As I look ahead to next Sunday morning, I find myself mulling over some things that I think will be key to this game:
I don't believe that a patient, strait-up approach will work against these Carolina Panthers. We might have a great offensive line, but we don't have the power to simply muscle them out of the way and then hope that we can build a passing game off of that. In the game against Seattle in week 14 Roman's patience with the running game was rewarded on that final drive, but Carolina is an entirely different animal. Where this is going is that instead of stubbornly hammering the Panther defense with Frank Gore, some of the innovativeness that Roman is known for will have to be used, which leads me to believe that some plays that kill run-blitzing will need to be called. Perhaps he (Roman) should pull out all of the stops like was done in the Arizona game, perhaps some called QB draws, and last but not least use some double moves by wide receivers.
Let me just say that despite all of these challenges, I believe that our 49ers have a great shot to get all of this done. Here are a few reasons that I feel the way I do:
1.) Our offense and quite frankly our whole team has a lot of momentum behind it. We're on a 7 game winning streak and this team has shown themselves and the world that they're capable of winning tense and close games. Roman has shown more flashes of that creativity that is always talked about.
2.) The slump of Colin Kaepernick seems to be over. Sure, it was obvious earlier in the year that he was having a kind of "sophomore slump", but isn't it just as obvious that he's played his way through it and come out of the other side? People were talking about him like he was showing signs of being a permanent bust, but I think he's arguably a borderline elite quarterback. I define "elite" as top 5, and he's #7 in TOTALQBR, which is on the bubble in my book. Analysts regularly call Russell Wilson as elite, but in terms of TOTAL QBR he's merely 13th (although I'll concede that he's a hair away from elite, possibly even closer then Colin Kaepernick when you factor in his technique). I don't think that Colin had his best game passing against Green Bay, but he did enough with his arms and showed of his amazing scrambling ability. On the average I'd say that Kaepernick's ability to throw out of the scramble-drill has greatly increased, with the best example being the Tampa Bay game. Like I said earlier, he's become quite the closer of games, especially against stiff competition: Green bay (twice this year), Seattle, Atlanta in the home finale, and last but not least the Arizona defense (which is no joke). I included Atlanta in that group because before the onside kick happened, Kaepernick lead a drive to put the game "out of reach", barring a successful onside kick. He's gotten better at incorporating other receivers into the game, even in clutch situations (for example the pass to Quinton Patton to close out the Arizona game). The only criticism I really still have about Colin is his propensity not to see open receivers at times.
Ultimately I think that this game will be a true test of Kaepernick's development. If the 49ers win by a small margin it will slightly increase his stock. If he could lead a strong victory with great stats his critics will almost certainly drop significantly in number. I'm not saying that I'm sure my 49ers will come out on top, but I think we've got a great shot!