October 05, 2011

San Francisco 49ers Channeling The Spirits Of A Neighboring 2010 Champion

Although they are from two different sports in the same city, it appears that the luster and characteristics of one team is rubbing off on the other.

The end of week 4 has passed for the San Francisco 49ers and it looks as if their coach Jim Harbaugh is trying to make another contender for the folks in the Bay Area. Built similar to the San Francisco Giants, the roster of the 49ers consists of castoffs and misfits that are doing what they can to ensure the public that they are in for a torturous, roller-coaster ride this season.

Equipping themselves with a sparkling 3-1 record and sporting a two-game lead in the NFC West, the 49ers are slowly erasing the pessimism the city has had on the squad’s nine-season playoff drought and rekindling fond memories of 1980s and 90s glory years.

After shellacking the revamped 2010 NFC West division winners (Seattle Seahawks) in week one, the 49ers were stunned with a lost after beating up Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys through the first half of that game. After that debacle, the fear was that Harbaugh’s luster on the team was fading faster than previous coach Mike Singletary’s did, and that the franchise’s change in the right direction was nothing more than a magic trick gone terribly wrong.

While the win over the Bengals in week three was one of the ugliest in recent memories, the end result of getting the W did little to alleviate the concerns of their fans. The first two-and-a-half quarters of week four continued to knock what little belief the fans were still preserving and only fueled a discussion that has been going on in the city for nearly a decade:

New regime, same results.

That’s when the 49ers transformed into the 2010 San Francisco Giants.

Out of nowhere, Quarterback Alex Smith began orchestrating a comeback that’s reminiscent of Pat Burrell crushing a three-run homer to inspire his team to rebound. He would hit WR Josh Morgan on an excellent slant move with perfect accuracy for a score and then hit their superstar TE Vernon Davis for another touchdown towards the end of the third. RB Frank Gore replicated his best Brian Wilson impression, as he would bowl his way into the end zone to close off the team’s improbable comeback.

Despite the ability to escape the first quarter of the season with a winning record, Niners nation will be curiously critiquing the team’s performance and seeing if they can sustain this momentum going into the last 12 games of the regular season.

First, and foremost, Coach Harbaugh should be lauded with credit and admiration for the job he’s done, especially given the circumstances leading up to the start of week one.

With the team unable to prepare with their newly signed coach and perform typical off-season duties because of the lockout, Harbaugh appeared dead in his tracks like a raccoon trying to cross onto a busy interstate highway. Armed with basically the same 6-10 team from a year ago and only a few key additions, the former coach from Stanford had very little improvement in terms of talent and a QB whose head the public has been shouting for since being chosen first overall in 2005.

Yet, he has found a way to make lemonade with the lemons he was handed. Using his innovative offensive mind, he has found a way to mix variety into a once stagnant and predicable offense, while utilizing previously unused qualities of his players to maximize their potential. Smith’s QB rating is higher than it has ever been and the coach has found a balance between simplicity and complexity that keeps the defense guessing as to what will happen next.

Along with his offense being more productive, the defense continues to grow into one of the best groups in all of football.

There have been two knocks on the 49ers’ defense despite it’s relatively efficient ability to hold up against the opposition: their ability to get to the quarterback and defend against the pass.

Although the team was in the middle of the league in terms of team sacks in 2010, they were known as a group that had trouble pressuring the quarterback consistently. Not only are they on pace to eclipse last season’s sack total, but the quarterbacks they face constantly appear to be under duress and feverishly uncomfortable whenever they call a passing play. 2011 first round pick, DE Aldon Smith, appears to be the real deal as the passing rushing specialist they envisioned of him as he has been a force going after opposing QBs during the minimal amount of snaps he has played in thus far.

Just as equally impressive has been the 49ers secondary and their improvement in shutting down the opposition’s passing game.

Before this season (and, actually, an area most coaches still try to attack against the team), going downfield through the air was looked at as the defense’s Achilles heel. Although they are still getting tormented by the passing game, the secondary is joining in the defense’s theory of bend-but-don’t-break philosophy. All the yards opposing teams are amassing against the 49ers are the only stats piling up, as they are able to shut down the entrance of the end zone through the air.

Along with keeping their foes from out of the end zone is their ability to create turnovers in the secondary. In all of last season, their backs were only able produce a measly nine interceptions on rival quarterbacks. With only four games played so far in 2011, the defensive backs have already come up with six interceptions and appear to be causing more confusion for their opposition.

So, not only is this group cutting down how many times they are getting torched by touchdowns, but they are generating more turnovers and finally complementing their already stellar front seven.

While a 3-1 record in the first four games is impressive for a team usually equipped with more losses than wins at this point in previous seasons, the 49ers have a ways to go if they hope to taste just a portion of the success the Giants savored in 2010.

The next four games feature teams with at least a .500 record, with seven of their final twelve games all against formidable teams who have more or equal wins than losses. In a season where the theme parody is playing out throughout the league, the 49ers have the luxury of sitting in the driver’s seat with that premise fueling their engine forward.

Can this band of castoffs and write offs, with their unconventional style, continue forward with their winning ways? They can only hope last year’s spirit, inspiration, and success from their neighboring baseball team can continue to influence the team as 2011 marches on.

By Norcal JW with No comments


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