Niners beat writer Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) returns to the Section 925 Podcenter to discuss yesterday's hire of Jim Tomsula.
Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN), Devin Regan (@DevinRegan3), and Tripper Ortman (@Tripperino) join Connor for a Bay Area football roundtable. The four discuss Campolindo High School's dramatic victory in this year's state championship football game, completing an historic 16-0 season. The roundtable also dives deep into the state of the San Francisco 49ers, with Maiocco providing insight on his respect for Jim Harbaugh.
By Devin "Reno" Wright (@TheRealReno)
While watching the Niners roll over the hapless Jacksonville Sassy Cats on Sunday morning, I suddenly became very aware of a scary fact. And this fact also made me kind of depressed. We are officially through the first half of the NFL season. Where did those first 8 weeks go!?!? You mean to tell me we only have 8 more weeks left!?!?! I'm already panicking as I write this. In this vain, I'm gonna take a moment to collect my composure really quick....(attempts to use mediation breathing technique I learned in college in a class I actually got credits for)
Ok, I think I'm better now. Where were we? Oh yes, the half way mark of the season. After 8 short weeks, the Niners are currently 6-2 heading into their perfectly timed bye week. To be frank, it feels like I've lived three completely different lives as a fan of this team so far. A breakout start, followed by an ugly two game losing streak, followed by beautiful, dominant Niner football. Let's take this opportunity to talk about those first 8 weeks and where we should expect the second half of the season to take us. Shall we?
Life 1: SF vs Green Bay
It seems like the Forty Niners have played three different seasons already. The boys and red and gold started the season with a statement win over the Packers in which Colin Kaepernick and the offense looked virtually unstoppable. Kap had 412 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, Anquan Boldin went for 208 and a score, Vernon Davis had 98 yards a 2 scores, and the D played pretty well against a great offense. Things were looking good for the 49ers after week 1 to say the least.
Life 2: Sf @ Seattle and SF vs Indy
Rough back to back losses to rival Seattle, and Harbaugh protégé Andrew Luck showed some glaring weaknesses for SF.
In Seattle, in front of a national audience, the Niners were beaten soundly once again by the 'Hawks. The Niners could not run the ball (something over looked in the Green Bay win), and it seems like the offense was relying too much on complicated schemes that required more skill from the players, especially WR, than what the Niners were capable of. Boldin and Davis were blanketed by the Seattle secondary, while Kyle Williams and Marlon Moore were basically invisible. The D actually played pretty well, but they were constantly put into bad situations due to the lack of offensive production.
This is also where the injury bug stated to hit. Starting nose guard Ian Williams was "legally" chopped at the knee and suffered a season ending broken ankle, and Vernon Davis strained his hamstring on a deep ball late in the game.
The next week, this time at home against Indy, the offense continued to be anemic. The offense ran well on their first scoring drive of the game, but then seemed to get away from the run too quickly in search of flashy passing plays. With Davis not starting at TE, and the Indy D taking Boldin away, the passing game was left with unreliable Kyle Williams and Marlon Moore again. Needless to say, it was Colin Kaepernick's worst performance of his career.
The defense did not fare much better, as Indy was able to run all over the field for 3 scores. Late in the game, Patrick Willis suffered a groin strain, and guard Mike Iupati injured his right shoulder. On KNBR, you could hear the panic button being pressed by the final whistle.
After suffering their first losing streak, the Niners and their fans were left to reevaluate where this season was headed. A short weak heading to St. Louis, where the 49ers had lost in an ugly game last year was looming.
Quick break for my own analysis on the 1-2 start:
San Francisco ended last season with an explosive offense that put all if their playmakers on display. If it wasn't Gore, James, or Kap chunking yards on the ground, it was Crabs, and Davis getting yards through the air. With Crabs out, and Davis hurt, the Forty Niners didn't really have the personnel to be able to make those chunk yards in the air. Teams could load the box and stop the run as well because Kap and Gore were mostly operating out of the shotgun with more receivers than lineman. This lead to an inability to run the ball effectively, which has always been a staple of Harbaugh lead teams, even dating back to his Stanford days.
Life 3: Sf @ STL, SF vs Houston, SF vs AZ, SF @ Tennessee, SF "@" Jax
It seemed to happen in an instant. The flash offense of the 2013 Niners went back to the old days (2011 being the old days). Harbaugh and Roman seemed to realize that the offense needed to go back to grinding the ball on the ground with big sets and Kap under center. The needed to get back to where their bread was buttered and hand the rock to their bell cow, Frank Gore.
Right on cue,Frankie ran all over a hyped up St. Louis D for 153 yards and a back breaking 4th down score to put the game away. After that Thursday night game, the offense started to grind teams down with the running game and haven't looked back up to this point.
Before the season, everyone wondered how productive Gore could be this year due to his aging legs. Well fun fact, Frankie is quietly having one of his best seasons ever. He is on pace for around 1,300 yards rushing (second highest for his career) and a casual 14 TD's, at the age of 30. If you need some perspective on this feat, let's just say I'm 31 and have a tough time getting out of bed after going to the gym for 30 minutes.
Easy wins over Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and a bit of a struggle against Arizona have featured an offensive scheme that seems to be better suited to the players that the Niners have at the moment.
On the defensive side of the ball, Vac Fangio as made a few subtle changes that have helped the D return to its dominant form. While the run defense is currently ranked 14th, those numbers should be better in the second half of the season with added depth on the line, and a healthier Patrick Willis. The pass defense has been a revelation this season ranking 8th in the NFL. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rodgers, and Eric Reid are all having great seasons, while the D line as been able to apply a little more pressure as the season has progressed thanks to rookie Cory Lemonier, who has filled in admirably after Aldon Smith was sent who knows where in order to get his act together.
With Ian Williams out, former first round pick Glenn Dorsey has become a revelation this first half of the season. Dorsey has proven stout against the run, and with 2 sacks already, he is tied for his career high. Also replacing a projected starter has been new fan favorite Tremaine Brock from tiny Belhaven College in Mississippi. "T-Brock" replaced Nnamdi Asomugha as the nickle back after the ugly loss to Indy. In only 5 games of work, Brock has arguably been SF's most productive defender, totaling 13 tackles, while also picking off 3 passes including one for a score on the third play against Houston.
So what does the rest of the season have in store you ask?
Well the biggest issues facing the Forty Niners this week have to do with roster changes. The trade deadline has come and gone, much to the relief of Boobie Dixon fans the world over, after he was allegedly placed on the trade block. The Niners must now make room for players coming back from injury, or have not been activated for the first part of the season. Running Back LeMichael James is rumored to start suiting up again. WR's Mario Manningham will hopefully provide an upgrade for Kap in the passing game, which is ranked a dismal 31st in the NFL, while Crabs is due to return around the end of November (just in time for Dec. 8th against Seattle). The defense will also receive some help with rookies Tank Carradine having been activated already as well as Quntin Dial on the D-line, and Eric Wright possibly taking Asomuhga's spot on the roster. Also, Aldon Smith is still a possibility to return this season, so another roster adjustment may be due later. It's a great problem to have that the 49ers need to adjust a talented roster to make room for more talent. That certainly bodes well for a strong second half of the season.
As far as the schedule goes, the next 8 weeks seem quite favorable to SF at this point. More so than it did at the beginning of the year. Home games against the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton (and QB coach Kenny Dorsey), struggling Atlanta and Matty Ice, and bottom feeder St. Louis seem like a possibility for an easy 3 wins. Meanwhile remaining road games against Washington, Arizona, and Tampa should also all be wins, at least on paper.
The real tests from here on out will be against a very good New Orleans team in the Superdome, and home against NFC West rival Seattle. At worst, the Niners should be 6-2 on the back end, or even 7-1. With a final record of wither 12-4 or 13-3, SF should be looking at a 1 or 2 seed in the playoffs depending on Seattle and New Orleans. After that, anything is possible in the playoffs with this squad. I'm just not sure how many more lives I can live this season, god knows we'll all live a few more...
Expectations for the 2013 San Francisco 49ers have never been higher. Most faithful have headed into this season with a "Superbowl or bust" mentality. In that vain, The Section brings you the group text message discussion of three die-hard Niner fans the morning after SF's huge Week 1 victory over Green Bay. Kevin, Devin and Josh all poured over the game tape on Sunday night, and came to the table on Monday with plenty of opinions on Jim Harbaugh's #Squad. Next up for the Niners will be the Seattle Seahawks, and the Sunday Night Football tilt against a hated division rival will surely be a tough road test.
Feel free to chime in with your own analysis in the comments section...
Kevin: Kap didn't look great throwing the ball. Some bad misses. GB defense is bad enough that he had laughable numbers. Worried about when we play Seattle or whoever doesn't have windows for WR's you can drive a truck through.
Devin: Running game was poor too. Def some concerns for next week.
Kevin: ESPN narrative will be "How to stop Kap."
The Section: What will Sec925's narrative be?
Kevin: Vernon looked great also. In trenches and in routes.
Josh: Whitner had a nice game too. Was all over the field.
Devin: Eric Reid... BEAST
Kevin: Sure, Reid as well.
Josh: We might have let our X-factor out too early though by letting Boobie get that 30 yard return in Week 1.
Kevin: Aldon looks good with untucked shirt this season.
Josh: Boldin will get fined for the black shirt. Did you notice the Ravens pads too? I like all black Boldin though.
Kevin: Worth it.
Devin: Concerns: Penalties (11). The run game was only effective late. Harbaugh and the refs (gotta chill a bit). Thought Nnamdi did pretty well, Reid looked great, run D is awesome, D line got pressure, Kap is the man, Boldin and Davis looked great.... Another concern: getting the f@#$ing play off on time.
Josh: Clock management has been the team's weakness the past three years. I'm not as low on Kap as Kevin. I thought he did a nice job and don't forget the balls that Moore and Williams and McDonald dropped. I am a little more concerned about Nnamdi because he missed some tackles and save the third down in the 4th quarter he didn't look great. Missed tackles on the defense was a killer. How many times did Jordy Nelson stretch 5-yard catches into first downs?
Devin: Two of those grabs were amazing and only 1 was on Nnamdi. The other was on Brown and Reid missed a tackle on one. Clock management in Seattle is going to be huge for us.
The Section: Frank Gore averaged 2 yards per carry.
Devin: This was the first time the offense played any significant time together. Could be a little rusty.
Devin: "If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one." - Colin Kaepernick.
Josh: Great quote.
Josh: Mondays on KNBR after a big Niner win are spectacular too. Anyone concerned about Willis only getting 5 tackles?
Kevin: No. Thought Willis looked good. Don't have data to prove it but seemed like LB's removed the middle of the field pretty effectively. Deep middle, outs and some flats/sidelines aren't P Willis' responsibility in general. Also, I just assume anytime ARog scrambles and sets, that's automatically a 40 yard tip-toe catch for Jordy.
Devin: First game he's played in since the Superbowl. As Kevin said, lots of passes seemed to go outside. Thought they did a nice job of taking the seam routes away.
Josh: Me neither. Just wanted to get a consensus.
Turning to our readers now... your thoughts?
Connor brings founding father Josh "The Rogue" Hunsucker (@JPHunsucker) on the pod to talk shop on the A's and Niners. The two discuss the A's season up to this point and look at the upcoming American League pennant race. Josh also provides 49er Faithful with an in-depth report from training camp down in Santa Clara.
*Author’s Note: In a former blogging life I wrote a weekly 49er post called “The Displaced Faithful” (I lived in Kansas) with my good buddy and Connecticut’s #1 Niners Fan, “Huss”. Last year, as I boarded up my blog for law school, I consolidated my posts into an intimate email to my homeboys. Well, with the advent of Section925.com, I guess my weekly Niner posts are back and open for public consumption. Just know the titles will generally be musically thematic (if not all Dylan) and the analysis will be inspired, or at least completely biased and homerific-logic if you can suspend reality and not think too much about it. Gracias, enjoy, and Go Niners!
If any Niners fan considers last year as anything but an amazing and sublime journey that went down in a hail of gunfire, yet everyone at the funeral was glad that the person lived that long, then you weren’t a FAITHFUL from 2002-2010. For the new bandwagon fans please click this (Faithful please do not click this) and then do the math (no disrespect to the great Brian Jennings) of why we were not in the playoffs. So yeah, while losing at home on the NFC Championship Game because of one bone-head special teams play by the 49ers and one great special teams play by the Giants was a bummer, I will take heartbreak any day over being in a numb, heartless, failing relationship (plus we got this and this and that’s ok with me).
Looking forward to this season I was trying to think about how I would break down our (yes our) chances this year. As I kept thinking, I was never thinking of anything specific that I could focus on to say “X" is why we will be good. We have all 11 defensive starters back, Alex Smith does not have a new offense to learn, we added offensive weapons at the wide-out position, we have Jim Harbaugh, we have depth at running back, Aldon Smith is going to play on downs not named third, his brother Justin is a man of men, Boobie Dixon made the roster… the list goes on. On paper there is nothing too very scientific as to why the Niners are going to be good. When you’re constantly thinking about the 49ers, like I do, they are just a dog gone good team.
Even though the schedule, compared to last year, seemingly is a hand of cards that is no good to be holding (Green Bay, Jets, Saints, and Pats on the road and no crappy third place teams like last year), the strength of schedule is, by definition, ranked a lowly 26th (if you buy into that, I don’t really but sort of). The other thing is that the 49ers are road tested from last year, so a split on the road this year for those games is not bad. For the record, I’d put my money on losses at GB and NO and wins at NY and NE. I am still rattled by the Saints fans at the Superdome when I witnessed, first-hand, 72,000 people rooting against the great UC Davis graduate, JT O’Sullivan.
I know what the critics are saying. Similarly, I don’t think that the Niners will win 13 games this season because 1) we are not sneaking up on anyone and will get everyone’s best shot, 2) our schedule has the aforementioned “four BIG road games,” plus the Lions, Bears, and Giants (oh my…sorry I hate myself for that), improved Dolphins and Bills, and the always tough game in Seattle, and 3) nothing really bad happened last year so Murphy’s Law says it will happen this year via injury (knock on wood), Seattle being super good, or something screwy happening. Having said that, The NFC West still has the Nards and the Lambs and 10 or 11 games will get the job done.
I know that I’m not making any great connections about why the Niners are going to be successful this year. And unlike the years past I am not falling for some intricate scheme or a theory that wouldn’t pass inspection. On my internal confidence barometer it seems like the path the Niners have been hurled by Coach Harbaugh is the right one. Now, I’m not going to any great extremes, like Super Bowl or bust. BUT, 10,000 Elvises and 1 Boobie Dixon can’t be wrong. Sometimes it’s inexplicable, sometimes it’s ugly, but the Niners are a tough team that get it done and there is nothing that would make me think that is going to change going into the fall of 2012.
As us Faithful walk out of the darkness of the off-season and into the weekly shadows of doubt, I’m not going to go into any great trouble over whether the 49ers will make the playoffs this year. After thinking about the Niners' future this off-season, I believe it is whatever it seems. There is nothing too heavy to burst the bubble of them making the playoffs, and once they get there, who knows... I’m just thinking of a series of dreams.