Wednesday, October 31, 2012
3 Areas Of Concern For The 49ers
Shortly after the 49ers win on Monday night I was asked what areas I though the 49ers would need to improve on as they open the 2nd half of their 2012 season. After taking a look at the first 8 games I came up with 3 key areas and here they are in order of importance - staying balanced on offense, limiting sacks, and rushing the passer.
Balance - The 49ers thrive on balance on the offensive side of the ball. When they are able to maintain balance they are at their best, as witnessed on Monday. Through the first half of the season the 49ers have run 481 offensive plays, 242 Passes and 239 Rushes. Although the total is balanced, they lost their way in losses to the Vikings and Giants. In Minnesota, they called 38 passes and only 20 runs. Three weeks later against the Giants they called a total of 43 passes and only 17 runs.
Over the last two weeks Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has been able to stay balanced and the result is back to back wins over division opponents Seattle and Arizona, both of whom have defenses that are among the toughest in the league. While the stats may not jump off the charts at you, this is how they win, and a formula that they must follow if they are going to earn themselves a first round playoff bye.
Limiting Sacks - In 2011 Alex Smith was sacked 44 times during the regular season. Although the general perception is that the offensive line is playing at a higher level in 2012, the numbers do not support it. The 49ers offense reaches the mid point in the season having given up the 4th most sacks in the league (24) and are on pace to give up more sacks than they did a year ago (48).
An argument can be made that the offensive line is not completely at fault, Smith carries some of the blame as well. I would agree with that thought. There are times when Smith holds on to the ball too long and takes sacks that are unnecessary, especially in a league that has made it so easy for the QB to throw the ball away without penalty.
The sacks often set up poor down and distance situations that the offense cannot overcome, thus stalling promising drives, or forcing the defense back onto the field. While that is a concern, the bigger issue is the potential for injury to Smith. While he may not be most valuable player on the offense, he is probably the most irreplaceable. He does a great job of managing the game and it would be difficult to envision Colin Kaepernick taking this team deep into the playoffs if Smith were injured.
Rushing the Passer - Last week I did a piece detailing why the 49ers pass defense is the best in the NFL, and pass rush was one of the reasons that I gave. The issue is that they are not getting home, making the sacks. Through the first 8 games, the 49ers defense has registered only 15 sacks, putting them in the lower half of the league. In addition, half of those sacks, 7.5 belong to Aldon Smith. The remaining sacks belong to Ahmad Brooks (4.0), Navarro Bowman (2.0), Carlos Rogers (1.0) and Ray McDonald (.5).
Arguably the best defensive lineman in the league last year, Justin Smith has yet to record a sack. For the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl, they are going to need more production in this area from the best player on their defensive front.