Unknown
Eric Reid FS Head Unknown
Vernon Davis TE Head Unknown
Ray McDonald DT Biceps/Ankle Unknown
Garrett Celek TE Hamstring Unknown
Nick Moody LB Hand Cleared
Glenn Dorsey DT Hamstring Cleared

49ers.com and CSN Bay Area

There’s only been about two weeks this season in which the 49ers had a clean bill of health on the injury report. This past week, they got hit again, losing Vernon Davis and Eric Reid to concussions.

On Sunday versus Carolina, Davis came down hard on the turf while attempting to make a catch; Reid had a high-impact collision with Panthers running back Mike Tolbert.

They’ll both have to go through the league-mandated concussion protocol this week, which includes several phases of testing. The thing to note is that this is Reid’s second head injury of the season, which could very well cause him to miss the Week 11 game against the Saints.

Coach Harbaugh did say that Reid, "seemed to be doing good," per the team’s official website. Though, that is not indicative of the safety’s status for Week 11. Starting defensive tackle Ray McDonald is also still being evaluated after having to leave last week with an ankle injury.

So, these are three substantial hits to the lineup that could impact this team going forward.

On Monday, the 49ers head coach did deliver some upbeat news, also saying he expects rookie linebacker Nick Moody to come off the temporary injured reserve list this week, via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

After missing eight games with a broken hand, Moody could be yet another midseason upgrade for this team. The 49ers had high hopes when it came to Moody's ability to impact the coverage unit on special teams. The Niners will look to add to add him to the active roster soon, which means they’ll have to release another player to open a spot.

With wideout Kassim Osgood being inactive on Sunday, there is a chance the team can afford to make a move there. He was one of the last ones in, which makes him a candidate to be one of the odd men out. After all, they did just bring receiver Mario Manningham off of IR.

Weekly Report:

CJ Zero

Defensive standouts Ahmad Brooks (stinger) and Justin Smith (shoulder) were also limited in practice leading up to the Carolina game, but they both played and had terrific performances, combining for 10 tackles, including four for a loss. Brooks tallied three sacks. 

The bulk of the O-line has also been on the injury report for a good part of the season. And that has carried over to this week. Alex Boone and Anthony Davis are both dealing with shoulder injuries, while Mike Iupati currently has an elbow issue and has been dinged up a few times this season.

They haven’t missed any starts, but again, you have to consider that they are not playing at 100 percent.

On Sunday, defensive tackles Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine, as well as cornerback Eric Wright, were listed among the inactives. Though Dial has seen action, the Niners are still waiting on the debuts of Carradine and Wright, who are expected to boost the front seven and secondary from a depth standpoint.

 

What Must Improve

If there is anything that needs to change in San Francisco, it is the way they play offense. Even in San Francisco's three losses, the defense played well. Meanwhile, in some of the team's wins, you could argue that the offense should have played better.

Even with a five-game run of scoring 30-plus points, there were inconsistencies. Week in and week out, they continued to field a primitive, one-dimensional offense. 

 

Use Offensive Resources

You know those games coaches just look back on and decide to bury the tape? Well the 49ers are accumulating quite the graveyard in Santa Clara, dating all the way back to 2012. Uncharacteristic losses are the only ones the 49ers have. When they lose, they’re just off in all areas.

Execution is poor, the ball isn’t bouncing their way and typically they can’t sustain drives on the offensive side.

The most detrimental part of it is that, even when they’re in a hole, the Niners either can’t or won’t adjust. And it’s the one thing that’s really in their control, when you talk about things like missed blocks or guys not getting open. They do not make a concerted effort to adapt to the situation around them.

At times, San Francisco wants to play it close to the vest to give itself an advantage going down the stretch. But by hiding their hand, the Niners risk opportunities to win games that are right in front of them. It just isn’t smart. They’ve got first- and second-round picks at wide receiver, running back and tight end, yet none have roles on Sunday.

This offense also relies way to heavily on Gore, the power running game and its star tight end.

Before Vernon Davis had to leave the game in Week 10, Colin Kaepernick was 6-of-9 for 43 yards passing. After, he went 5-of-13 for 48 yards and an interception, per Eric Branch.

The impact of Davis' absence wasn't isolated to this one game.

Kaepernick’s QB rating with Davis has been a 97.3 this season, while it has been a pitiful 33.5 without him (and Michael Crabtree, of course). More importantly, the Niners are 6-0 in games that Davis played the majority of offensive snaps. In games that he partially or fully missed, San Francisco's record is 0-3.

In addition to this heinous truth about San Francisco’s passing game, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman periodically falls asleep at the wheel and forgets all about Frank Gore.

So, overall, the Niners have not done a good job tapping their resources.

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Getting back to the original point: Despite their constantly fluctuating corps of weapons and the lack of star power, the game-planning has not really shifted to cater to the unknowns. San Francisco has run the same stuff, which has been power rushing while intermittently challenging defenses vertically.

And the truth is, the Niners really have so much more at their disposal on offense. But for one reason or another, they refuse to explore the full gamut of their arsenal (though, as we suggested earlier, they may be saving plays for down the road).

Role players like Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Vance McDonald and Jon Baldwin have all gone to waste because the coaching staff's weekly game-planning does not include specially designed plays for them. This is a talented group of athletes who all have very evident strengths in specific areas. They're not useless.

Their lack of production is especially frustrating given the number of young no-name playmakers who are stepping up around the league and helping their teams. 

If San Francisco does not learn to spread the ball around and tailor parts of the offense to each one of these player’s individual strengths, then its conservatism will be its own demise.

 

Improve Situational Football

According to NFL Team Rankings, the 49ers offense is 32nd in the NFL in third-down passing. Their overall third-down conversion percentage (37.5) is No. 18, standing as the bridge between the competitive teams and the NFL's bottom-feeders.

The Niners also could stand to improve in red-zone situations. They’ve called on placekicker Phil Dawson a little too much when a touchdown was well within their reach. It's been in the red zone where the play-calling has been problematic. If the 49ers aren’t inside the 5-yard line where Frank Gore can ram it in, they probably aren’t going to score.

The creativity needs to become more readily apparent when the 49ers are in tight spaces like this. If they don’t capitalize on scoring opportunities, it will cost them dearly down the road. Just this past weekend against the Panthers, the Niners had to settle for three field goals and a 9-0 advantage, whereas a 21-0 lead more than likely would have put the game away early.

Carolina probably would’ve been demoralized by such a deficit. But San Francisco could not take advantage and left the door wide open for a Panthers comeback.

Overall, the inability to sustain drives and score points has placed an immense strain on the defense this season. In their three losses, San Francisco’s defense held up their end of the bargain—it was the offense that blew it and led to a late-game collapse for the entire team.

The Niners also have to improve when it comes to clock management and the two-minute drill.

  

 

 

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