After reviewing some 49er game film from their past few games, I assembled a brief list of things San Francisco could improve on and continue to do in order to have success in the playoffs. I believe this is a championship-caliber team led by an incredible staff and under a legendary banner - I'm confident this team can win it all.
The 49ers have had a couple impressive win streaks this season, with a 13-3 regular season record, which included a strong road record. In so many ways, they appear to be a team built for the playoffs but some think it is a formula implemented a decade too late. I believe if the 49ers continue to do all the little things well and improve a couple more areas for their next 3 opponents, they will be world champions.
On both sides of the ball, there will need to be a level of consistency. I also don't believe San Francisco will need to change too much, because what they've been doing all season got them the #2 seed in the first place. Follow me after the jump to see what the 49ers need to do to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl crown.OFFENSE
1. Offensive Line Gets Hot
The offensive line must hold up and play disciplined against the heavy blitz they are likely to see. It's well documented how the 49ers offense implodes when the opposing defense successfully applies pressure. If the offensive line can be a strength, everything else on offense will fall in place. Alex Smith will be protected and continue to manufacture plays, and turnovers will be at a minimum.
A well-performing offensive line ultimately contributes to winning the turnover ratio; it will allow Smith more time and open holes for Frank Gore, so they can make plays and control time of possession. And if an o-line is hot in the playoffs, it's typically fluid from game to game, which could help the 49ers scoring % on first drives.
2. Convert on Third Down
The Niners have to improve their percentage converting on third down, for many reasons. It will extend drives, make San Francisco a threat from anywhere on the field and help control T.O.P., which will be necessary against the high-scoring offenses they will have to face.
3. Red Zone Offense
The red zone offense must improve; it must be consistent, strong and produce touchdowns instead of field goals. Coach Jim Harbaugh commented to the press that they have indeed been working on it, and they will continue to work on improving the red zone offense by scrimmaging it against the first-team defense in practice. Sounds like a good idea to me.
I also like the idea of having Kyle Williams back. I know our eyes would tell us Braylon Edwards was a natural solution to the red zone issues but Williams' quickness and explosiveness could be even more dangerous. Williams on slants, outs and ins, sluggos, and stop-routes could produce the results the 49ers have been looking for, and just in time for the playoffs.
Things in place that will help: Vernon Davis as a mismatch, Alex Smith protecting the football, versatile all-purpose running backs, the rise of Crabtree
1. Prevent the Big Play
Against any of the potential opponents the 49ers could face, their secondary will be tested. I've been pretty pleased with the 49ers defensive backs all around; 2 of 4 starters are Pro Bowlers and they are all physical form-tacklers who can also get their hands on the football. They've stopped great receivers this year, but not great quarterbacks.
The top three quarterbacks (Rodgers, Brees, and Brady) did not face San Francisco in the regular season. But San Francisco did take down teams featuring Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, A.J. Green, Victor Cruz/Hakeem Nicks and Larry Fitzgerald's squad on one occasion. So teams with strong passing games have been defeated by the 49ers.
The defensive backs are going to have to capitalize on opportunities and not get burnt by the big play. So, the 49ers d-backs will have to play well on the back end; they've also proved they can be great in run support.
2. Continue To Dominate In Trenches
This really isn't a request for improvement, just one to emphasize. The 49ers front seven has been an unbelievable force this season with so many contributing pieces and variables. The defensive linemen, led by Justin Smith, have had a terrific season - playing to the scheme and allowing the linebackers to plug holes and make tackles.
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are the best inside linebacking tandem of recent, and have the chance to be the best of all time if they decide to stay together. Bowman, one of the notable Pro Bowl snuffs, had a great year in his first as a starter; Ahmad Brooks as well. Brooks and Parys Haralson have played physical, disciplined football and haven't been a liability.
As a unit, they need to continue to dominate in trenches like they have all season; producing QB hits, sacks and general consistent pressure. Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Bowman, Willis and Brooks can all get to the QB and make offenses one-dimensional. I can see this group playing out of their mind in the playoffs, being heavy contributors to an unreal Super Bowl run.
Things in place that will help: near-impenetrable run D, don't miss tackles, don't blow assignments often, takeaways, Aldon Smith
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