By Jerrell Richardson
San Francisco wrapped up the first half of their season with a 6-2 record. They are healthy and sit atop the NFC West. For a team that entered the season with high expectations, they still could not ask to be in a much better position. They are getting contributions in all phases of the game, and have had two players who have make huge strides since last year, making the team even more dangerous. It’s hard to point to any players who have not made the impact expected of them, as the only two who are obviously missing from the success of the team are still getting comfortable in their new surroundings.
Most Improved Player On The Team
The player who has stepped up his play the most has been wide receiver Michael Crabtree. His numbers are pretty close to that of last year as with 39 catches for 440 yards in 2012, he is right on pace with his 2011 numbers. The difference is that this year he has earned the trust of his quarterback and coaches. With so many other options in the passing game, his numbers will not skyrocket, but his impact will. He set the tone in the team’s first game recording seven catches against the Packers. He later eclipsed the 100-yard mark against the Bills in Week Five, and with three touchdowns already this year he needs just one more to tie his total from last year. Whether it be experience, or the off season acquisitions of so much competition, but something has inspired Crabtree.
Ahmad Brooks Adds Another Weapon to Defense
It’s hard to believe, but the San Francisco defense is better than last year. The player who has a large role in the defense’s improvement has been linebacker Ahmad Brooks. The team is still among the best in the NFL in terms of generating a pass rush, but Brooks is doing everything he can to change this perception. Thanks to fellow linebacker Aldon Smith, the team had a resemblance of a pass rush last year, so opponents are beginning to key on him, doing their best to limit his impact. However, with the emergence of Ahmad Brooks, the team now has a weapon up front. He has four sacks this year, but the stats do not tell the whole story of his importance. He has made life easier on Aldon Smith, who has 7.5 sacks due to opponents being unable to double-team him. Brooks is not always spectacular, but he remains consistent week in and week out.
Former Giants Still Waiting to Make Presence Felt
The two players who have yet to live up to expectations are the two players San Francisco nabbed from the defending champion New York Giants. However, both need time to adjust to their new surroundings, get familiar with the offense and avoid injuries. Running back Brandon Jacobs has yet to step on the field, so it’s hard to fault him, but he wasn’t signed to be a cheerleader. He announced weeks ago that he was ready for action, but has yet to make his 49ers debut. The team will need the big bruising back once they hit the playoffs and the games get even more physical.
Mario Manningham had to deal with an off-field issue before the start of the season and missed some valuable practice time with his new team, which has limited his impact. He has been consistent with at least three catches in every game, but his highest total this year is five, and the most yards he has was a 72-yard performance against his former team that had no impact on the game. This is his first year with Alex Smith, though, so it will take Manningham becoming more familiar with the offense for him to have a chance to live up to expectations. The fact that they have yet to put it all together on the field is nothing to be worried about when considering the amount of time they have (or haven’t spent) together.
49ers Will Need All Hands On Deck For Playoff Success
San Francisco has enjoyed success again this year because it has playmakers up and down the roster who make contributions every week. The good news is that Brooks and Crabtree both give the team an added element that they didn’t have last year, and both are capable of making a big play or freeing up a teammate. The great news is that even without the help of Manningham and Jacobs, the 49ers have again staked their claim as one of the most dominant teams in the NFC. It appears to only be a matter of time for Manningham and Smith to get on the same page, and for Jacobs to be healthy enough to help San Francisco get over the hump.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.