The San Francisco 49ers are 5 -2 and heading into a game in which they are favored by 2 touchdowns. Both of their losses came at the hands of Superbowl caliber teams in Seattle and Indianapolis. After the first two game losing streak of Harbaugh’s tenure, the Niners went back to old school, ground and pound style football and are now on a 4 game winning streak. In order to ice a game against the Cardinals, Gore and crew orchestrated an 9 and a half minute drive running the ball the final 8 plays for TD. That formula, which Harbaugh used to start out his pro coaching career with Alex Smith, has helped re-focus Kaepernick, and get his confidence back after terrible outings against Seattle and Indy. Last week Kaepernick posted a near perfect QBR rating of 99 (out of 100).
The defense has also gone back to the ways of 2011, turning the ball over at a very high rate (12 in the past 4 games). They have not skipped a beat after losing Aldon Smith to alcohol counseling for what is soon to be 5 games. The hope is that he will be back after their trip to London. His situation is new to Jed York and the organization. Who knows what the right decision is with an MVP (voted by the teammates last year) type player who has found himself in way too much trouble in his short career. Everyone is optimistic that he returns and never gets in trouble again. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier have taken over his position and played admirably. Lemonier in particular seems to be someone who should get more playing time when (if) Smith comes back.
Tramaine Brock has really come on since taking over for Nnamdi Asomugha. He is averaging more than one interception per game. He could possibly be an upgrade over Culliver from last year as well. It is truly amazing how well different backups have stepped up this year, especially on defense. Reid -Goldson, Brock-Culliver/Asomogha, Dorsey – Williams/RJF/Sopoaga, Skuta/Lemonier – Smith, Wilhoite – Willis etc...
Baalke’s offseason decisions seem to be working out well. The front office made the correct decision (so far) in not extending the contract of Dashon Goldson, and drafting Eric Reid, who seems to be a more disciplined player with almost equal ability. He may not hit as hard as "the hawk" but he also doesn’t have the same reputation, which for Goldson has often lead to penalties and injuries, (Goldson was out of the lineup yesterday). Anquan Boldin (via trade), on the other side of the ball, has been indispensable in the passing game with the loss of Manningham and Crabtree. Glenn Dorsey has been vital to a depleted Defensive Line. Soon, Tank Carradine will be back on the roster as well. Vance Mcdonald has played well in place of Delanie Walker.
A lot of talk has been on the lack of receiving options for Kaepernick. No Wide Receiver has a touchdown catch other than Boldin. Another way to look at it is that this could be a blessing in disguise because CK7 has been forced to develop a rapport with Vernon Davis. Also it is looking like Manningham will be back this week, and if not, definitely after the bye. He will bring speed and athleticism to the position, even more so than Kyle Williams, who Kap does not seem to have much confidence in.
LaMichael James has received hardly any playing time this season. Injuries, which he had to start the season, are a surefire way to the bench under Harbaugh (See: Smith, Alex). The practical reason James remains sidelined now that he is healthy is Kyle Williams. There are only 46 players allowed to suit up on gameday and since he is essentially the same back as Kendall Hunter, James sits. Kyle Williams is needed as a WR, but can moonlight as a returner so they can suit up other guys for their excellent Special Teams. One could expect that with the return of Mannigham, Williams may sit, and James could get another chance. Or not, Perrish Cox has done some returning as well. The returner position seems to not be of much concern and rightfully so. That player gets ~4 touches a game these days with most kickoffs being touchbacks, and punts being fair caught.
The Special Teams has been formidable this year. Spillman as always is the MVP, with rookie Darryl Morris and Kassim Osgood playing excellent as well. When ST guru Brad Seely gets guys who are solely dedicated to that aspect of the game, it works out well. Oh yea and Bubba Ventrone is cool looking too with all that hair. Last year, this was a siv, with Akers missing every kick, and Jacoby Jones making us look silly in the SB. Weakness now a strength.
Looking ahead at the schedule, the 49ers host the surging Panthers on Nov 10th. Then they travel to New Orleans and then Washington, another surging team. That will be a tough 3 game stretch, and going 2-1 would be a great accomplishment. But the biggest game of all is on December 8th, against the rival Seahawks. Seattle only has two tough games between then and now, at ATL and hosting New Orleans.
Overall it has been great to watch these last four games. I haven’t been nervous during any of them, mainly because of the way the defense has played. If Kaepernick can continue to make smart decisions, and use his feet more, the 49ers will go into the home game against Seattle with a chance to even the score.