Friday, January 11, 2013

Why the 49ers will lose to the Packers in tomorrow's playoff game

For the first time in the Colin Kaepernick era, the San Francisco 49ers enter the NFC playoffs. They face the Green Bay Packers on Saturday at 5 pm at Candlestick Park. Unfortunately, for four reasons, Kaepernick will not be able to do what his predecessor, Alex Smith, did last year in leading the 49ers to the NFC championship game.

Reason 1: Justin Smith. While the 49ers behemoth defensive end will play in the game, his first since tearing a ligament in his triceps against the New England Patriots on December 16, it is unlikely Smith will be be effective. He simply has not had much time to heal. The 49ers need Smith to take up two or more blockers, in order to allow their linebackers space to make tackles and to allow their other defensive end, Aldon Smith, room to rush the passer. Since Justin Smith was hurt, the 49er defense has been ineffective. Aldon Smith, who was leading the NFL in sacks, has not once tackled a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.

Before Smith tore his triceps, San Francisco gave up an average of 12.2 points per game over 13.5 games. In the half game that Justin Smith played against the Patriots, the 49ers allowed New England only 3 points. Then Smith got hurt, and the 49ers defense has been miserable.

They allowed the Patriots 31 points in the half Smith was out. A week later, against Seattle, with Smith sidelined, they gave up 42 points. They finished their season with a win over Arizona, allowing only 13 points to the lowly Cardinals. However, that same Arizona team scored just 3 points against San Francisco when Smith played. Without a healthy Smith, they have allowed their opponents to score 34.4 points per game. That is 22.2 more points per game than they gave up with Justin Smith playing at full capacity.

Reason 2: Aaron Rodgers. In the NFL, the quarterback is not just an important position, it is by a long way the most important position. Teams which win regularly have the best quarterbacks. Teams with bad quarterbacks cannot win. Unfortunately for San Francisco, Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football. He has an excellent group of receivers to help him. He will easily be the best player on the field for either team, tomorrow.

Reason 3: Frank Gore. Since the 49ers changed quarterbacks and started running a sprint option suited to the needs of Colin Kaepernick, their running backs have all suffered. Frank Gore was having a great season when Alex Smith was at the helm. The Kaepernick system has hurt Gore's production by roughly 30 percent.

In the 49ers first 8 games this season, Gore rushed 119 times for 656 yards, an average of 5.5 yards per carry. In week 9, Alex Smith was concussed and Kaepernick ever since has been the starting quarterback. Over the last 7 games, Gore has rushed 118 times for 461 yards, an average of 3.9 yards per carry. Due to the sprint option system, the 49ers can no longer count on Frank Gore chewing up so many yards. It is much harder for San Francisco, now, to control the clock and keep long drives going.

Reason 4: Offensive coaching. Put simply, Green Bay has a great offensive game plan. San Francisco's offense is vanilla. The 49ers never fool anyone. They don't even try to. Mostly they just try to avoid turnovers. They are terribly risk-averse. And since they switched quarterbacks and their kicker has gone cold, their offense has bogged down in the red zone and they have had a lot of trouble scoring once they get inside their opponent's 20 yard line. I don't blame Gore or Kaepernick for this ineptitude. The fault lies with their inept offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, and their head coach, Jim Harbaugh. If history is any guide, the Packers' head coach, Mike McCarthy, who once was the 49ers offensive coordinator, will devise a much better game plan, tomorrow.

Final score prediction: Green Bay 35 - San Francisco 17.

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