What’s wrong with the 49ers ? (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Before we start, let’s give it up for DeSean Jackson for being DeSean Jackson. Never change, DJack…
The San Francisco 49ers have a problem. A very big problem. They can’t close. Through three weeks, the 49ers posted 59 first half points. Through three weeks, the 49ers posted 3 second half points. Three. THREE!
Have injuries caught up to the 49ers? Has the reported tension between Jim Harbaugh and the front office begun taking its toll on the organization as a whole? Has the drama surrounding Ray McDonald’s domestic abuse case been too much of a distraction? Are the 49ers 2014’s regression team? Yes, yes, yes and it’s certainly possible.
Three games are hardly enough to slap the regression team label on the 49ers. However, it’s hard to argue they’re not heading down that road. The offense looks out of whack. Kaepernick’s numbers have been solid outside of the Chicago meltdown, but even he looks lost too often. The defense goes through stretches of dominance only to look completely inept in the biggest moments. What’s worse, the running game has disappeared, and it’s not entirely due to ineffectiveness. In three games, the 49ers have run the football with a back only 52 times. 26 of those rushes came in a blowout victory in Week 1 against Dallas. In Week 2, San Francisco held a two score lead over Chicago for almost three full quarters. In Week 3, the 49ers had the lead until late in the 3rd quarter. At no point this season has San Francisco trailed by multiple scores until the Cardinals kicked a game-clinching field goal with 29 seconds remaining. So why isn’t Harbaugh leaning on the running game that’s paced the offense in the past? The decline of Frank Gore has been expected and exaggerated for years, but it’s not insane to believe he may actually be slowing down this season. Still, with the promising Carlos Hyde behind Gore, that’s hardly an excuse to not run the football. Kaepernick continues to improve but his Chicago meltdown proved he’s not ready to run an offense like one of the NFL’s premiere signal callers. Lack of a running game and blowing leads aren’t exclusive to one another, but they’re certainly a significant part of the equation. I can only speculate why Harbaugh has mostly ignored the run for three weeks, but with the Eagles heading to town, Week 4 seems like a great time to reverse course.
I made the Trent Richardson joke last week, but seriously, how much longer before Green Bay panics about Eddie Lacy? 36 yards on 11 carries with a lost fumble isn’t anywhere near what the Packers were expecting from their star running back. The time of possession in Green Bay’s Week 3 loss to Detroit was bonkers; 21:47 (GB) to 38:13 (DET). Furthermore, that time differential was way out of whack despite Green Bay winning the turnover battle (3:1). You’d think extra possessions would tilt the TOP in Green Bay’s favor. But no. Instead, the Packers ran 23 fewer plays than Detroit. The Packers simply couldn’t move the chains, finishing with only 14 1st downs. Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback but he’s clearly having trouble moving the offense on his own. If Lacy and the Packers ground game don’t improve, the Packers will be out of the playoffs and Mike McCarthy will probably be out of a job.
For real or not for real; New Orleans, Green Bay and New England. A healthy number of football prognosticators had two of these three teams in their final four. Right now, the Saints, Packers and Patriots hardly resemble playoff teams. The Patriots face the least pressure simply because the AFC East won’t run away from them. Regardless, that offense looks putrid right now. The Packers (as mentioned above) have been a mess outside of an exceptional 2nd half in Week 2. As for the Saints, they’ve struggled against lesser teams all season and the schedule strength ratchets up significantly in Week 7.
Chip Kelly deserves a ton of credit for Philadelphia’s Week 3 win over Washington. When a team must reshuffle it’s entire offensive line midgame without four of its best five linemen AND still goes on to win the game, well, all credit goes directly to the coach. What an impressive feat. I still can’t get over what Kelly and the offense have accomplished despite Nick Foles’ early struggles and the devastating injuries on the offensive line.
Naturally, I’m not behind Cary Williams in bashing Chip Kelly’s approach to practices. A great deal of Kelly’s success is built on endurance and fitness. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. However, I will argue for Williams on this: The Eagle defense is on the field too much to last an entire season at an elite, or even acceptable level. Philadelphia has lost the possession battle by nearly 10 minutes each of the last two weeks. Outside of the defensive line, the Eagles lack the talent and depth to compete at a high level if/when injuries become a reality. As is, the Philadelphia defense is an average unit struggling to generate a pass rush. Pair an anemic pass rush with lousy corners and disaster is knocking on the door. If, God forbid, the Eagles were to experience an off week offensively, it’s hard to imagine the defense bailing them out in any way.
Let’s do the Power Rankings thing again. That’s always fun. Here are the NFL.com’s Power Rankings:
NFL Power Rankings: Week 4 1. @Bengals 2. @Eagles 3. @AZCardinals 4. @Chargers FULL: http://t.co/gcpe0FkYYl pic.twitter.com/9kWLajpic2
— NFL (@nfl) September 23, 2014
First, Cincinnati, while great, can’t be number one. Am I taking the Bengals over Denver or Seattle? No sir. Power Rankings can’t be record alone. For that same reason, I’m not putting the Eagles and Cardinals at 2 and 3, respectively. The Eagles have plenty to prove and there are a handful of teams that have performed better over the first few weeks. Arizona is good, but they’re not 3rd best-team-in-the-league good. Anyway, here are my perfect and unquestionably dead-on Power Rankings for Week 3:
- San Diego
- New England
As you may have noticed, I was forced to boot Carolina from my top ten. Sunday night’s defeat at home against Pittsburgh proved the Panthers have absolutely no margin for error. If the defense has an off night, the Panthers can’t win. If the offense isn’t controlling the clock and moving the football with consistency, the Panthers can’t win. If Cam Newton is limited by injuries and can’t be game-changing Cam Newton, the Panthers can’t win. No team in the NFL has less room for error/injury than Carolina.
You can apply all of the above to the Houston Texans. Just switch “Cam Newton” to “Arian Foster” and you’re all set.
We’ve all heard how bad Chicago’s defense is this season. Or is it? Since a disappointing and embarrassing effort in Week 1, Chicago has forced seven turnovers and sacked opposing quarterbacks seven times. I’m willing to attribute most of this alarming success to Colin Kaepernick’s brainfart and Geno Smith’s overall lousiness as an NFL quarterback, but maybe Chicago’s defense is better than we thought? Maybe?
Miss you, Andy Reid.
Week 3 MVP: Nick Foles. For getting up. Runner up: Rashad Jennings. Not on the ballot: The Buccaneers. [Thanks to all those who pointed out I spelled “ballot” wrong last week. “Ballet” is most certainly not the same.]