The 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack

As the end of the NFL season draws near its time to talk about the awards for the 2016 campaign. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we’re about defense and it’s the most prestigious award The Chancellor doles out. Its been a banner year as we have recognized two defensive giants who made 2 different Hall of Fames. Our words were read to introduce Robert Brazile into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame in June, then our invite to Kevin Greene’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. So this 6th time offering the Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year will be a special one. Especially now that alumnus from here have made their way to football immortality.

Before we get started on the nominees for the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year, lets take a look back at past winners:

  1. D'Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    D’Qwell Jackson leads a new pack of Dawgs in Cleveland.

    2011 -D’Qwell Jackson: Cleveland Browns – Recorded 158 total tackles (115 solo) 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble with 2 recoveries and garnered 1 interception as the only light on a 4-12 team. The Browns were in the top ten defensively all year and finished 10th.

  2. 2012 –Navorro Bowman: San Francisco 49ers – Garnered 148 total tackles (98 solo) 2 sacks, 6 passes defensed, and 1 interception with a fumble forced. Was an All Pro force who outperformed his more celebrated All Pro teammate Patrick Willis. Starred on the NFL’s #3 defense and made the play of the year knocking down a 4th down pass to Roddy White on the last play of the NFC Championship Game. Sent the Niners to the Super Bowl.
  3. 2013 – Richard Sherman: Seattle Seahawks – He led the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and a week 4 TD against Housto that turned their season around. He also had 48 tackles, defensed 17 passes, recovered 2 fumbles and tipped Colin Kaepernick’s desperation throw into the game clinching interception in the NFC Championship Game.
  4. watt2014 – J.J. Watt: Houston Texans – One of the greatest defensive performances ever with 78 tackles, led the league with 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 recoveries returning 1 for a touchdown. Then had 1 interception returned 80 yards for his 2nd defensive touchdown. He drug a rebuilding Texan team to within a game of making the  playoffs with a 9-7 record in Bill O’Brien’s rookie season. May have been the greatest season by a defender in NFL history.
  5. 2015 – Thomas Davis: Carolina Panthers – The 6th best defense in 2015 & made it to Super Bowl L where Davis played with a plate in his broken arm just 2 weeks after the original injury. Toughness aside he garnered 105 total tackles (75 solo) 5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. Although his teammate Luke Kuechly garnered national media attention, the 4 additional sacks and 2 more forced fumble won Davis the last Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Award.

When gauging a defender’s impact the first thing you have to remember is at what point of the game does the defender make plays. When it comes to Khalil Mack he just had an 8 game streak snapped where he garnered at least 1 sack. The longest streak in the NFL in the last 7 years.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

Mack terrorized Cam Newton in Oakland a few weeks back.

However a closer look and you’ll see his forcing a fumble in overtime to short-circuit a Tampa drive in a 30-24 win in week 8. Another flash came late in the 4th quarter in week 13 when a gassed Raider defense was hanging on by a thread as Buffalo drove to the Oakland 17. A touchdown seemed imminent as momentum was teetering in the Bills direction. Well until this generation’s Derrick Thomas dipped his shoulder, came around the corner sacking Tyrod Taylor forcing and recovering the fumble preserving a 38-24 win.

Not bad until you realize the week before saw the Raiders clinging to a 35-32 lead with 1:00 to go and the NFL’s reigning MVP Cam Newton had the Panthers in Oakland territory at the 44. One more completion and Carolina, clinging to fading playoff hopes, could attempt a game winning field goal. On cue Mack burst into the backfield steamrolling Newton for a sack forcing a fumble and recovering it preserving another victory. These points are the difference between an 11-3 Raider team in line for homefield advantage, and Tampa 1 game out of the NFC wildcard, Carolina & Buffalo 1 loss from playoff elimination.

Mack forcing the game winning fumble. All but eliminating the defending NFC Champions from postseason play in 2016.

Mack’s season has been transcendent as he has collected 55 tackles (46 solo) 11 sacks with 5 forced fumbles. He’s recovered 3, returning 1 for a touchdown before we remind you he has 1 pick for another touchdown that also came in the win over Carolina. These are huge impact plays that decide contests not innocuous stats in the middle of a game without meaning or context. In the last 2 seasons he has 14 sacks that have come in the 3rd & 4th quarter of games. What happens if he carries that type of presence into the postseason??

Sure there are 2 games left in the season but no defender has meant more or produced more during the 2016 campaign.  Khalil Mack is the 2016 Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year.

Thanks for reading and share the article.

2015 NFC West Predictions

The 2015 NFL season is upon us! The first thing we have to do is get to the season after a tumultuous offseason for what had been the best division in football.  The Seahawks were reeling from a shocking Super Bowl defeat when holdouts and contracts threatened team chemistry. The St Louis Rams traded often injured Sam Bradford for Nick Foles at QB. However the story of the division was the devastating fallout from retirements, suspensions, and player defections after Jim Harbaugh’s dismissal. Easily the worst off-season for one team in NFL history.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

2015 NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks 13-3 **

2. St Louis Rams 10-6

3. Arizona Cardinals 7-9

4. San Francisco 49ers 6-10

After spending time in the spring with Kurt Warner, it doesn’t seem as if Colin Kaepernick’s mechanics have changed that much. He is still holding on to the football and taking to long to get through his progressions. Now he has to find chemistry with new receiver Torrey Smith with Michael Crabtree’s defection to Oakland. After the worst off-season in NFL history, this was the least of their worries.

Bowman is back and his knee looked good in the preseason.

Bowman is back and his knee looked good in the preseason.

Now another off-field issue could cause a suspension for LB Ahmad Brooks. Along with Aldon Smith’s latest transgression, the notable defenders that didn’t leave or retire wont be on the field much of the season. Navorrro Bowman is back to provide toughness and leadership. It will be a season of growing pains as the 49ers need new leaders to emerge with the loss of Justin Smith and Patrick Willis.

Carson Palmer has come back healthy as has scatback Andre Ellington. As was the case last year, they still can’t run the football. The Cardinals signed former Titan RB Chris Johnson to bolster their anemic running game. We have yet to see much from rookie runner David Johnson, and the offensive line is having problems. Free agent signee G Mike Iupati could be gone until week 7 due to injury. RT Bobbie Massey faces suspension after a DUI arrest and LT Jared Veldheer was terrorized by the Raiders Kahlil Mack in the 3rd preseason game. Mack looked like the second coming of the late Derrick Thomas, but Veldheer has to be able to hold his own.

Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu lead a reamped defense. How will they fare without DC Todd Bowles?

Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu lead a reamped defense. How will they fare without DC Todd Bowles?

An offensive line needs cohesion and missing two of the five starters projected will set back an offense that already can’t run. Now this puts more onus on the Cardinal’s passing attack. Palmer, who is returning from a knee reconstruction, has to go to work behind this patchwork line?? This is not a recipe for returning to the playoffs.

In St. Louis, not only did Jeff Fisher rid the Rams of the team’s former face in Sam Bradford, but he may have forged their new identity in drafting RB Todd Gurley. At 6’1 and 231 lbs. the team has a game controlling back whose been brought along slowly this summer. Fisher has already gone on record saying he would be better than Eddie George.  You remember George was the power source for Tennessee’s offense during Fisher’s tenure there.

Now Tre Mason can be used as the change of pace, 3rd down back type, he’s more suited for. After being pounded by Gurley, defenders are going to hate Mason darting in and out of holes when they’re exhausted. Especially if they interchange both backs from the same formations. New quarterback Nick Foles should have a great year in his new surroundings. He will be able to ease into his passing rhythm as this team will not fall behind in many games.

Alec Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl performer in 2015

Alec Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl performer in 2015

With DE Robert Quinn, DT Aaron Donald, and a healthy Chris Long, this defensive line will be dangerous playing with leads. Although many pundits have lauded the play of Linebacker James Laurinitis, it will be Alec Ogletree who will emerge as the new NFC super backer. Last year he forced 4 fumbles, gathered 2 interceptions to go with his 110 combined tackles and is a favorite for Taylor Blitz Times NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The Rams will make the playoffs this year as a wildcard.

Yet still on top of the division and the NFC for that matter are the Seattle Seahawks. The team is being chipped away as players like Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are being rewarded with lucrative deals. SS Kam Chancellor is holding out and could affect the play of the defense at the start of the season. With Marshawn Lynch back to punish defenses it will mask early offensive line struggles. In the preseason teams didn’t honor the read option and just teed off on Wilson. That won’t happen with Lynch on the field. Now we add in the intermediate play of new TE Jimmy Graham and you see why they are the odds on favorite to make a 3rd straight trip to the Super Bowl.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

2014 NFC West Predictions

Its football season and all is right with the world. Unlike in previous seasons, The Chancellor of Football spent the majority of this summer writing historical pieces instead of in depth team previews. However nearly every preseason game was watched as well as the roster moves for the top tier teams. So without further adieu lets take a look at the NFC for 2014.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

NFC West

1. Seahawks 14-2**

2. 49ers 9-7

3. Cardinals 7-9

4. Rams 4-12

No division will see as big a drop off in production as the NFC West. Once the province of 3 Super Bowl caliber defenses only 1 remains. Arizona lost Darnell Dockett off the DLine. He used to take on and beat double teams allowing Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington to flow sideline to sideline to the football. With his being gone for the season, teams will focus on DE Calais Campbell. Rendering him less effective.

Pro Bowl Corner Patrick Peterson and the secondary have to pick up the slack.

Pro Bowl Corner Patrick Peterson and the secondary have to pick up the slack.

Couple the loss of Dockett with the free agent defection of Dansby and season long suspension of Washington, the heart & soul of this unit is gone. How about the pending suspension for pass rush specialist John Abraham?? With 13 year veteran Larry Foote and Kevin Minter taking over for Dansby and Washinton this defense became two steps slower. Worse they’ll have to substitute more telegraphing their intentions.

Carson Palmer is the Andy Dalton of the NFC. One week he looks like a world beater then he’ll play uninspired and throw head scratching interceptions. He has to play his best to lift this team but he is a beta quarterback. His career has already been defined by this and it won’t happen. Ask the Raiders and ask Cincinnati.

In San Francisco…see the above about the Cardinals. Former Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year Navorro Bowman will start on the PUP list which keeps him off the field until week 7. OLB Aldon Smith (28 sacks last 2 years) faces a 9 game suspension along with DE Ray McDonald facing a 6 game suspension. Just days after Roger Goodell unveiled his new discipline protocol for domestic violence too?? He might get more than 6 games.

Harbaugh will be on the hot seat.

This will be Harbaugh’s last season in San Francisco

Last year the 49ers were 7th in pass defense while ranking 18th in sacks with 38. Well removing these 3 players represents 17 of those 38. How much easier will it be to concentrate blocking efforts on 15 year veteran Justin Smith and OLB Ahmad Brooks?? Did you know NT Glenn Dorsey was put on the IR/PUP list and won’t be back until week 7 also?? Remember the Super Bowl caliber defense San Francisco fielded over the last 3 seasons?? This isn’t it. Addition from subtraction only works in creative math…not in football

Now couple this with GM Trent Balke not willing to offer a contract extension to Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. In fact Balke and 49ers brass almost traded Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns this summer. Traded?? Yes. There have been grumblings his message is getting old in San Francisco and now he’s being tied to the development of one Colin Kapernick. Honestly his game has not advanced in this last year and a half.

If this team comes out to the 2-4 record The Chancellor sees on the horizon, this science beaker will explode. Let’s say they are 3-3 or even 4-2. They will still drag a hodge podge defense into a week 7 road match-up with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Denver pasted the 49ers 34-0 in preseason to christen their new stadium. It could begin with a loss to the Cowboys in week 1.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

With all that has been offered: How significant was this pass defense in the grand scheme of these teams?? Their legacies?? Where they’re going?? Seattle just jumped all over the Green Bay Packers last night 36-16 to begin the defense of their Super Bowl championship.

We’ve already previewed the Seahawks and they played as advertised. Russell Wilson is maturing as a QB and they could have Percy Harvin all season. If they’re champions already with a young team that is getting better, what will that mean for the rest of the league?? Homefield advantage…

We do know what team will face them in the NFC Championship but won’t reveal it until later. One hint… it won’t be a team from the NFC West.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Taylor Blitz Times NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

Someone somewhere coined the axiom  “Big time players make big plays in big games.” No defensive play this year was bigger than the pass defensed by Richard Sherman that turned into the game ending interception to win the NFC Championship. It would have been easy to catch Sherman flat footed having played a majority of the game being avoided.

TBT Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

TBT Defensive Player of the Year: Richard Sherman

If you make the biggest play in the history of your team to send them to the Super Bowl, you have done something. How many times do we see a player dominate in the regular season only to disappear in the playoffs??  Yet Sherman was front and center as one of the lead players on the #1 defense in football.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

One pass defense could have altered the legacies of both teams.

In the most pivotal game of the season, Sherman provided the key play. Not the NFC Championship, but week 4 when the consensus was Seattle couldn’t win on the road. It was the 4th quarter when the Seahawks were losing in Houston 20-13. At the time the Texans were thought of as a Super Bowl team and on their way to a win. With just 2:51 left Sherman jumped a Matt Schaub pass and returned it 58 yards for the tying touchdown. Seattle eventually won 23-20 in overtime. The resultant confidence led the Seahawks to a 6-2 road record and NFC best 13-3 record. While the Texans didn’t win another game the rest of the season. Talk about a turning point.

The confidence building moment against Houston.

The big interception against Houston.

In 2013, Sherman talked the talk while leading the NFL with 8 interceptions, returning them for 158 yards and that significant touchdown. He also was 7th on the team in tackles with 48, defensed 17 passes and recovered 2 fumbles. The Seahawks assign him to their opponents best receiver and he answered the bell every week.

In the pivotal moment of the NFC Championship we saw a transcendent play. For an instant Colin Kaepernick thought he had Crabtree breaking free and let fly. From a fundamental standpoint he stayed inside Michael Crabtree, using the sideline as his friend, then reacted to make the play of the season.

Honorable Mention: 

Navorro Bowman pictured in last year's Super Bowl.

Navorro Bowman pictured in last year’s Super Bowl.

Navorro Bowman ILB – San Francisco 49ers: We were just a couple plays away from back to back Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player Awards for Navorro Bowman. If Richard Sherman doesn’t turn in that play to win the NFC Championhip how does he not win it again?? As we made it to the second half of the season, many pundits were pitching the case for Luke Kuechly. However truth be told he didn’t turn anywhere near the season Bowman did out in San Francisco.

  • Bowman -180 total tackles, 5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 9 passes defensed, 2 interceptions and 1 returned for a touchdown
  • Kuechly -166 total tackles, 2 sacks, 4 interceptions ,  8 passes defensed, yet 0 forced fumbles or fumble recoveries

On top of that, was there a bigger defensive play than the interception return for a touchdown to put San Francisco into the playoffs?? Monday night against the Falcons his 89 yard pick six takes place with 1:31 to go when the 49ers needed a play. This play and his final play are the essence of the man. He stops Kearse in the 4th quarter of the NFC Championship at the two yard line. The tackle wasn’t enough, he forces and recovers a fumble although he injures himself in the process. It’s that spirit that makes him the best linebacker in the NFL. One we wish a speedy recovery from the knee injury suffered against Seattle.

Burfict has been the playmaker on Cincinnati's  top ranked defense.

Burfict has been the playmaker on Cincinnati’s top ranked defense.

Vontaze Burfict ILB – Cincinnati Bengals: Another blood thirsty linebacker who turned in one stellar season was this former Arizona St. Sun Devil. He recorded an astounding 50 more tackles than his breakout rookie season with 177 total tackles. Add to that his 3 sacks, 8 passes defensed, an interception, 1 forced fumble to accompany 2 fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown.

He was the trigger man on the NFL’s third best defense and has a great future ahead of him. We just need to see if he’ll be featured in the new defensive coodinator’s scheme now that Mike Zimmer is the head man in Minnesota.

These were the defenders that made the season for Taylor Blitz Times.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

NFC Divisional Playoff: San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers

This is the one playoff game this weekend that could have been interesting. With Carolina wideout Steve Smith at 60% by his own admission, or at least doubtful, it takes steam out of this match-up. Smith is the conscious and fighting spirit of that football team. Although the league’s #2 defense is intact, this team peaked a few weeks ago.

Cam Newton is going into his first NFL playoff game.

Cam Newton is going into his first NFL playoff game.

Cam Newton can’t play sporadic and expect the defense to keep him in a playoff game until he finds his accuracy. Sure they won 10-9 in Candlestick but that really woke the Niners up for this one. In that previous game Vernon Davis left injured, Michael Crabtree didn’t play, and Aldon Smith was just coming back and rounding into shape. Colin Kaepernick is coming off of a third career playoff win and they haven’t lost since Crabtree has come back.

The best all around linebacker in the NFL. Last year's Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman

The best all around linebacker in the NFL. Last year’s Taylor Blitz Defensive Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman

One element of this game is the threat of the pass from the Tight End position. Vernon Davis has the speed to pull Luke Kuechely deep where he has to play the run honestly. Consequently Greg Olsen doesn’t do the same and Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman will creep up and shut down the run.

So watch for Frank Gore to have a good day and San Francisco to dominate the time of possession. The Niners win 26-13 today.

Even when I think back to Cam Newton’s National Championship performance against Oregon. His play that day wasn’t transcendent. Stars have to come out when the games get big like this. Weaknesses are magnified and without Smith 100%, he has to play above a pedestrian performance. He has to be a star for them to win. Just can’t see that in his first playoff game.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

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…

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!