Monday, September 30, 2013

49ers Rewind - The First Quarter

The 49ers finished the first quarter of the season with a record of 2-2.  When I looked at their schedule before the start of the season this is exactly where I saw them, however they got there in a little different manner than I expected.  As the team begins preparations for the second quarter of the season to begin let's stay with the quarter theme and take a look at 4 key's moving forward.

1) The Seahawks aren't losing on the road - At the conclusion of the first quarter the Seahawks sit at 4-0 for the first time in team history.  The fact that they are undefeated at home is no surprise, they haven't lost there since Christmas Eve 2011 when the 49ers defeated them 19-17.  What is a surprise is that they have gone 2-0 on the road, both being tough 10am starts.

If the 49ers are going to catch them it is going to come as a result of the Seahawks losing games on the road.  The Seahawks face only 1 team on the road the rest of the way that currently has a winning record, their opponent this Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts.

Through the first 4 weeks the Seahawks opponents have a .23 winning percentage, compared to a .60 winning percentage for the 49ers opponents.  That number doesn't change very much looking forward, as the Seahawks' final 12 opponents are currently 20-27, compared to 19-28 for the 49ers opponents.

2) Stay close - The 49ers have been struck with a number of injuries to key players, most of whom will not be back until probably the second half of the season.  Conventional wisdom says that if they can stay close now they might be able to overtake the Seahawks when their injured players return.

The 49ers will definitely get Aldon Smith back in 3-4 weeks after he completes rehab.  The question is, when and if they will get Mario Manningham or Michael Crabtree back to help a depleted wide receiver corps?

Here is something to consider regarding the injuries though, the Seahawks are undefeated despite playing without wide receiver Percy Harvin, defensive ends Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, and defeated the Texans on Sunday with 3 of 5 staring offensive linemen out with injuries.

3) Get the offense back to basics - The 49ers finished the first quarter by thumping the Rams on Thursday night, and in the process they went back to the pounding offensive style that has served them so well since Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011.  On Thursday night they got back to the wham blocks, counter trey and play action game.  With the aforementioned injuries outside with the wide receivers, this should be their plan moving forward.

It is interesting to note that through the first quarter of the season the 49ers have run the ball as many times as they have passed it, 117 runs to 117 passes.  Those numbers are skewed by 40 carries in the Rams game and 34 in their week 1 victory over Green Bay.

Part of getting the offense back to basics is also reducing turnovers.  In their two victories the 49ers committed 0 turnovers, compared to 9 in their 2 losses.  On the season the 49ers have a -4 turnover differential, compared to a +7 for Seattle.

4) Stop the run - If the 49ers are going to have a chance to win the NFC West they must do a better job  on defense, in particular stopping the run.  The 49ers defense held the Rams to 18 yards on 19 attempts Thursday night, and even with that performance they still rank 19th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game.  Through the first quarter of the season the 49ers run defense, considered among the best in the league the last couple seasons has allowed opponents to average 109.2 yards per contest.

In addition to the yardage, the 49ers have faced the 4th most runs of any team in the league, at 125.  The only teams that have faced more rushing attempts are 3 winless teams,  Steelers, Jaguars and Giants.  In their 2 wins the 49ers have face a total of 38 rushes, 19 in each game, compared to 87 in their losses.

In the next quarter the 49ers will face 2 running backs among the top 10 in the league in terms of carries per game, Arian Foster (19) on Sunday night, and Chris Johnson (21) in week 7.  Coincidentally, Foster and Johnson play on the two teams who are most likely to give the 49ers trouble over the next 4 weeks.

2nd Quarter Prediction - I predict that the 49ers will go 4-0 through the second quarter of the season.  Their two toughest games during this stretch is likely to be this Sunday night's game against Houston and their week 7 matchup on the road with Tennessee.  The Texans have been a strange team through the first quarter themselves, and with that game being at Candlestick the advantage swings to the 49ers. The Tennessee game may have become a bit easier with the injury on Sunday to Titan quarterback Jake  Locker.  Getting to the midway point at 6-2 would be a huge accomplishment for a team that started 1-2.

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