The San Francisco 49ers have the Rams Saturday, the Seahawks in a week for what will likely be the divisional crown, and then the playoff run. In a way, the run begins Saturday night against Los Angeles. That should be the team’s mindset, anyway. The December version of the Niners isn’t the same as the October version of the Niners. Nick Bosa isn’t being singled up every play anymore. Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t throwing the ball only 20 times a game. As we gear up for the playoffs, I’m interested in hearing what everyone’s thoughts are on the 49er’s greatest asset, and the weakest link is. Today, we’ll talk about the former. Here is what I think San Francisco’s two biggest strengths are.
Jimmy’s and Joes
In the playoffs, need a “dude.” Your first thought is probably, “well, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and only scored 13 points.” That’s true. The two games before that New England scored 27 and 41 points. Your first thought is probably, “well, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and only scored 13 points.” That’s true. The two games before that New England scored 27 and 41 points. Against the Chargers and the Chiefs, Julian Edelman had 16 catches for 247 yards. Those defenses had no answer for the slot receiver. In the NFC, The Rams running game was tough to stop during their playoff run, and Brandin Cooks had 11 catches for 172 yards in two games. They don’t have to be a superstar; you need someone that is a difficult matchup for your opponent. It’s not limited to just offense, either. Aaron Donald and Stephon Gilmore are decent, the last time I checked.
This, to me, is the 49er’s biggest asset as playoff time approaches. The offense has the ultimate game-changer in George Kittle, who has proven to be unstoppable for the past two seasons. When you have a player that the defense knows is getting the ball, and they still can’t do anything about it, it’s backbreaking for the defense. Speaking of that side of the ball, San Francisco has difference makers at every level. The stakes are higher in the playoffs, which puts more pressure on the players to perform. The 49ers are built to excel in the playoffs, especially with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders.
The best of both worlds
Bad coaches get exposed in the playoffs. That’s why we see Bill Belichick get to the Super Bowl seemingly ever year. It’s why Andy Reid and Sean Payton are mainstays. I know he’s gotten a lot of flack as of late, but I’m excited for playoff Shanahan. I think Kyle is going to dig into the bag of tricks and come out swinging early and often, and that starts Saturday.
When you’re facing top competition, it’s naive to think you’ll be able to score on every drive. How do you combat that? The big play. Most teams in the NFL are good at generating either big pass plays or big run plays. San Francisco is top-notch at doing both. They have the seventh-most explosive pass plays and the second-most explosive run plays. Three speedsters at running back, an all-world tight end, a veteran wideout that has been there and proven himself to come through in the clutch, and a rookie receiver that is a tank when the ball is in his hands. Oh, and arguably the most innovative play-caller in the game.
It doesn’t stop there, though. You have to be able to limit the big play on the other side of the ball. That’s why we don’t see the Chiefs in the big game every season. Defense is about getting timely stops and turnovers, but most of all, you have to make the offense work. How do you do that? Stopping the big play. The 49ers are middle of the pack at stopping the run, but have been the best team at limiting the explosive passing plays. I’ve stated numerous times that run defense isn’t as crucial as your pass defense. That still holds true in the playoffs. Do you think Sean Payton is going to rely on a hobbled Alvin Kamara or his Hall of Fame quarterback that just broke an all-time passing record? Look around the NFC. If you want to win in the playoffs, you better be equipped to stop the pass. December’s version of the 49ers defense has watered down expectations, but I still believe this team matches up well against any offense out there.