The San Francisco 49ers have seen a return to glory since Jim Harbaugh left the Stanford Cardinals and brought his talents to the NFL, taking over one of the most storied franchises in the history of the NFL. The 49ers have not started a season 3-0 since Harbaugh came to town; yet have made it to three consecutive NFC Championship Games. Bill Belichick is the only other coach in the NFL to have been in each of the last three conference championship games. Pretty great company for Harbaugh to be associated with, especially considering that he has only been an NFL head coach for those three seasons.
Harbaugh’s 49ers started 1-2 last season, then strung together five straight wins without the help of Aldon Smith who had checked himself into a rehab facility. To say that this year’s team is anything reminiscent of last year’s team simply because they started with the same record is ill-advised. This team has added offensive pop and has lost several key players on the defensive side of the ball.
The offensive line has been in a state of flux this season with a new center, Alex Boone coming back from his holdout, and Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati recovering from injuries, there hasn't been the typical amount of dominance that is expected of the 49ers offensive line. These issues have started to work themselves out, but the continuity and chemistry that comes with being dominant is not something that happens over night.
Playing without NaVorro Bowman and Tramaine Brock due to injury, Aldon Smith due to suspension, and Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, and Tarrell Brown due to losses in free agency just shows how much turnover there has been on the defensive side of the ball. The defense has played well, aside from the second half of both the Arizona Cardinals and the Chicago Bears games. The high-powered Eagles offense was able to muster one significant drive against the 49ers defense and the defense held strong at its own endzone, knowing that if the Eagles scored, the team could be looking at a 1-3 start, rumors would continue to swirl, and the season could start to look unfamiliar.
The defense did hold, the 49ers knocked off one of the last undefeated teams in the NFL, and won the game by breaking down the Eagles with a power run game and suffocating defense. The week four matchup against the Eagles is the type of game the 49ers are used to playing. Run behind Gore. Allow Kaepernick to not make too many mistakes. Pressure the quarterback.
At the quarter mark of the season, the 49ers are 2-2 going into a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs and Alex Smith. Smith plays off the fact that the 49ers familiarity with him will play a factor in how they play against him, but it stands to reason that the 49ers will have some level of success against their former signal caller.
With every week being a key week against opponents until the 49ers dig themselves out of this mess they have created for themselves, they seem to have a slightly favorable schedule going into the second half of the season where they will see Aldon return and hope for the return of MLB NaVorro Bowman. Playing games against the Chiefs, Rams, Broncos, and Saints does not seem as daunting as it did at the beginning of the season.
The 49ers are perfectly capable of pulling themselves out of this quagmire and Harbaugh & Co. know exactly what they are doing. By running the ball effectively and game planning for different teams (like they did with the four and five wide receiver sets against the Cardinals), this team is more than capable of seeing the type of success it has had in the past. Different pieces in key positions is going to mean there are some growing pains, but down the stretch the added depth and talent on this roster can only be beneficial. So to tie a bow on the first quarter of the season and to steal a line from Aaron Rodgers, R-E-L-A-X.