SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 12: Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium on December 12 2010 in San Diego California. The Chargers won 31-0. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The 49ers put together a very solid performance against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but I'm certainly willing to admit that a good chunk of that performance benefited from an incredibly poor performance from Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck. The 49ers did force him into some tough situations, but he also made some bone-headed decisions that did not help his cause.
Now the 49ers face a San Diego Chargers offensive attack that can be incredibly explosive. They have a quarterback in Philip Rivers who is playing better than most QBs in the NFL. They also are getting one of their most explosive makers (Vincent Jackson) back into shape as he is finally seeing playing time again. Oh, and the 49ers defense has a short week in which to prepare for this offensive attack.
The 49ers certainly have cause for concern, but I have to admit that I am intrigued by the challenge this game presents to the 49ers defense. The defense has been wildly inconsistent this season mixing impressive performances with absolute no-shows. They certainly looked solid in the secondary and in the rush defense on Sunday, but now they need to do it against an offense that is much less likely to self-destruct.
Two big questions on offense at this point are whether Antonio Gates will play and how quickly Vincent Jackson can get into legit game shape and get back to being the big playmaker he has been in the past. Gates has been dealing with a torn plantar fascia and was a DNP for Monday practice. He sat out Sunday against the Chiefs and after the game indicated he might be done for the season. However, yesterday he backed off that statement as apparently he wouldn't do more damage by playing. Rather he'd just have to deal with the pain. It's my understanding that tearing the plantar fascia can be an incredibly painful injury, particularly when you use your feet like professional athletes often do.
Although Vincent Jackson only made his first catches of the season yesterday, he scares the crap out of me when he's 100%. He was tied with Malcolm Floyd last season with 17.2 yards per catch, and if he can get going that's just one more problem for the 49ers. The Chargers already lead the NFL in yards per attempt by a sizable margin. They are averaging 8.8 yards per pass attempt, which is .8 yards more per attempt than the number two Steelers and Patriots. Nobody else leads the next team behind them by that much.
Thus far the Chargers are getting 18.9 yards per catch from Malcolm Floyd and 18.4 yards per catch from Patrick Crayton. They have a combined 63 catches between them and their per catch averages are good for fourth and sixth in the NFL. That's not too shabby. What concerns me is the 49ers moving to a deeper shell with the secondary and thus opening up the underneath stuff. Even without Gates, the Chargers have Darren Sproles who could chew them up in that shorter range. Takeo Spikes has been having an amazing season, but I just don't know if he could hang with Sproles' speed in coverage. The 49ers have some extremely talented linebackers, but Sproles would present a problem in the passing game.
I'm not trying to get to Negative Nelly with all this, but this represents one heck of a challenge. If the Chargers offense is operating on most of its cylinders, the 49ers could be in for a long day. While I wouldn't be surprised to see the deep shell I mentioned last paragraph, I also wouldn't be surprised to see the 49ers offense do everything it can to control the clock with a heavy dose of the run. The Raiders beat the Chargers by taking an early lead on SD mistakes and then putting together a dominant rushing performance. We'll see if the 49ers can replicate that, or even if they choose to replicate that.