Here we are in the final week of the regular season. Kudos to Jim Harbaugh for making the playoffs (and possibly winning the NFC West) in his 1st 2 years as Niner coach. For all the improvement of the team in this short period of time, and for the daring (if not crazy) mid-stream switch-out of Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick, certain troubling things don’t appear to be fixed. The 3rd down conversion rate is still an abysmal 35%, for 23rd in the league. Sure, it’s up from 29% (and 31st) last year. Astounding considering the Niners were nearly in the Super Bowl. The passing game is up a little from 29th to 25th. All the new WRs have helped a little, and Crabs is having a solid year, but VD has disappeared, Manningham (as well as KW) is now hurt, and Moss is getting some time, but not as much as I anticipated. Walker has gotten more looks, which is good and bad as he’s dropped a lot, and fumbled a few. The run game is doing better, but has also gotten hit by injuries (Hunter) and animosity (Brandon Jacobs). Gore is doing very well despite his age, and LaMichael James has done pretty well covering for the injured Hunter.
The Niners offense is identical to last year’s, as far as points scored goes. The defense is also ranked about the same in points allowed, although the Niners dropped a few spots due to the recent beat-down. That being said, the Smith to Kappy switch-out didn’t cure the 2-steps-forward-1-step-back deal. This team when on, beats the likes of Green Bay, New England, and Chicago with relative ease. Yet, when things don’t go well, they lose to (or tie) the likes of StL, Minnesota, and the recent debacle vs Seattle. The wins were studies in offensive effectiveness and defensive domination. Solid running, errorless passing, and tight defense, with a few turnovers led the way. The losses were pretty much across-the-board failures. Strange coaching decisions, horrible special-teams play, defensive lapses, and killer penalties have plagued the losses. Strange, to say the least, that this team can’t put 3 games together when you look at last year’s 8 game winning streak.
All in all, a quandary. The AZ game should be little more than a formality, but as we all know, this team can look last with the best of them. I’m not too worried about it, but going forward, the Niners need luck to get the playoff bye, and will likely host a playoff game in the WC week. Chicago or Minn likely. Even still, the Niner playoff run is supposed to be about the NFC Championship game. One that will likely go through Green Bay AND Seattle. A tough row to hoe at this point.