2013 San Francisco 49ers Preview – How Close Are They??

Frank Gore heads off the field after a Super Bowl XLVII defeat 34-31 to the Ravens.

Frank Gore heads off the field after a Super Bowl XLVII defeat 34-31 to the Ravens.

When the Super Bowl confetti was falling to the turf after Super Bowl XLVII, it rained purple and gold for the Baltimore Ravens. For the second year the 49ers were whisked off the field having lost to the NFL champions after just falling short in the NFC Championship the year before. With the ascension of Colin Kaepernick it looks like San Francisco should be a shoo-in for the NFC West and a return trip to the Super Bowl. Last week, they agreed in principle to trade Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second round draft pick this year and a conditional pick next year. With a stacked roster and draft picks to end the 1st round and the 1st of the second, are they ready for a return trip to the Super Bowl??

Kaepernick's 4th quarter scramble for a touchdown to bring the 49ers within 2 points of the Ravens in the Super Bowl 31-29.

Kaepernick’s 4th quarter scramble for a touchdown to bring the 49ers within 2 points of the Ravens in the Super Bowl 31-29.

Quarterback: Now that Alex Smith has been dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs, Colin Kaepernick is fully entrenched as the starter for the 49ers. Right now they have teams in a vice defending the Pistol “read option” which has a lot of built in deception that is getting the best of NFL defenses right now. That split second of indecision allowed Kaepernick to completely scald the Packers for an NFL postseason record 181 yards rushing in the NFC Divisonal round.

It’s this burst of spontaneity that keeps this offense productive. Kaepernick’s ability to take a broken play for a 15 yard run along with the called runs has turned football back into an 11 on 11 game. The upside is the  illusion that the 49ers don’t have drives that bog down. In the playoffs alone Kaepernick was 49 of 80 for 798 yards 4TDs and 2 interceptions. He only completed passes at a 61% rate, yet when you factor in his 25 carries for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns he more than made up for the offense missed by the incomplete passes. Projecting his playoff stats over a full season would look like this: 245 of 400 for 3,990 yards 20TDs and 10 interceptions while rushing 125 times for 1,300 yards and 15TDs. Now of course the rushing total is distorted because of the monster game against Green Bay until you realize he had 63 carries for 415 yards and 5 TDs in the regular season. He only started 7 games…. you do the math.

Going into his 3rd year, it’s a given Kaepernick will improve on his passing. He also showed he can make all the throws whether it was drilling the late breaking in route in a zone or touch passes beyond the linebackers. We saw this in his late breaking development with TE Vernon Davis during the playoffs. What we saw during the 2012 playoffs was a dress rehearsal of things to come however there will be a sophomore slump this year. This is the NFL and the studying of tendencies will bring about new defensive tactics against him. To that he and the 49ers have to stay ahead of the bell curve with offensive wrinkles. Right now San Francisco is playoff calibur at the quarterback position.

Offensive Backfield: One huge beneficiary of the new Pistol offense is Frank Gore. There are still running plays where the 49ers line up in power formations but in large part Gore isn’t facing downhill charging linebackers. The Pistol forces teams into 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 nickel variations where the linebackers are a step behind on the front side of the read option. They are not attacking the run lanes like they do in a traditional sense and this will lesson the wear and tear on a running back entering his ninth year. For the first time in many years, Gore looked fresh the entire season. He started all 16 games while rushing for 1,214 yards 8 TDs while averaging 4.7 yards per rush.

Frank Gore running a sweep during Super Bowl XLVII. He will have to abide by the new rule that mandates thigh and knee pads this year.

Frank Gore running a sweep during Super Bowl XLVII. He will have to abide by the new rule that mandates thigh and knee pads this year.

The player that will make a move this year is LaMichael James. As the team opts for even more speed to line up next to Kaepernick on 3rd downs and spot duty as a change of pace back. We saw evidence of this in last year’s NFC Championship Game in Atlanta. The team needed a jump-start and James was the guy.  He’s a space running back and the Niners use him to get out on the edge and on short screens. He’ll see more playing time this year.

Rounding out one of the best backfields in the NFL is Kendall Hunter. This is Frank Gore’s heir apparent and should split time again this season. One of the reasons James was able to see the field was due to Hunter getting injured in week 12. He led all San Francisco running backs with 5.2 yards per carry average last year rushing for 371 yards and 2 scores on 72 carries. He’s only entering his 3rd season and we have to see how effective he is coming back from injury. If everything is a go, he and Gore will share the duties on 70% of the time while sprinkling in James every now and again. By mid-season we’ll here the corporate speak of playing all backs to keep them healthy for the playoffs. Which is true but they will phase Gore out after 2013 because of salary. Stating the workload doesn’t match the compensatory structure of his contract. That is just over the horizon but for now San Francisco is Super Bowl quality at the running back position.

Receivers: Michael Crabtree finally emerged from the shadow cast by TE Vernon Davis in 2012. His play was the only consistent at receiver for the full season as the team changed quarterbacks. With 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and 9 touchdowns he became the go to guy. Going into his fifth season and third under Coach Harbaugh, he’s in his prime and should catch even more passes thanks to Kaepernick. When he scrambles to keep the play alive, Crabtree can work to get open even if he was initially covered. He could have a 100 catch season.

Crabtree emerged as the big play receiver team execs envisioned when they drafted him out of Texas Tech.

Crabtree emerged as the big play receiver team execs envisioned when they drafted him out of Texas Tech.

Our thoughts on the Randy Moss experiment in San Francisco are mixed. On one hand he helped some young players as a good locker room presence, and that veteran leadership may be most evident in Crabtree’s improvement. On the other hand it slowed the growth of last year’s major free agent acquisition in Mario Manningham. He never looked 100% last year and then was put on IR for the playoffs. Manningham in his second year in Harbaugh’s system should be thinking less and playing better. He and Crabtree could be twin 1,000 yard receivers depending upon Kaepernick’s continued development with TE Vernon Davis.

It was Davis’ play that was most affected by the quarterback change from Alex Smith. In Smith you had the 3 to 5 step drop of a traditional passer and the tight end was the first outlet. Once Kaepernick and the Pistol became the team’s new staple, Davis was no longer that first option. Opposing linebackers don’t bite so fast on a fake hand-off from the Pistol and that made Davis need another step to get past them. If Kaepernick didn’t throw on time, Davis would then be covered by a safety. Evidence?? He only had 6 receptions in the final 6 games of the regular season. You can see the team worked hard on getting him back into the offense in the playoffs. He had 12 receptions in the postseason. A sign of good coaching. He should have a Pro Bowl year in 2013 and helps the 49ers receiving corps achieve a playoff grade.

Offensive Line: This is a good offensive line and a look at their play down the stretch shows you how good they are. They can block in the phone booth of power running formations and out in space. The product of three #1 draft picks in LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, who were both Pro Bowl players, and young RT Anthony Davis to go with C Jonathon Goodwin and RG Alex Boone, this team is ready as a line. Aside from Goodwin the average age is 25.5 years of age yet they are improving. Understand they powered the way to 2,491 yards as a team as 5 players topped a 4.0 average and the team a 5.1 avg. That’s getting some push.

With the removal of QB Smith they won’t give up 41 sacks again. Sometimes Smith held the ball from a pocket position and had to take the sack. With Kaepernick, there is a moving pocket with the Pistol offense and the running plays are designed to get the line in position to make initial blocks while the defense tries to figure out if the ball has been handed off to Gore, if Kaepernick kept the ball, or if it was a play-fake to pass the football.

Pro Bowl Tackle Joe Staley should be around the 49er facility for a long time.

Pro Bowl Tackle Joe Staley should be around the 49er facility for a long time.

Expect to see the 41 sacks and 68 quarterback hits of a year ago to be diminished in 2013. Only 8 of those came during Kaepernick’s 7 regular season starts. Maybe Coach Harbaugh knew what he was doing. In 2012 in power rushing play scenarios up the middle or to the strong-side, they powered for the first down or touchdown 78% of the time and 64% on the weak-side. They can run it in either direction and if you noticed during the Super Bowl, most of their 2nd half rushing yards came from running toward the weak-side. Including Kaepernick’s touchdown to narrow the score to 31-29 in the Super Bowl. This line will be Super Bowl calibur with the improved sack totals in regards to the quarterback evading sacks.

Defensive Line: Contrary to popular belief this is where the 49ers need to make a move to upgrade. Last year we challenged they need to get more defensive line help to take the pressure and wear and tear off of DE Justin Smith. You saw him hampered by that huge elbow brace toward the end of the year despite his missing two games. Ray McDonald was solid with 38 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks but he needs help. They have to get Justin Smith some help since he’ll turn 34 this year despite the 65 tackles and 3 sacks. He’s at the point where he can get old on the 49ers in a hurry. The 49ers should spend a bulk of their draft on young defensive linemen. At least two selections. Right now the defensive line is average.

Aldon Smith is more than a pass rusher...

Aldon Smith is more than a pass rusher…

Linebackers: This is where the defense gets it’s fangs from. It’s not even an argument the 49ers field the best set of linebackers in all of pro football. Starting with the reigning Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year in Navorro Bowman. https://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/02/02/taylor-blitz-times-defensive-player-of-the-year-navorro-bowman/ He led the Niners in tackles for a second straight year with 144 tackles while posting 2 sacks, 1 interception, and defensed 6 passes. He was all over the place as was Patrick Willis (120 tackles / 2ints /1/2 a sack). Whether you think Willis is better than Bowman is irrelevant they are both young, in their primes and deadly.

By the time we add Ahmad Brooks (47 tackles /6.5 sacks) and Aldon Smith (55 tackles /19.5 sacks) and you have the most active linebackers in football. Funny thing is everyone treats Smith as a pass rusher only, yet he was fourth on the team in tackles. Between Smith and Brooks they also contributed with an interception each and five forced fumbles. This is the best 3-4 set of linebackers  since the mid 1990’s Blitzburgh unit. Definitely Super Bowl quality.

They had better sign Dashon or they could have a glaring hole in the secondary if he signs elsewhere.

They had better sign Dashon or they could have a glaring hole in the secondary if he signs elsewhere.

Secondary: Now that Dashon Goldson hasn’t been franchised both sides are hoping to work out a long term deal. The problem is free agency is about to start and you don’t want him talking to anyone. If someone blows him away with an offer a Pro Bowl safety tandem could be broken up.  Goldson is among the best safeties in football. He defensed 10 passes, intercepted 3 and made 67 tackles. Many of which were of the bell-ringing variety.

Donte Whitner is a prototypical SS who comes up to support the run and mug tight ends. He had 82 tackles, forced 2 fumbles and took his only interception back for a touchdown. It was on the corner where this team could improve. For a team that finished 4th overall allowing 294.4 yards per game, it’s now allowing 406 to go with the 35.6 points given up in those final 3 games before the finale. Now there is talk of bringing in Darelle Revis.

We’ll see how that plays out but Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, and Chris Culliver had 5 interceptions between the 3 of them. Culliver was victimized in the Super Bowl and had a costly penalty to boot. A draft pick could be used here even if they get Revis. The corner situation drops this group down to average. This is the defense’s Achille’s heal.

Overall: This team has to prepare to stay ahead of the curve of what they think defenses will throw at Kaepernick. The dark cloud that looms is the Seattle team up north that throttled them 43-12 late last season. There was a collective sigh of relief when Atlanta beat them in the divisional round. This team will face  the most adversity within their division, which has become the toughest in football. Don’t forget the Rams were 1-0-1 against them last year.

This team is very close but the emotional highs and lows of the season will see them have some tough division losses. Everyone is gunning for the Niners as though they are champions having been among the league’s elite for the last few years. Again there will be a sophomore slump for Kaepernick with Ram Coach Jeff Fisher and Seahawk Coach Pete Carroll studying how to play him this season. The Niners were 1-2-1 against these two in a year they went to the Super Bowl. The Chancellor sees a slide to 10-6 and a wild card this time around. They won’t make it back to the NFC Championship Game in 2013. They’ll lose in the NFC Divisional round. Teams are gunning for them and the weight will take it’s toll…

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Super Bowl XLVII Preview: Colin Kaepernick – Running In The Shadow of Giants

Kaepernick celebrating with Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game.

Kaepernick celebrating with Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game.

We’ve made it to the end of the 93rd season of the National Football League and we have an intriguing match-up going into Super Bowl XLVII. Do you realize Colin Kaepernick is about to become the quarterback with the fewest starts to start a Super Bowl?? The fewest starts for a Super Bowl quarterback was 11 by Roger Staubach going into game number VI. Next Sunday will be Colin’s 8th. Much like Staubach, Kaepernick runs the football yet his are more out of design than by a flaw of not reading the defense.

We have a saying around here: “At some point you have to believe what your eyes are showing  you.” Going into the playoffs his statistics were no different than Alex Smith’s and there were two schools of thought. We made the case for not rolling over the plan to start Kaepernick so late in the season for fear it would come back to haunt the Niners in a playoff game if they fell behind. Well staring up at a 17-0 deficit to Atlanta in the NFC Championship a week after being down 7-0 to Green Bay has put an answer to that. He has been cool under fire but at the conclusion of the regular season, Smith had a better completion percentage (70.2%-62.4%) and touchdowns (13-10) with the same 218 attempts on the season. We wrote our countenances down but Kaepernick has performed in the playoffs. There was nothing outside of 49er practices that indicated what we were about to see in the upcoming playoffs. Listening to 49er fans doesn’t count, assess the situation. Facts are facts.

The read -option is one wrinkle the NFL has yet to catch onto.

The read -option is one wrinkle the NFL has yet to catch onto.

However that’s old news as he water-tortured the Packers defense to the tune of 444 yards both rushing and receiving in the divisional round of the playoffs. It was an exhibition of why you can’t just line up in man to man, rush four and allow #7 to break containment accounted for. His 181 yard record-setting rushing performance was a lightning in a bottle situation. What was most impressive was in the NFC Championship he hardly ran at all as he went 16 of 21 for 233 yards and a touchdown. He showed maturity in staying within the game plan which called for him not to run. In fact if you paid attention to the offensive play calling, it was pretty traditional until they got into the red-zone where they would then go to “The Pistol”.

Back in 2001 on ESPN, it was Steve Young who asked “Who would be the genius to come up with the next NFL offensive craze to take advantage of these more mobile quarterbacks?” citing the “West Coast” offense had become passe’. Let’s face facts, there hasn’t been a team running that offense in its normal sense in about 15 years. It never had been an offense of multiple receiver sets or even the shotgun formation. Yet here we are where the quarterback is a part of the running game again. Now it has become 11 v. 11 again and it will be some time before teams catch on how to defend it.  With the emergence of RGIII, Russell Wilson, and Kapernick the NFL has turned a corner with a new offensive style.

With one more win, Roger Staubach will be removed from the record book as the quarterback with the fewest starts to win a Super Bowl. It took Joe Montana 3 years to win his first Super Bowl in 1981, and took Steve Young 5 to win his first. How big will Colin’s legend grow with a win on Sunday as a 49er?? Ironically his rise is more reminiscent of Staubach’s than any 49er quarterback. In 1970 the Cowboys made it to Super Bowl V with Craig Morton the undisputed starter yet came up short. The following year Tom Landry started tinkering with the offense and wanted his mobile young QB to take some game time snaps. First a few plays here and there and then he was made the starter at the mid-season point. Sounds familiar doesn’t it??

San Francisco is hoping for 1 more win with Kapernick.

San Francisco is hoping for 1 more win with Kapernick.

The first thing he has to do is not let the magnitude of the Super Bowl overwhelm him.  He is very cool under pressure and always has been dating back to his days at Nevada. It was there when the bright lights of ESPN where there to follow the #3 ranked Boise St Broncos in their last game to claim a shot at the National Championship game. However it was his #19 Wolfpack that defeated them 34-31 in the best college game of 2010 and a WAC showcase for he and Doug Martin. It was his school’s biggest win in team history. He now has shown to not have the magnitude of the NFL playoffs get to him. Will the pressure get to him for the Super Bowl??

While he hasn’t shown a penchant to let the pressures get to him he has to go through the whole of media week and the two-week spectacle in New Orleans. History says a young player will feel that pressure, and he will be facing future Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Ray Lewis on Sunday. If he can stare down Ray Lewis, who will be playing his last game in the Super Bowl, how big will his legend grow??

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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

The new Taylor Blitz Times logo that will sit atop our new website soon. Stay tuned…

2012 NFC Championship Preview: San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons

The George Halas Trophy that is awarded to the NFC Champion.

The George Halas Trophy that is awarded to the NFC Champion.

Well we only have a few days left to see who will punch their ticket to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII. San Francisco comes in riding the emotional high of having vanquished the Green Bay Packers, behind Colin Kaepernick’s record-setting performance. Where the Falcons are starting to understand who they are in winning their first playoff game under the current coaching regime. This is the most intriguing match-up of the conference finals weekend.

In the divisional round we learned what Atlanta has grown accustomed to do, will carry over into the playoffs. Including last week, they had gone 8-2 in games decided by 7 points or less. That lass loss was a meaningless game to conclude the regular season. If you go back to the 4th game of the season, it matched what took place in last week’s game with Seattle. They were behind 28-27 with less than 1:00 to go when Matt Ryan led them to a last second field goal and a 30-28 come from behind victory.

The banter and hard hitting between Seattle and Atlanta could spawn a bitter playoff rivalry.

The banter and hard hitting between Seattle and Atlanta could spawn a bitter playoff rivalry.

Sure the first victory came against the Carolina Panthers but now the Falcons performed the encore in  the playoffs. Many fans didn’t care what they did until they made it to the playoffs. Many were  sure they were going to lose their first game before the playoffs even began.  The Taylor Blitz Times believed in the Atlanta Falcons yet felt the Seahawks were playing better heading into last week’s game. However this was the game where “Matty Ice” and Coach Mike Smith came of age and won their first playoff game. Will they go into this conference championship brimming with the confidence of the team that left the field, or the tentative nervous bunch that watched a 20 point lead vanish in the fourth quarter??

One thing about the NFL playoffs, when the national media focuses on one aspect of a football team they normally overlook another. This is happening as we speak with all attention on Kaepernick, no one is covering the fact the 49ers are allowing 30 points per game on average in their last 4 games. In fact if you take out the win against the hapless Arizona Cardinals, that average jumps to 35.6!! What is happening to the great San Francisco defense??

Colin's 181 yard rushing performance was a transcendent performance.

Colin’s 181 yard rushing performance was a transcendent performance.

Remember the style of offense the Niners were running that kept their defense rested at the beginning of the season?? That isn’t the case any longer. For a team that finished 4th overall allowing 294.4 yards per game, it’s now allowing 406 to go with the 35.6 points given up in those 3!! Are you paying attention?? They are wearing out their own defense and now they have to go on the road for the NFC Championship Game. If you take out the 3 games we’re talking about, the 49ers gave up an average of just 256.6 yards per game in the other 14.

Now while everyone is giddy over the record-setting performance of the quarterback, let’s remember that happened at home. How did he fare in his last road game?? He was chased out of Seattle. Do we get that Kaepernick, or the one that torched the Patriots on Sunday night football?? Sandwiched between those two performances was a very forgettable road loss that is being ignored largely.

We said in our NFC South Preview https://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/08/27/2012-nfc-south-previews-predictions/ this was the time for Coach Smith’s 4 year plan to mature. Michael Turner is about to turn 30 and one of history’s finest tight ends in Tony Gonzalez is set to retire after the season. Now with the emergence of Jacquizz Rodgers as the change of pace back that can spell Michael Turner, the Falcons have more explosiveness on the field than with RB Jason Snelling. One of the unsung acquisitions that should pay off in this football game is CB Asante Samuel. He stepped in when Brent Grimes went down on IR and has been a key contributor. Do you realize that Samuel is the leading interceptor and yardage leader in NFL playoff history?? One lazy sideline pass can be disastrous against this group. They were the 5th most larcenist defense in the NFL with 20 interceptions and the Georgia Dome will be loud this Sunday.

Samuel is the NFL's all time post season interceptor, yardage, and touchdown leader.

Samuel is the NFL’s all time post season interceptor, yardage, and touchdown leader.

What was interesting was how slow the Packers were in adjusting in last week’s divisional playoff. This is the NFL and we have seen this type of quarterback before. Whether we’re talking 2002 Michael Vick, 1987 Steve Young, a 1987 John Elway, or a 1989 Randall Cunningham. The number one way to get after them were to clog their escape routes sending 5 to 6 rushers after them. After all, this defense has to chase Cam Newton twice a year so they’r equipped to do it. In Randall Cunningham’s case, the Los Angeles Rams confused him with everyone up on the line of scrimmage. By the time he knew who was rushing and who was dropping, his team fell behind and the game was out of reach.

The one thing going for the 49ers last week was the fact that it was quiet and Packer pass rushers couldn’t get the jump on their offensive tackles. Expect more delayed blitzes and zone blitzes this week to accompany John Abraham off the corner with all the Georgia Dome crowd noise. Instead of defenders with their backs to Kaepernick in man to man, they will be facing him and should keep scrambles at a minimum gain. The Falcons will look to get Colin to look down at running lanes and his vision off the downfield receivers. That is a big no-no in the NFL.

One other axiom of the NFL as Nick Buoniconti once said about the NFL playoffs circa 1987 “What happens the week before, doesn’t necessarily happen the next week.” Eric Dickerson ran for a playoff record 248 yards in a divisional playoff in 1985, then lost in the NFC Championship Game. Anthony Carter caught a playoff record 227 yards passing in a divisional playoff in 1987, only to lose in the NFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning threw for a record 457 yards (most ever in a regulation playoff game) in 2004 only to fall  in the divisional round against New England. You have the 1995 Buffalo Bills who rushed for a modern playoff record (post modern 1950 NFL) 341 yards in a Wild Card win over Miami, only to collapse in the AFC Divisional in Three Rivers. Then finally the 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars who scored the most points (post modern 1950 NFL) with 62 in the AFC Dvisional playoff only to lose in the AFC Championship Game.

The 49ers are going to depend on that type of performance by Kaepernick again and won’t get it early as they fall behind. Just like the other teams that had record setting performances in year’s past. The Falcons have two unheralded linebackers in Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas that can flat out run. Not only will the Atlanta Falcons get the early lead after forcing a few 3 and outs early….they should win the game 30-21. Atlanta will be making the trip to New Orleans.

By the way….look at what arrived in Atlanta today…

This year's George Halas NFC Championship Trophy  just arrived today in Atlanta.

This year’s George Halas NFC Championship Trophy just arrived today in Atlanta.

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NFL Week 14: NFC West – Not The Sole Province of the 49ers

Lynch and the Seahawks have been coming on as the season has progressed.

Lynch and the Seahawks have been coming on as the season has progressed.

Back in week 3, we tried to warn you of this, and now it’s coming close to the end of the season and this division looks like it is about to turnover. Have the Seattle Seahawks ever played with more force and purpose than they have this year?? With all due respect to their Super Bowl XL team, this group has grown and come forward to challenge a San Francisco team that thought they had this division all to themselves. The verve and spirit they have displayed all year has been infectious. Yet with a win against Buffalo and a loss by the 49ers, who travel to New England, they will be within half a game of the NFC West lead. Then guess who a Seahawk team that is undefeated hosts the following week??

Considering the non explosion that was supposed to happen for the 49ers when they switched quarterbacks, a win in New England doesn’t seem likely. San Francisco brings a defense but they have to travel cross country and take on a Patriot offense that is averaging 42 points per game in the last 5 weeks. They are going to slow a Tom Brady who has completed 64.4% of his passes while throwing for 29TDs to only 4 interceptions?? They’re mission should they choose to accept it…

Let’s take a look at the standings…

West Division













San Francisco 49ers 49ers 9 3 1 .731 316 184 5-1 4-2 2-1 6-3 W1 3-1
Seattle Seahawks Seahawks 8 5 0 .615 300 202 6-0 2-5 1-3 6-4 W2 4-1
St. Louis Rams Rams 6 6 1 .500 236 279 4-3 2-3 4-0 5-3 W3 3-1
Arizona Cardinals Cardinals 4 9 0 .308 186 292 3-3 1-6 1-4 2-7 L9 0-5

Now our CEO has been very opinionated about the 49ers turning the quarterbacking duty to Colin Kaepernick and think they sabotaged a possible Super Bowl run. Coach Harbaugh should take a look at the teams Alex Smith had to take on right before he got injured. Do you realize that in defensive rankings the Seahawks are 3rd, the Rams are 10th, and the Cardinals rank 12th. Who would have sustained offense against that many top flight defenses?? Consequently, facing the Saints (32nd) and the Dolphins (19th) haven’t really improved Kaepernick’s numbers. He is still completing a smaller percent of his passes (70%-67.4%), in four games he has only thrown 3 touchdowns. Smith’s touchdown percentage per pass was even higher.

Now you send a quarterback starting his 5th game to face the defending AFC Champions and the master of situation defense in Bill Belichick. The last time we saw Kaepernick on the road it was his huge miscue (safety) that turned a game San Fran was winning, into a loss to the Rams. The Patriots have a faster defense and will keep him tracked. In this game he’s going to have to sustain real technical offense even if the 49er defense starts off well. Relying on scrambles or gimmick plays won’t get it done. Eventually, the Patriots will score. This isn’t the team that Arizona beat in week 3 and Seattle beat in week 6. Right now the Patriots are averaging 36.3 points per game. If they can sustain that pace they will score 582 points or 7 short of the NFL all time record of 589 scored by the 2007 Patriots. Kaepernick is going to keep pace?? No way… a rout could be looming. All it takes is a few miscues on the road, let momentum get away from you and…

Isn’t that what happened last week in Seattle?? Goodness that game was over with before the Cardinals knew what hit them. FIFTY EIGHT to nothing?? That is a 1980’s college football score when a big school would clobber a smaller one. Once they jumped on the Cardinals 17-0 and the 12th man got into it, the turnovers came in bunches. If you haven’t seen this team play they swarm like bees on defense and special teams. This week their Pro Bowl bound running back Marshawn Lynch gets a crack at the Buffalo Bills, which is the team that drafted him. The Seahawks get a break in the fact that they will play the Bills up in Toronto and not in an outdoor Ralph Wilson Stadium. They will need Lynch (1266 yards /9TDs) to keep the Bills offense on the sideline by running it 30 times or more. They need to ease Russell Wilson into this game. The Bills are 5th against the pass and the Seahawks have to minimize turnovers. Let their defense force the action.

Speaking of which, in 2 of their last 4 games, they have given up less than 200 yards of offense and are currently ranked #3 in total defense. Linebackers Bobby Wagner (108 tackles), KJ Wright (77 tackles) have 8 passes and 2 sacks between them but only have 1 fumble forced. This team is just a few turnovers forced from being one of the best in the business. In fact their lack of forcing turnovers on the road has been there achille’s heel as they have gone 2-5 on the road. However they did beat Chicago in overtime a few weeks ago   to wrest wild card tie break benefits from the Bears. They also beat the Vikings 6 weeks ago for further wildcard tie breakers there. However this team is looking further ahead.

russellwilsonWith a San Francisco loss and a Seattle win this week, the 49ers will have to travel to Seattle with the division lead on the line. Our CEO has the Seahawks winning that game and taking the NFC West championship away from Jim Harbaugh’s boys in a head knocker. They are 6-0 at home and play with reckless abandon in Qwest Field. You remember how loud it was when they knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in the playoffs 2 years ago. It will be the first match-up between Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, who quietly has to be considered for NFL Rookie of The Year. His 208 of 330 for 2,492 yards and 20 touchdowns isn’t that spectacular, but his 9 interceptions is low enough to keep them in games. In fact he’s only thrown 1 interception at home all season.

Seattle will be in the playoffs this year and they should make the NFC Championship with what The Chancellor has seen. Think about their run this year against playoff hopefuls. They hold tie breaker advantages over Green Bay, Dallas, Minnesota, Chicago, and with a win by more than 7 next week, San Francisco. The 49ers will regret giving that game up in St Louis… sure we’re getting ahead of ourselves but this is what we do.

Well an NFC West heavyweight fight looms next week… we’re picking Seattle

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NFL Week 13: Playoffs and Changing Quarterbacks

Colin Kaepernick basking in the afterglow of Monday night’s win over Chicago.

The San Francisco 49ers are playing russian roulette with their current quarterback situation. Alex Smith has earned his starting role and with his recent injury, allowed 2nd QB Colin Kaepernick some much needed playing time. First he takes down Chicago on Monday night 32-7, and now he plays well in his first start when Smith has been healthy, winning 31-21 in New Orleans. Yet how great a chance does this team fare changing quarterbacks so late in the year?? The history of the NFL is littered with losing lottery tickets by teams rolling the dice with the quarterback position heading into the playoffs. Why should the 49ers be any different?? The Chancellor expects disaster… how did those other teams fare??

Once upon a time there was a team called the New York Jets. It was 1986 and the team started 10-1 and were the best team in the AFC. However there was a disturbing 45-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins on a Monday night, which sapped their confidence and sent them into a tail-spin. After losing their last five, Head Coach Joe Walton figured to make a coaching change at quarterback as they headed into the ’86 playoffs. They replaced Ken O’Brien with Pat Ryan…how did they fare?? Well they beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a wildcard game 35-15 but fell in double overtime to the Cleveland Browns 23-20.

In that game, the Jets quarterback was knocked out and Ken O’Brien had to come back in. Neither played well on the road and were sacked an NFL playoff record NINE times in that game. Are you sure you don’t want continuity going into the playoffs Jim Harbaugh?? Well the Jets fell on the road…had they played at home they would have been in better shape, right??

Then you had the defending champion Chicago Bears in 1986. Jim McMahon was slammed to the turf by Green Bay Packer Charles Martin and lost for the season. Now the Bears had Steve Fuller and Mike Tomczak who were there for the 1985 season and it was Fuller who brought Mike Ditka his first playoff win in 1984 over the Washington Redskins 23-19. As the 1986 season was dwindling down, Iron Mike decided to sign Doug Flutie, who hadn’t played NFL football yet. With a 14-2 team and a record setting defense (187 points allowed) the team had won close games yet Ditka decided to go with the “hot hand” and go into the playoffs with a quarterback with 2 prior NFL starts.

  • Nevermind the team was on a 7 game winning streak.
  • Nevermind Flutie was 4th on the team in completion percentage (50.1%)
  • Nevermind the Bears defense hadn’t given up 2TDs in a game in 10 weeks.
  • Nevermind the fact you had the #1 rushing offense in the league and Walter Payton still a 1,000 yard rusher (1,336)

The Bears were at home and had to face an inferior team in the 1986 Washington Redskins with first time playoff starter Jay Schroeder. One significant difference though is Jay was the starter for the entire season and had his first win in the wildcard over Los Angeles…19-7. In the divisional round Jay Schroeder in his 18th start in 1986 was pitted against Doug Flutie in his 3rd. So what happened?? Dexter Manley and 6ft 5 inch Charles Mann batted down 4 of his passes and chased him all over Soldier Field. Flutie went for 11 of 31 for 134 yards, 1TD but 2 big interceptions on his side of the 50. Just enough for the Redskins to pull off the upset 27-13 and end the Bears chance to go back to back. Thirty five percent was all Flutie could complete at home without crowd noise??

Keep in mind Redskin defensive co-ordinator Richie Petitbon had come up with a confusing set of alignments Flutie wasn’t prepared for. In a playoff game on the fly, an inexperienced quarterback can be unnerved in the NFL playoffs and there are hundreds of lessons where it’s been done. We, at Taylor Blitz Times showcased one in Fritz Shurmur’s Zone Blitz Eagle Defense that unnerved Randall Cunningham and confounded quarterbacks in the 1989 playoffs. Coach Harbaugh, are you sure you want to have Kaepernick in game 6 or 7 face a confusing Giants or Falcons defense?? It takes much more than a few games to get up to NFL game speed…then another to get to NFL playoff speed. What can a quarterback thrown off his game do in a playoff even if he has a strong defense to bail him out?? The defense should keep them in a close game… will he have enough time to bail his team out in a one and done scenario like the NFL playoffs??

Enter Doug Flutie again…

The year was 1999 and the Buffalo Bills fielded the #1 defense in all of pro football. Going into the last game of the season, Bills brass had been in Head Coach Wade Phillips ear about playing Rob Johnson. He had been an expensive free agent in the offseason, whom Flutie beat out during the year, yet brass wanted to see what they had in Johnson. So the finale would have the Bills at home against the Indianapolis Colts who were also resting their starters for the post season. Johnson had a good game as the Bills won 31-6, prompting the pressure to play Johnson in the upcoming playoffs.  For the second time in NFL history, a team replaced it’s starter going into the playoffs without injury forcing the decision. So what happened??

The 1999 AFC Wildcard tilt had the Bill travel to face the Tennessee Titans and super rookie Jevon Kearse. In a defensive struggle the momentum of the game turned when a punt put Buffalo near their own 10 yard line. Wouldn’t you know Jevon “The Freak” Kearse chased and sacked Rob Johnson for the first score of the game. The ensuing short kick put the Titans in Bills territory where they scored to take control 9-0. Forever leaving Bills fans wondering if Kearse would have caught the elusive Flutie, who by now had been a Bills starter for the better part of two years at this point.

Nevertheless Rob Johnson had a dismal day as he tried to adjust to a blitzing Titan defense and the speed of NFL playoff football. It took until the Bills final do-or-die drive where he completed 5 passes to get Buffalo in range to kick a field goal for a subsequent 16-15 lead with :12 to go. Then came the short kick that led to The Music City Miracle, Kevin Dyson’s return of a lateral from Frank Wycheck. Although the Bills #1 defense led by Bruce Smith’s 2.5 sacks in his last game as a Buffalo Bill had held the Titans in check, it was offset by the 6 sacks Tennessee engineered. Furthermore, Johnson was anemic in the game going 10 for 22 and 131 yards in the game. Yes that includes the five completions on the final drive.

Leading to the inevitable question: Had Flutie been able to elude Kearse and that first safety would the Bills have gained the upper hand with their playoff experience?? Tennessee was in it’s first playoff game. Then the other question was: Had the safety not taken place and Buffalo was up 16-13 instead of 16-15, would the Bills have kicked the ball deep instead of overcoaching with a short kick??

Nevertheless, in the past the defense did what they could to keep the score down. It almost worked for Rob Johnson that day, will it for Colin Kaepernick?? Everyone of Alex Smith’s detractors say he’s the beneficiary of a great defense. Well in a 31-21 win over the Saints which included 2 defensive touchdowns by Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner respectively, isn’t that what was provided for Kaepernick?? Wasn’t that the same in Monday night’s game against Chicago??

Do you realize for the season Alex Smith has a better completion percentage than Colin Kaepernick?? For the season including Sunday’s game with the Saints, Smith has connected on 70% of his passes for 13TDs and 5 interceptions versus Kaepernick’s 64% for 3TDs and 1 interception. Even the game Sunday, Colin was only 16 for 25 for 231 yards, 1TD and 1 pick and was bailed out by those two defensive touchdowns.

Sure he brings a missing element to the table with his mobility but you now give up the seasoning of a quarterback who went through last year’s playoffs. Take that back, he excelled in last year’s playoffs. First he came of age by outdueling Drew Brees in the divsional round… Remember his 24 of 42 for 299 yards, 3TDs and no interceptions which included a game winning rocket to Vernon Davis. Then in an NFC Championship overtime loss to the Giants, he never threw the ball up with pedestrian receivers covered tightly by New York. This kept them in the game and without the late game special teams disasters could have played in Super Bowl XLVI.

So now if you decide to go with Kaepernick, you’re replacing playoff experience for?? You tell me… If San Francisco goes with a late season quarterback switch, not to be a nay-sayer, but NFL history tells us this is a playoff disaster waiting to happen. Sure there was the Tom Brady year of 2001 but he started in week 3. Then you have the 1990 – Jeff Hostetler scenario replacing an injured Phil Simms in week 14, yet he’d been with the Giants for 7 years and had some experience.

Coach Harbaugh, it would be in your best interest to approach this in the offseason. No matter what pressure you’re getting from brass to put in the high draft pick. Once upon a time, Alex Smith  was a 1st rounder for you compared to Kaepernick’s 2nd round selection. A possible visit to Super Bowl XLVII could hinge on this decision. Don’t wake up in a 17-13 slugfest in the playoffs against the Giants and need a touchdown with a first time signal caller under center. With a possible Super Bowl win you can get up to 6-7 years extended on your contract. Another playoff loss, no one, not even the brass aiding in this decision will give you a mulligan for a playoff loss with a first time quarterback. Take heed…you can go with the flavor of the month but realize they don’t make history.

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